An interview with Indian writer Vikas Prakash Joshi

Besides promoting the beauty and history of our country, we also have a great interest in other cultures, especially the faraway ones. So we are very pleased to have an Indian “penfriend”, Vikas Prakash Joshi. Our relationship begun when he asked us to write a short critique about his first book “My name is Cinnamon”. We then continued to communicate by email, exchanging knowledge, ideas and experiences on various subjects. So, it came naturally to our minds to ask Vikas for an interview concerning himself and his country. But we will leave him to tell you all about that…

Most of the beautiful photos in the interview come from the private collection of Vikas, for which we thank him a lot, as they make us get to know him even better! The rest are included with their online source.

In our new sweet interview our Indian friend and writer Vikas Prakash Joshi talks about his upcoming children’s book “My name is Cinnamon”, his love for Greece, his friends from other countries, his travels and his favourite destinations in India, signature Indian dishes, his favourite desserts and much more. In the end he shares with our readers an excerpt from his upcoming book, which is totally hilarious!

INTERVIEW

Hello Vikas and thank you so much for the following interview! First of all, can you give us some information about yourself to get to know you better?

I am from the city of Pune, in western India, famous for its artistes, theatre industry and educational institutes. With Masters Degrees in Development Studies and Journalism, from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Asian College of Journalism, I hold almost 8 years of professional experience in various aspects of communication; writing, editing, translation, public speaking, networking, public and media relations. My tryst with writing started from a very young age, when my articles came in the school newspaper, before I won literary competitions at city, state, national and finally international level. I consider myself a storyteller and story ‘listener’ to the core.

Modelling photo
Modelling photo

On a lighter note, I like Chocolate Nutella, crisp pork chops, the music of Shania Twain and well-written detective fiction.

Modelling photo
The Bibi Ka Makbara of Aurangabad
With mom in Kerala’s tea gardens
With mom and bro in Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra

We know that you are about to publish your first children’s book. Would you like to tell us what is it about?

My first book, “My Name is Cinnamon”, is my childhood dream. I cannot believe sometimes, that it is finally happening, after so many years of thinking about it.
Rather than giving you a straightforward answer “My book is set in blah blah, or is the theme is like this and that” I have a sweet surprise!

I am happy to provide a small “Book Excerpt” for the Eat Dessert First Greece readers; it is a sneak peek of the book before it is formally launched. Publishing excerpts, before a book is published, is widely prevalent in the literary world. (You will find the book excerpt at the end of the interview.) Please note, www.eatdessertfirstgreece.com will be the very first publication, in India or outside, to carry an excerpt of the book. Thank you Eat Dessert First Greece team!

“My Name is Cinnamon” (forthcoming Hay House 2021/22) is an adventurous tale of a little boy whose life is nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. Cinnamon is a very special boy for many reasons, foremost being that he is a ‘heart-baby’ and not a ‘tummy-baby’, i.e. he is adopted. He grows up seeing love and laughter in his life, and not to mention silly banters between his parents over food preferences and lifestyle, as his father and mother are from very different regions of India. From the bustling city streets of Pune, to the chaotic and charmingly infuriating city of Kolkata to Nandurbar’s hilly, vast and breath-taking lush green vistas, the book explores diverse landscapes. The illustrations are done by the excellent illustrator for children’s books Niloufer Wadia. It is an original, sensitive and moving tale which will make you think, cry and laugh. To know more, write to joshi.vikas500@gmail.com

Illustration from the upcoming book “My Name is Cinnamon”

We also know that you have a great love for our country, Greece. Where does this interest come from?

My interest in Greece started when, as a child, my parents gave me a small book “Folktales of Greece.”

I read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. This was my first idea of a country called “Greece”. Later in school, I hated Greece because of Pythagoras, Eratosthenes, Archimedes and other such mathematicians with ridiculously long names—they invented concepts which I had no interest in. I felt irritated that why one small country produced so many such people! My English teacher, seeing my interest in literature, gave me abridged copies of Iliad and Odyssey, saying these are the epics of Ancient Greece. I found them really tough going!

