Santosh Pandey has crammed more than 3,500 books in the small second-hand book stall he runs at Vile Parle, but next month, he will add the most precious book yet — his debut novel, Karmaayan: Untold secrets of Ravan.

Santosh Pandey (left) and co-author Vinod Cherian at Santosh book store, in a Vile Parle lane. Pics/Nimesh Dave

But it was hardly an easy journey for the 33-year-old, who was forced to quit school after Std VII because his parents could no longer afford to pay Rs 6 per month to send him to school. Instead, he made his way from Amani Pandeypur village in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai at the age of 13, to earn a living.

Santosh Pandey (left) and co-author Vinod Cherian at Santosh book store, in a Vile Parle lane. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Santosh Pandey (left) and co-author Vinod Cherian at Santosh book store, in a Vile Parle lane. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Hundreds visit Pandey’s bookstall in a small pay-and-park lane in Irla, and many of them rely on him for advice on which books to buy. But when they heard he was writing a book himself, the reaction was far from positive.

“When I told people and publishers who came to my bookstall that I am writing a book, they all laughed at me. For an uneducated person — a ‘seventh-standard-pass’ as they say — to write a book was a novelty,” he said with a grin.

New chapter
“My parents were struggling to pay school fees for my younger brother and me. My brother was bright; today, he is an engineer and the deputy general manager of a company in Odisha. I came to Mumbai when I was 13 and started living with a relative who was a second-hand book dealer. The family was struggling to make ends meet, so I took a few books and started selling them near the Vakola bus stop, like a typical pavement book seller, spreading a sheet on the road and putting a few books on them,” recalled Pandey.

At 15, he went back to his village to get married, and then returned and moved his stall to Irla. “As time went on, I got a shop, then a licence and I bought a flat in Mira Road,” he added. Pandey now lives at the Mira Road flat with his wife and three kids.

Although he was deprived of an education, Pandey has done well for himself. The protagonist of his book, however, followed a completely opposite trajectory, ending up as one of the most infamous villains of Indian mythology.

“I started writing the book four years ago, when I went to my village and read various versions of the Ramayan. It got me thinking about why Ravan — who was so well educated — became so bad?” said Pandey. Pandey started writing in Hindi and filled five big diaries. “My novel is part fiction and part myth. It explores how Ravan’s actions and karma lead him from being the son of a simple Brahmin, to a big king.”

But Pandey wanted the book to be published in English, so more people could read it. Two years ago, one of his regular buyers — 25-year-old logistics professional Vinod Cherian — agreed to co-author the English version.

Cherian, a resident of Four Bungalows, said, “I struggled with the translation as Pandey writes in Sanskritised Hindi. We would sit at a nearby restaurant till 1 am every night for two years, working on the translation.”

The long hours didn’t go unnoticed by Pandey’s wife. “I would get up in the middle of the night and go to the living room to write. My wife got suspicious and, one day, asked me if I was having an affair! She found it difficult to comprehend my passion about the book. Today, though, she is very proud of my accomplishment,” he said.

It was through the bookstall again, that Pandey met his publisher. Vineet Bansal, from Petals Publishers and Distributors, Delhi, was on one of his regular visits to the stall when Pandey told him about his book. Unlike the others, Bansal didn’t laugh.

Book cover of Karmaayan: Untold secrets of Ravan
Book cover of Karmaayan: Untold secrets of Ravan

“I liked the concept and asked Pandey to send me a few chapters. Our editorial team also liked it and now we are publishing this book. Since it is a novice’s work, it needs fine-tuning. What is particularly compelling is that the book explores the aspect of Ravan as a person. I was astonished that a person who has not even passed school had written a book. Yet, the way the story has been presented is good,” he added. The untold story of Ravan is on the cusp of release, but for many of his customers, Pandey’s story is no less exciting.