Anushka Ravishankar says she was called a techie rather inconsistently, and in phases, from 1983 to 1996, but learning a new programming language each time she came back. She has now reinvented herself, after motherhood, as a writer, and finally, a publisher, at Duckbill.
Her story could inspire you, if you look to use your talent to build a second career. Here is our chitchat.
• Please do detail your techie background..the school/the work/ the timelines
I have an MBA in Operations Research (BIM, Pune University). I also did a programming course conducted by my college, in partnership with HAL, Nasik, in 1983. There were very few programming courses in those days, and this one was quite exciting, because we got to do practical sessions at HAL, where they had a mainframe. I then went on to work as a programmer-analyst with VIP, Nasik for three years. After I got married, we moved a lot, and then I had a child, so I worked intermittently – with a small proprietor-run firm in Bombay, and another one in Vadodara. Every place that I worked, I ended up learning a new programming language, which was great fun, but also a little frustrating, because I was always starting from scratch, thanks to the gaps, during which technology would leap to another level. So I was a ‘techie’ – if I could be called that – from 1983-1986, and 1990 – 1996, but not consistently in the second phase.
• You left your last techie job quite long ago, and that was a conscious decision related to raising a family, Why was writing a choice for a second career? Was work from home not an option in IT in those days?
I was always interested in both, mathematics and literature, so between ’86 and ’90, when I couldn’t work because of marrying and moving and having an infant in the house, I finished an MA in literature. And I’ve been writing since I was a child ( though it was terrible stuff), so writing was something I was always going to do, though I never thought of it as a career choice.
Working from home was not an option, so I could only work when I had good daycare for my daughter. And we moved a lot, which made it difficult.
When it got too stressful and complicated I decided to stop. That was when I thought that I would like to start writing for children. It took three years or so for that thought to culminate in a full time job as editor with Tara Publishing, Chennai. In between I wrote some short stories, did scripting for Tinkle, and did one more job in software.
• You were a writer first and now a publisher. Do tell us about the first books you wrote and how
I joined Tara Publishing in 1996, and the first book I wrote was Tiger on a Tree. It happened backwards, because the illustrations came first and then the text. Since Pulak Biswas’s illustrations already told the story visually, the challenge was to write text that would not repeat what the illustrations did. I did it in silly verse and found that that was something that I enjoyed doing. So there followed other picture books, mostly in verse: Catch That Crocodile, Excuse Me, Is This India, The Fivetongued Firefanged Folkadotted Dragon Snake, to name a few; and some non-fiction books which were joint projects with other writers (Gita Wolf, Sudarshan Khanna).
• I have on my notes that you are now located in the NCR and is with Duckbill. Could you trace your journey to Duckbill?
I worked with Tara Publishing from 1996 to 2000, then took a break from 2001 to 2004, when I continued to write for Tara, wrote some books for Ladybird and Puffin, and got quite involved in theatre and playwriting.
In 2005 I joined Scholastic as an editor and moved to Delhi, where I worked until 2008. when I moved back to Chennai. I wrote some more books and a play, and in 2011, we moved back to Delhi and I joined Scholastic for 8 months, but left in 2012 to form Duckbill, along with Sayoni Basu, who was publishing director at Scholastic during my first stint there.
• Duckbill publishes books for children and young adults, how do you regard the market for these books in terms of both sales of books and availability of good authors? Is there a boom here?
The market is growing and there are some really good authors out there, but the Indian children’s books industry needs more authors, more books of various genres and more visibility for both, books and authors.
• Have you had any techies come to you as authors and have you published any of them?
We have a lot of people from different professions writing children’s books: the only one who can be called a techie whom we have published is Jash Sen. She wrote The Worddkeepers, and she’s from IIM (C). We have a couple of others coming up in the coming year.
• What would be your advice to a techie with writing talents, who is in a career crisis? Is writing an alternate career that one can consider these days?
Very few people manage to make a living from writing, so I wouldn’t advise anyone to take that leap unless they have a nest egg or an earning partner or a passion that’s so strong that they don’t mind going without dinner.
The interview was published here