Illustration of an Ancient Greek thinker

As I got older, I read some of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles and Socrates. I met Indian tourists and businessmen who had ties with Greece, Greek tourists and professionals in India, exchange students in college, ate Greek food in restaurants and at food festivals and read modern day Greek writers like Vagelis Iliopoulos. The GREXIT issue, the financial problem and the refugee crisis suddenly brought home to me the reality of modern day Greece.

Greek children’s book writer Vagelis Iliopoulos (source)

This made me realise Greece was not just an ancient civilisation, but like India, a real living country, where people -just like me- laughed, cried and lived.

Thus, my interest in Greece is from several aspects. Its own history as a great civilisation, renowned thinkers and writers, world-famous tourism destinations and its current complex geopolitical reality. Besides this, its hospitable people, successful diaspora, the breezy, warm climate, postcard like deep blue waters, beaches and architecture. What a combination!

Have you ever been to Greece? If no, would you like to and where would you like to go?

Sadly, I have never had the opportunity to go to Greece. What an absurd question. “Would you like to?!” I would jump at the chance!

But when we talk about “going to” Greece, what I mean really is the people of Greece, because a country is -above all- its people, not mountains or monuments. What do I mean by that?

Riding in a bus or train with other Greek passengers through different landscapes, having a typical Greek breakfast or lunch in a street café or at a home, observing them, their lifestyle and habits and how they are. Shopping in a local Greek street market for different items, sitting in a classroom with other students, walking the streets of the cities, attending a Greece church service. Sitting and eating a peach or fig under a tree, in the shade, chatting with a group of Greek people. Maybe, listening to older people talking about the days gone by and younger people’s hopes for the future. Going to places or local shops where tourists generally do not go, attending a meeting or conference of Greek writers. Basically immersing myself with common Greek people; observing and absorbing it all. I will treasure all this.

Greece’s most well known local street market, Monastiraki in Athens (source)

We all as humans everywhere, go through so many of the same experiences from birth to death, more or less, and yet every community in the world is so different from each other as well. In these differences, lies the scope for tremendous conflict and hatred, but also of great beauty and learning. It is one of my favourite experiences to simply observe and mingle with local people, wherever I go.

Don’t get me wrong, for any Greek person reading this. I respect and love all these historical places and famous destinations in Greece (Delphi, Mystras, Mykonos, Rhodes, Parthenon-the list is just endless, can’t name all.) I will be very excited to see them. They are the pride of the whole world. But as a writer, as a human being, I find the people of a country more fascinating, and more beautiful.

People in a Greek beach near Sounio, Attica (photo from our second website)

As a person wanting to promote intercultural understanding, except for us do you have friends in other faraway countries?

Eat Dessert First Greece has a special place as it’s the first to endorse the book, even before Indian writers, and now the first to carry an extract. Additionally, I do have contacts in over 20-25 countries. To name a few: Egypt, Madagascar, Guyana, South America, USA, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Lebanon, Canada, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Belgium and Italy. I am always keen to connect with more and more countries as this helps me to break my preconceived notions and understand my own country better too.

Have you travelled a lot? Which is your favourite journey?

I have travelled quite a bit both within India and outside. Outside India, I have had the good fortune of going to Kenya, Madagascar, Guyana, Uganda, USA and Canada.

These are some of my favourite journeys in India: journey to Kutch, (bordering Pakistan) with its flat salt pans that at night, resemble stunning moonscapes, Arunachal Pradesh and its breath-taking vistas where your jeep always feels like it will fall off the gravity defying cliffs, the clean seaside towns of western India, and the popular destinations of Ajanta Ellora caves.

Outside, New York and Kenya are my favourite locations. Aside from these, as a person in a non-profit organisation, I went to many villages and smaller towns in India for documentation. Though these are not “tourist destinations” I really enjoyed the flavour it gave me of life at the grassroots.

