Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

23 October 2013

Interview with novelist Vasant Davé

Today my guest is Vasant Davé, whose first novel, Trade Winds to Meluhha, is set in Bronze Age Mesopotamia and India.

Welcome, Vasant! I am so glad to meet someone else who is interested in writing about the world's most ancient civilizations in a historically accurate way.

Thank you for providing me this opportunity, Shauna. I am delighted to communicate with the readers of your blog.

How did you first hear of Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq)? Of Meluhha (ancient Indus River Valley)? What attracted you to these ancient civilizations?

Shauna, I'm embarrassed to admit that I was ignorant of Indus Valley civilization till I came to India for higher education. You see, my parents had migrated from India to East Africa before World War II. I was born and schooled in Kenya, where the focus of History was on the British Empire.

For a long time, I was under the impression that Indus Valley civilization had flourished only around the archaeological sites named Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, both of which are in Pakistan. Once, while on a holiday with my family, I visited the Government Museum at Chennai. As we came out, my attention was drawn by a booklet carrying black and white photographs. Entitled Lothal, it was written by S. R. Rao, a renowned Indian archaeologist. I was amazed to learn that Lothal was an Indus Valley civilization site located in India. However, more shocking was the fact that it was in Gujarat, the state in which I had been living for almost two decades.

The booklet mentioned that during the Bronze Age, ships from Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf called at Lothal. That's what triggered my interest in these two ancient civilizations.

Why did you choose to write accurately about Mesopotamia and Meluhha, when most novelists writing about these places have just made things up?

An author's approach depends on the type of readers s/he wishes to address. Some authors have connected the Indus Valley with the occult because they target an audience similar to the readers of Harry Potter. Others have connected it with Hindu mythology. They cater to the tastes of young IT-savvy Indians who have gleaned knowledge of the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata from commercial TV rather than from their grandparents as my generation did.

I wished to address those readers who enjoyed a feeling of travelling back in time while reading fiction based on Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Since Indus Valley culture existed during the same period in history, I thought I would succeed in catering to their taste.   

Did your training as an engineer have any influence on your novel or your approach to writing it?

Yes, I was naturally attracted to the Bronze Age “engineers” who did town planning, built ports (and forts), harvested rain water, built underground drainage, and used micro-tools to manufacture jewelry.

My training also motivated me to base the narrative on archaeological evidence. Once the manuscript was ready, I requested several professionals in the field for their opinion. Dr. Shereen Ratnagar, an expert on both of the ancient cultures, agreed to read it with a clear understanding that she would comment only on the veracity and plausibility of the past situation as constructed in it. Her suggestions made it necessary to rewrite substantial portions, but they helped tremendously to make Trade Winds to Meluhha believable.

Did growing up in Kenya or living as an adult in various places in Asia influence your perspective on the ancient world?

My birthplace, Mombasa, had two ports, old and new. Wooden lateen-sailed ships called dhows anchored at the Old Port. Utilizing the monsoon winds, they travelled between East Africa and Arabia. They held special attraction to me when I was a schoolboy.

During WWII, all expatriates in British East Africa sent their families to the countries of their origin. After the War, it was very difficult to book a ticket on the only steamship that plied between India and East Africa. In her hurry to get back home, my mother boarded a lateen-sailed dhow with my two elder sisters who were just kids at the time. Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, they faced a storm, and then the wind stopped blowing for several days, thus bringing the dhow to a standstill. My mother used to narrate the harrowing experience quite vividly.

When I related that incident with the reed ships travelling between Indus Valley and Mesopotamia, my respect grew for those ancient mariners.

What was your favorite part of writing Trade Winds to Meluhha?

It was the field research, during which I visited archaeological sites and museums. As I did so, many questions popped up in my mind. When I tried to find answers, I visualized new turns and twists that could be included in the plot.

Are there certain themes or topics you're drawn to as a writer?

Yes, I am drawn to the cultural heritage of the entire South Asian region, which has many useful things to give to the world. Take, for instance, the phonetic script. Each of the languages spoken in this region is written in a script that standardizes the representation of oral sounds.

