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Santosh Pandey, a 12-year old from Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh was a bright child. But there came a day when he did not even want to attend his school. He sat outside his house near a tree and kept thinking about how he could help his mother. The night before, he had seen his mother selling the little land they owned to marry of her daughter, Santosh’s sister.

“Once, when I was in class 7, my mother gave my brother and I just boiled potatoes to eat, saying she was not in a mood to cook that day. We were surprised as we had never seen our mother feel lazy about cooking or doing any other work. Later, I saw her selling her tiny gold nose ring for Rs. 45 to buy some rice,” Santosh recalls.

Young Santosh decided that he had seen enough. He made up his mind to leave school and start working to help his mother. He left home and went to a relative who was a wholesale book dealer in Mumbai. There he earned Rs. 500/- by selling books with him.

All this encouraged Santosh to start a book business. He started collecting bestseller books from scrap dealers and selling them at bus stops and railway stations. He also got married and had children. In just a few years, Santosh was able to put up his own shop at Ville Parle. He was doing extremely well until one day, in 2009, his shop was broken down by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and he had to shift to a small alley where there were hardly any customers. This came as a major setback.

Simultaneously, in 2011, he began to write a piece of fiction based on his learnings from the Ramayana. Santosh felt that even the most villainous characters in the epic, especially the demon king Ravana, had some redeeming qualities to them. So his story explored Ravana’s past before he encountered Ram – his years growing up as a Brahmin boy in a forest and the ascent to the throne of Lanka before he was decimated for his evil deeds.

He had no intention of publishing the book when he started writing. Once, when the book was complete, Santosh desired to publish it in English. Vinod Cherian, a marketing professional in Mumbai, was one of Santosh’s regular customers. Santosh had always surprised him with his vast knowledge despite being a school dropout. When Santosh narrated the story of his book to Vinod, the latter encouraged him to publish it. And slowly, after two years of hard work, the book took its final shape in English – with both their names as authors.

The book ‘Karmaayan’ was published in 2016 and can be bought here

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