Author interview: Lekshmi Gopinathan

Today we have a very feisty author amongst us who shows us through her debut novel 'Karma's Ukulele' how to be a badass human being and how to live life by our own way. I would like to thank the author Lekshmi Gopinathan for sparing her time for this interview and sharing her valuable experiences. 


1. Firstly I would like to congratulate you for your debut book 'Karma's Ukulele'. Please introduce yourself to the readers.


Thank you Sulagna and thank you once again for the fabulous words of appreciation for Karma’s  Ukulele. When you put a piece of your heart out there in the form of writing, every word pointed at the creation means the world.

I am a nomad, I quit my full time job a year and a half ago to backpack around Asia. In 2016, I travelled across four countries and thirty three cities, exploring art and artisans. I am a social entrepreneur and run a project documenting indigenous art forms and artisan communities over India. It’s an attempt to bring the travellers closer to the local communities. Before I quit the 9 to 6 cycle heading Communication and Marketing for an e-commerce firm in Bangalore, I produced documentaries, did investigative journalism, nature conservation and event management. I happen to be a medical school dropout, abandoning the same to pursue journalism. My roots are in Kerala but I was raised in various cities in India, starting from Bihar to Haryana to Hyderabad and Chennai.



2. Can you give an overview about your debut novel?


I wrote and burnt numerous drafts before settling for the final plan for Karma’s Ukulele. I wanted an unconventional, badass and feisty protagonist. Being a traveller, a nomad’s characterization came easy to me. Karma’s Ukulele is the story of a fierce nomad who is broken, she is kind and gentle but situations force people to change. In travel and anonymity, she finds solace but humans are meant to find each other, share stories, heal, love and make memories. Throughout the script, the emphasis is on making memories rather than relationships and she does a good job of the same, meeting ten strangers in ten cities. She gives to some and takes from many as the story weaves through Jaffna, Srinagar, Jaisalmer, Bangalore, Delhi and Kathmandu amongst many other locations.

Karma’s Ukulele is self-published. I had sent the manuscript to numerous publishing houses and it was accepted by few but I was sure that I either would wait for one of the major publishing houses or self-publish while I waited. By self-publishing, I do not mean going to a self-publishing organization and letting them do it all. I mean getting your own hands dirty, I found my own printer, got my own ISBN and formatted and edited the manuscript for what it is today. Once it was all done, I tied up with Amazon for an exclusive online sale platform. If I had to sit and watch it all done by someone else, what’s the joy in that?



3. What inspired you to write?


I was in the sixth grade when my first short story was published the Champak, the children’s magazine. I have always written, on my blog, for a livelihood and for presenting my opinions. I prefer simple and lucid language which is easy to understand but at the same time, explored various layers of emotions as it narrates a story. While travelling, I maintain a diary and even though I procrastinated, it did help me in sorting out my thoughts when I sat down to write Karma’s Ukulele.



4. The book has a very strong female protagonist. What are the qualities of the protagonist that you like?


Everything about the protagonist is either something I am or someone I want to be, something I have seen in other characters who have moved in and out of my life. The lady here is strong yet kind, broken yet gentle, she is what I call badass and I love the word. Fierce, intense and no-nonsense. I don’t define her physical attributes (except her eyes) throughout the book because I wanted her to be known by the fire she holds within.



5. Is the protagonist of your story based on someone you know? Who's your inspiration behind the character?


There is a strength in everyone, irrespective of the gender and that’s exactly why my protagonist is not inspired from one singular identity, she is amalgamation of various characters who I have met during my travel and in everyday life. Sometimes you read about someone’s experience or meet someone for a very small duration and the character etches into your mind. Even though you have never met the person and chances are bleak you may ever in the future, you still end up romanticising the idea of that character.



6. Is the protagonist's journey in your book drawn from your real life adventures?


Yes and no, all the cities in Karma’s Ukulele were on my travel map and I did visit all of them. Yet, the journey is inspired from a dozen nomads I met during my travel. There are people we meet on the roads while we are waiting for our next adventure and suddenly a chord is struck, a story is narrated, a memory is made and then there’s a wave and a goodbye. In the script, I wanted every chapter to be distinct, something that could hold its own even if read separately and yet strung together by the protagonist.



7. How was the story of 'Karma's Ukulele' developed?


My travel diaries, as I sat documenting my work for Project Kalayatra, I decided to revisit the idea of writing a novel. The idea was many years old and it had to be brought out and dusted. It worked and here we are, with Karma’s Ukulele.



8. How do you think 'Karma's Ukulele' should inspire your readers?


I don’t wish Karma’s Ukulele to be a lesson in motivation for my readers. I want the words to push them to travel, to make memories, to fall in love or maybe not, to heal themselves, to be intense and find the depth in their life’s journey, to be fierce, to be kind and well, just go out there every day and be a badass.



9. Apart from writing and travelling, what do you enjoy doing?


I love music, I do play a little bit on my ukulele. I am also trained in contemporary dance form. Trekking is something close to my heart and give me an open spot on the top of a hill, I will camp there forever.



10. What is your favourite book and genre?


Too many to count, isn’t it fabulous that we are blessed with such amazing writers and creations rooted out of this generation as well as historic? I appreciate fiction and nonfiction, on equal ground. In fiction I enjoy drama and thrillers. In nonfiction I am in love with scientific and historic pieces.



11. Which writer's work do you enjoy reading?


I love Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor, Arvind Adiga and V.S.Naipaul to name a few Indian names. I also enjoy reading translations of vernacular literature, especially from Kerala, Kamala Das and Thakazhi to name few. In global literature I love too many to count, from Hunter Thompson, Irvine Welsh, Stephen King, Murakami to Gunter Grass, Virginia Woolf, Chekov, Kafka and Camus.



12. If 'Karma's Ukulele' was to be adapted on the big screen, who would you like to see playing the protagonist's role?


Two names come to my mind, Kangana Ranaut and Anushka Sharma, both of them are capable of excellent acting and are also producers with clout to not allow tampering of scripts.



13. What is your upcoming project? 


An unconventional drama in an Indian setting, which involves railroads, sense of smell and two extremely dissimilar people.



14. What message would you like to give your readers and budding writers? 


Write and read. Read and then, write. It’s alright to throw away numerous drafts till you arrive at your favourite of them all. Today with self-publishing, there is an option to be out there as you wait for a response from major publishing houses, so what’s the dilemma? Write and let others read that part of your heart, wrapped in paper.


Thank you for asking me these, somewhere and somehow, the questions helped me figure out few things of my own.



Read the blurb of Karma's Ukulele:



She is NOT your regular hero!

One bad-ass nomad, ten cities, ten strangers in an epic travelogue.

What do you do when life splits you open, cracks your soul and leaves you beyond repair?

Twenty six, she travels armed with her ukulele and dagger. This is her escapade.

A tale of pain, hope, strength and resilience spanning three years and weaving through Pokhara, Jaffna, Srinagar, Hyderabad, Bangalore, New Delhi, Gorkha, Varanasi and Mcleodganj. A medley of relationships, memories and heartening music.

A legendary nomad, an Aghori, a young boatman, a war refugee, a poet, a yogini, a Rastafarian, a camel rider, an actor and an entrepreneur come together in a heart wrenching adventure.

This is not your regular story!


You can get the book from Amazon here

NOTE: The author photograph and the book photograph has been taken from Goodreads.com

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