Shreyan Laha is a science fiction author who has four books to his name- Not Worth Living For, A Tiny Reason To Live, A Year Without Summer, and Virtually Lost. Along with this, Shreyan has several short stories published in his name, and he also loves acrostic poems. He was listed in the Top 50 Influential Authors of 2021 by Delhi Wire and received the Rajiv Gandhi Youth Literary Award in 2014. In conversation with The Story Mug, Laha shares more about his journey as an author.
TSM: Before we begin, our readers would like to know you better. Please share your back story of what brought you to your specific career path?
Shreyan Laha: I work in Indian Railways. I did my schooling in Jamshedpur and subsequently, B.Com from Ravenshaw University, Cuttack and MBA from XIMB. Before my current job, I was in Samunnati Financial as a relationship manager. Literature has always fascinated me. I published my first novel in 2014.
TSM: Tell us something about your journey as an author?
Shreyan Laha: Sure, I never thought I would write novels, let alone have my focus on science-fiction in particular. I started off writing articles. Following Our National Birds, one of my articles got lucky, and after its broad reach, I believed it was time to travel the long road. I wrote my first book, which got no attention. It was an unpleasant experience altogether, and then I read several books to determine which genre my strength lies in. I tried sci-fi, and it was the sci-fi book Not Worth Living For, my first success as an author. I have also written the sequel to Not Worth Living For titled A Tiny Reason to Live and another book called A Year Without Summer.
Bigfoot Publication published these three books, and Griffin Publication published my latest book, Virtually Lost. It is now available on Amazon and selected book stores.
Thanks to Mousumi Sachdeva of Griffin Publication for the efforts put in and for carrying out things timely, including my recent royalty from January, along with their upfront help. Everything has been spot on!
TSM: What is your book ‘Virtually Lost’ about?
Shreyan Laha: Virtually Lost is a tale based in Pathabhrashta. In this city, social media rules govern everything. There is 24x7 surveillance on people who are its profiles. Manisha, a professor of psychology, makes her way into this new city. The story is about what awaits her in this new world.
TSM: What inspired you to write this book?
Shreyan Laha: I was discussing this topic with one of my friends. The idea of having a city based on social media rules crossed my mind. You may have noticed that those who go to jail also get their accounts banned. Having an account banned refers to the platform holding you irredeemable, almost like a lifelong term for virtual prisoners. People may not think that social media is gradually becoming our virtual extension. To ban an account now means much more than banning accounts earlier. Considering our time on social media updating our works, it significantly spikes every year.
With time, a ban from social media would appear like severing up a part of your existence. I took up my pen to write about the rough idea. The idea of a social media-based city looks incredible. We can get lauded for our savagery. We can do morally depraved things for fun and laughs, discuss politics, society and history using the lowest-common-denominator language, socialise and make groups - and earn, to live and make friends. Only thing: You have to carry an acceptable level of behaviour, isn't it? What if people are shadow blocked or blocked instead of banned - at every drop of the hat? Also, the city would receive some information from the neurons in your brain that store memories. What about the surveillance? What if you formed a religion or cult of your own? Will the city-state see you as a threat? As these questions began piling up, I started writing one chapter after another by introducing characters. Gradually, it became worthy of gist, and I completed the structure to put forward the book as ‘Virtually Lost.
TSM: What personal and professional skills do you need to perform successfully at work? How did you develop these skills?
Shreyan Laha: This is such a tricky question. Talking about personal skills, altruism and loyalty are necessary. I live with my parents, and my father is a paraplegic. Being the only son, I have given up a job that paid me almost Rs 20,000 higher and shifted from the private to government sector because I have to take care of my parents (father, especially) while being in the same town.
I have worked in jobs that are poles apart from each other. From development to agricultural lending to handling office-related letters in Government and, all the while, writing science fiction! Adaptability is another necessary trait I've gained, allowing us to learn a more diverse range of skill sets.
TSM: How do you balance your life both as a working professional and an author?
Shreyan Laha: I believe in making the best out of every Sunday. I have more challenging problems, which doesn't make me complain about minor problems like "juggling profession and passion". Besides, it's easy. It is more involuntary.
TSM: Are you planning for your next book?
Shreyan Laha: Not now. I'm planning to edit my previous books. Critical reviews of them specifically pointed at some printed errors, and I believe I need to work upon that for the second edition.
TSM: Your views about readers in India?
Shreyan Laha: There's a positive aspect and a negative one.
Positives: Indian readership is growing, and several teens have read at least one "relatable romance novel" or something of sorts. This wasn't the case a few years ago.
Negatives: Readers in India are more into non-fiction. Science fiction still feels abstract for most of whom I have asked, and they say it has nothing to do with reality. That's true. However, sci-fi authors have consistently warned of the perils of humans. First, the nuclear explosions. Second, creeping authoritarianism and now, the environment. I wish Indian readers would read other genres except limiting themselves to four or five categories: mythology, romance, history, non-fiction and autobiographies.
TSM: What advice would you love to give to budding authors?
Shreyan Laha: Make sure your story is as perfectly crafted for the reader as possible. Read classical novels. Support underrated authors.
The Story Mug, a Guwahati-based blogzine, believes in telling stories that matter.