Photos from the journeys of Vikas to various Indian destinations:

A snapshot of the Chakradhapur town in Jharkhand
Hampi
Palace in Murshidabad West Bengal
Clean and beautiful beach in Karnataka
CST Railway Station in Mumbai-An icon of Mumbai
Ferry crossing at the Ganga in West Bengal
In front of Humayun Tomb in Delhi
Mahabaleshwar photo
Sindudurg Fort
The famous Shaniwar wada of Pune
Tuljapur temple of Maharashtra

If a foreign traveller comes to India, where would you advise him or her to go? Which is your favourite destination in India?

I would advise you to go to India’s North East, a region of 7 states known as the “Seven Sisters”, which borders many of our neighbouring countries. You will get a very different flavour of India if you go there. In fact, till about 10-15 years ago, tourists from other parts of India didn’t visit there that much, due to geography and law and order issues. Now is the right time to go.

My favourite destinations include the quaint, lovely hill stations of South India and India’s scenic and diverse North-East.

More photos from the journeys of Vikas to various Indian destinations:

Amer fort in Jaipur Rajasthan
Beautiful Umiam lake in Meghalaya
Snap enroute from NJP to Sikkim
Elephant ride in Kaziranga National Park Assam
Gol Gumbaaz in Bijapur
Sipping water with mountains of Arunachal in the backdrop

In Athens we have a few Indian restaurants. Would you say that your country has some signature dishes?

Yes of course, we have signature dishes for both those who eat meat and who don’t. I will lay out a full day’s plan, which incorporates many signature dishes of India.

Breakfast: Idli and /or Dosa, different chutneys and piping hot filter coffee. Alternatively, you could have piping hot wheat parathas, with butter, yoghurt and pickle.

Mid-morning snack time: Soft spongy yellow dhokla or sabudana wada, depending on your preferences.

Lunch: Hyderabadi chicken or lamb biryani, or a rogan josh for those who eat meat, a jackfruit curry, or a paneer curry, dal tadka, roomali roti or plain rice, and finish off with gajar ka halwa or rosogollas.

Mid-Afternoon snack: Hot begun bhaja (slices of brinjal/eggplant fried in mustard oil), with luchis. If this is too heavy, plain crisp fried pakodas and bhajjis with your tea are also good. Have a cup of hot tea with milk and chai masala, prepared in the Indian style.

Dinner: Goan pork curry (vindaloo) or fish curry prepared in the Kerala style with coconut milk, are all options for those who eat meat. Baigan bharta, Dum Aloo or Chickpea and Potato Curry (Chhole Aloo), for vegetarians. Finish it off with rasmalai or kheer.

Accompaniments: You may consider having a tasty lassi after your meal or paan; both are good digestives. Accompaniments to Indian meals are also signature dishes: crisp Papad, spicy Achaar (pickled vegetables), cooling salad or raita and chutneys.

Of course, all this cannot be consumed by one person! So best if your family and friends help you.

I want to stress one thing here: Many times, I have seen foreigners in India complain about the spice level of Indian food. They drink a lot of cold water. But that’s totally useless. It fills up your stomach and doesn’t cool your tongue either. Try either bananas, yoghurt, butter milk, sugar (one of these obviously) these are all way, way more effective. Yoghurt is really good as a cooler.

Some of the favourite Indian food of Vikas:

Chuski–A breakfast item in Jharkhand
Sabudana Khichadi (Sago)-Popular breakfast in Maharashtra state
South Indian breakfast in Coorg Karnataka
Typical simple Indian lunch–achhaar, rice, sabji and cucumber
Assamese food thali in Guwahati
Fried yak meat pieces–Arunachal Pradesh!
Jadoh pork dish in Shillong Meghalaya-yellow rice and pork!
Lunch in an Odisha style-state of Odisha
Momos in Sikkim
Mutton dhansak and soft drinks in Udhvada Gujarat-A Parsi speciality!
Puttu or Appes from Karnataka with medua wada and coconut chutney
Semolina kheer-a sweet dish

What about Greek food? Have you tasted any Greek dishes? Are there Greek restaurants in India?

I like the healthy and simple nature of Greek cuisine; it’s not spicy but very tasty. I am a huge yoghurt fan and any country which likes yoghurt is my kind of country. I have tasted several Greek dishes and love them. Baklava, Pork chops, Moussaka, Feta cheese and Greek bread. These, I have tasted at European restaurants in major cities as well as at food festivals.