Just imagine that if English were a phonetic script, words like “schedule” would be pronounced in the same way by the English and the Americans. How simple it would have been for Microsoft to convert e-books to audio books! It was comparatively recently that the International Phonetic Alphabet, the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, and the Americanist Phonetic Notation have addressed the issue.

The ancient South Asians who developed phonetic scripts ought to have been superintelligent. Therefore, I think it worth studying the archaeological remnants of their culture to create absorbing historical fiction.  

Do you have any advice for people who are working on their first novels?

Having written just one novel, I don't consider myself eligible to advise others working on their first novels. However, I'd share with them my experience and hope that it helps.

Having a clear idea about how I wanted my novel to end saved me a lot of time and effort. Initially I outlined the storyline in just fifty words or so. Then I went building upon it for several pages till I could split the contents under several chapter headings. Thereafter, each chapter started evolving, sometimes on its own momentum.

Your readers might like my e-booklet entitled How I Wrote a Pre-Historic Novel. It can be downloaded free from  

Do you have plans for another novel?

Yes, I wish to write another novel in which the action takes place in the Indus Valley and Ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find adequate evidence of direct links between those two cultures.

Thank you, Vasant, for your time, and best wishes on your writing endeavors.

It's my pleasure, Shauna. I'd love to receive feedback from the esteemed readers of your blog.

You can learn more about Vasant Davé and Trade Winds to Meluhha by visiting his Website at His ebook is available online for Kindle at and for Nook at Barnes and Noble. For other options, visit

Vasant is having a blog tour this week. Please consider visiting his other stops and entering his contest, which is below his blog tour schedule.

Monday, 21 October

1.   Book Review at Momma Says Read A blog providing nontraditional book reviews.

2.   Book Review by Kalyan Panja at Paper Tree, a book blog from India. Kalyan is a working professional, an amateur photographer and an ardent traveler. His love for books is such that he treasures even those he read as a kid.

Tuesday, 22 October

1.   Book Review by author Nicua Shamira at Terraverum, a book blog from Australia. Shamira has one YA fantasy published as well as a collection of short stories, and two more novels in the works. Besides reading and writing, she loves archery, horse riding, travelling, and painting.

2.   Book Review & Promo at Books, Food and Me!, a blog that is a quirky take on books and food.

Wednesday, 23 October

1.   Interview here at

2.   Book Review by author Martin Lake from France. A prolific writer of Historical and YA Fiction and short stories, Martin is the author of The Lost King series. Winner of first prize in the Kenneth Grahame Society short story competition.

Thursday, 24 October

1.   Book Review by Raka Majumdar at Illuminati, a book blog from India. Raka wears two hats: advertising professional during the day and book reviewer at night.

2.   Interview by author J.D.R. Hawkins  Hawkins is one of the few women authors on the American Civil War, and her Renegade Series has won three awards, including the 2013 John Esten Cooke Fiction Award and the 2012 B.R.A.G. Medallion.

Friday, 25 October

1.   Book Review by Kavya Srinivasan at Crazy world, Crazy mind, a blog from India.

2.   Author Interview by Ashok Kumar at Sundry Rhymes, another blog from India.

Saturday, 26 October

1.   Promo by Kristin Plausky at Second Book to the Right Besides being an avid reader of fiction of all genres, Kristin is a lab technician and a Girl Scout leader.

2.   Book Review on Kitaab, a book blog from Singapore that focuses on Asian writing in English.

3.   Author Interview by Vinny at Books are my Best Friends, a book blog from India that reviews English and Bengali books. Vinny also moderates a YA readers' group on Goodreads.

Sunday, 27 October

1.   Author Interview by Sheri at Making Connections, a blog and Goodreads group of the same name run by eight readers and bloggers who are dedicated to helping new authors. They hail from the United States, Canada, and Pakistan.

2.   Book Review by Tanya Aneja, a book lover, on Books and Amazing Facts I have Read Tanya is a grade 8 student from New Delhi, India.

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Charles Gramlich said...

So much amazing history that we'll never fully know about. It's great that we have historical fiction to help us fill in the gaps.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, without historical fiction we'd all have to learn a new language every time we wanted to learn about a new place and time.