Greek yogurt (source)
Τraditional Greek Moussaka (source)
Greek Feta cheese (source)

In India, standalone Greek restaurants or shops are sadly, practically non-existent. (Something to think about, Eat Dessert First Greece team, nudge, nudge). Many restaurants that are Mediterranean or Continental, in big cities, do have a few Greek items. Baklava is gaining in popularity as is Feta cheese.

We now have to ask… Which is your favourite Indian dessert? Do you also have a Greek favourite dessert?

My favorite Indian desserts include sevaiyya kheer and gajar ka halwa (this one with a healthy dollop of vanilla ice cream.)

My favorite Greek dessert(s) include the Baklava and Greek custard. Though must say, Baklava is so bloody heavy on the stomach.

Traditional Greek Baklava (source)

I have a HUGE, HUGE sweet tooth. In any plate, I always eat the sweet before anything else (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

What are your future plans? Are you going to write another book?

I definitely intend to write more books in future. I am working on 3 currently: a non-fiction book, an ebook which focuses on the challenges writers face and guides them through the whole journey (from the initial idea to publication and beyond), third, a detective fiction book. I want to keep writing books all my life, till my last day.

About my other future plans, well some good things are definitely bubbling on the pot, but I believe, if you talk too much about what you plan, it can attract negative attention. Let there be some surprises and mystery too.

To close up in a sweet way, do you want to send a sweet message to our Greek and foreign readers?

Friends in Greece and abroad, the last 1.5 years since the pandemic has shown us how fragile life is. A few days here and there; that’s all we have. We all should realise how little time we really have, and how we must take advantage of it to do what we want.

However, as an individual we can only achieve so little by ourselves, no matter how hard we work. It is only by coming together, and working together, that we can actually achieve or do anything, in Greece, India or indeed the world. This Eat Dessert First Greece interaction itself is a beautiful example of how people can connect across boundaries of geography and language.

So my sweet message is: let us see how we can use the time we have left to go after what we want and second, how we can connect with other people, and create those supportive communities, to make these aspirations possible in the first place.

As is the custom with Eat Dessert First Greece, I close out with one of our family’s favorite sweet recipes. It is ridiculously simple and very tasty. Whenever I have it, I feel like I am a child again. Perfect post lunch and dinner dessert.

Recipe for my family’s favorite Sevaiyya kheer (Sevayyachi kheer in Marathi language)

Sevaiyya kheer (source)

 Ingredients

  • 4 tblsp of vermicelli roasted or white
  • 2 tbsp of ghee or plain butter
  • 750 ml litre of milk preferably full cream milk
  • 10 tbsps. of sugar (one can add more sugar if one wants to or reduce the quantity of sugar to suit one’s taste)
  • A few strands of saffron (boil them in milk, to release their colour)
  • 4 pods of cardamom
  • 10 almonds (soak them in water overnight)

Method

Take a thick bottomed sauce pan and put it on the gas/stove. Keep the
flame very low. If you are using ghee put the ghee into the pan or put the butter into the pan. When the ghee/butter is melted add the vermicelli and roast it for 5 minutes at a low flame.

Now add the milk and allow the vermicelli to cook until it gets soft and the milk has reduced, to some extent. Add the sugar and allow the milk to boil further for 5 mins.

Turn off the heat and add the saffron strands in milk to the kheer. Crush the
cardamom pods and add to the kheer.

Peel the soaked almonds and cut into slivers and decorate the kheer. Pour the kheer into a serving bowl and put it into the fridge to cool for 2 hours.
         
Tip- sometimes the vermicelli can absorb the milk and it can become thick, we
may add half cup of warm milk to the kheer.        

Serve cold. Enjoy my Greek friends!

We will now close the interview with the excerpt that our friend Vikas send us from his book. Vikas, thank you so much for the honour and for the laughs!

Excerpt from the book “My Name is Cinnamon” by Vikas Prakash Joshi

The Night Time Raid

Illustration from the upcoming book

Cinnamon lay in bed, and stared up at the ceiling, desperately trying to stay awake.

Gradually, all the sounds in the house reduced. Everyone started going to bed.

The late night time Bengali serials and political discussions could no longer be heard.

His ears pricked suddenly.

Now was the time!

Mustering up his courage, he remembered that the stainless steel dabba was in the fridge. The picture of the rosogollas was too tempting to remain trapped in that bunk bed. Gripping the bunk bed for support, he lowered himself down gingerly. He couldn’t see anything at first.

To his surprise, his eyes refused to adjust to the darkness. Was it his imagination or was the darkness more intense than normal? He waited for a while but finally decided that he had to move ahead.

Cinnamon rubbed his eyes. He debated for a moment whether he should stay put. But hearing Souradeep snore, he knew it was now or never.

After waiting for an eternity, he could finally make out silhouettes; enough to make out what it was.

He had a good idea of where the kitchen was, and how to go there from his room. Inch by inch, Cinnamon crawled from the room’s door to the kitchen and finally the fridge.

He opened the different dabbas and feasted on the sweets, in particular the rosogollas and sondesh. He lost count of how many he had eaten, but finally his stomach was at bursting point.

Cinnamon had to make the journey back. Again, he could barely make out anything. The blackness became a bit less intense but none the less, persisted. He decided to get down on all fours and crawl across. He bumped his head against the bedroom door on his way back. It was all he could do to stop himself from crying, but he bit his lips. Very slowly and with difficulty, he climbed up into the bunk bed.

In the morning, he woke up to loud proclamations of ‘Ki acche?’ and ‘Key korlo?’ Tiptoeing to the bedroom door, Cinnamon poked his head out to see into the kitchen. In any case, when Maa and maashi spoke, there was no need to strain one’s ears.

“So many of the rosogollas are eaten! Maago!” said Maa. Nilanjana maashi stared deep into the tin suspiciously, as if the culprit could be found at the bottom of the jar. Didima opened the other tins as well, one by one.

“Even the shondesh and chomchoms!” exclaimed Didima.

“Who ate so many, I say?”

“Must be Shouro. Such a glutton he can be na,” said Maa.

Nilanjana maashi raised her eyebrows but didn’t respond.

“I was sleeping really,” Souradeep insisted.

Cinnamon was elated. He decided to stroll across nonchalantly to the sink to brush his teeth.

“Cinnamon, come here,” said Maa suddenly. He went forward.

“Nilanjanadi, look at our Cinnamon.”

They all stared at him and started giggling. Cinnamon wondered what they were staring at.

“Khokha, I say, how many rosogollas and shondesh did you eat yesterday night?”

Maashi asked very sweetly, her lips rolling every letter.

“I didn’t eat any…Kubhakshana…Souradeep ate them!” There were only peals of laughter in response.

“I didn’t eat any, it seems,” chortled Didima.

Maa took him by the shoulder and dragged him to the bathroom, amidst peals of laughter.

“Look in the mirror baby.”

Cinnamon could have died of embarrassment.

His whole shirt was covered with pieces of rasgolla, malpua syrup stains, sandesh and cham chams, as was his mouth. In his haste to get back to the bed, he had completely forgotten to even wash his mouth and hands. “I look like a stupid monkey with all that sweet stuff smeared all over my face,’ felt Cinnamon ruefully.

Soon after breakfast, Cinnamon’s stomach decided it had enough of the nocturnal all you can eat Bengali sweet extravaganza. He rushed to the bathroom and stayed inside for quite some time.

Yes, thought Cinnamon, after coming out of the bathroom. Even too much of sweets, may be a bad thing. The rosogollas were so yummy though.

Baba laughed when he heard about it.

He said, patting Cinnamon on his shoulder, embarrassing him, “Look at the bright side Cinnamon. At least now, you know how it feels, when an elephant poops.”

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. What a fun interview (by the way, Vikas isn’t the only one who wondered why he was being tormented by ancient Greek mathematicians!) Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha! 😊😊 We enjoyed the interview a lot too! Thank you so much our dear friend Aspasia! 🌺🌺🌺

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 🙏🙏🙏🌹🌹🌹

        Like

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