Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. She comes from a family of Gujarati merchants and educators with roots in Singapore and the UK. Twelve years ago, she left behind her roots to discover her wings. Since then, she’s lived, studied and worked in Australia, Israel, Japan and China, adding uncharted territories to a long list of previously ventured destinations.
With a background in both business and education, Dipa has extensive experience in the public-school system as well as in the private, government and corporate sectors.
“No matter where I go, I meet people with the same hopes, the same fears and the same needs for joy, companionship, and adventure. The human experience is a universal one. The things we have in common vastly outweigh that which differentiates us. Our life and time is precious. We must savour it. It is this philosophy I weave through my stories, no matter where the next step of my journey will bring me.”
In her debut novel THE LITTLE LIGHT, Dipa Sanatani explores spiritual and metaphysical themes inspired by world mythology, folklore, fairy tales, and ancient legends; as well as contemporary fiction and YA literature.
Through her stories, she tackles the big themes of life, love, and our place in this vast universe, discovering and re-discovering the journey that is life with a deep sense of curiosity and a restless thirst for the next great adventure. Right now, she is back in Singapore and working on Mith Books, her first business venture.
TBE: Tell us about your book, can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Dipa Sanatani: The Little Light is a story about a wise and curious soul that meets the planets before it’s born on earth.
TBE: What brought about the idea for The Little Light and why did you want to write it?
Dipa Sanatani: The idea came to me when I was lying in bed alone in my apartment in Japan. I was contemplating the vast nature of the universe when I suddenly thought, “How nice it would be if I could invite the planets over for a discussion on life, love and the larger purpose for our existence.”
I promptly opened up my notebook and drew a sketch of what the mythological Nine Celestial Beings would look like if they were ‘updated’ for the modern era. The idea ruminated in my head for four years before I finally sat down to write the story.
TBE: What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
Dipa Sanatani: Life is not meant to be foretold. It is meant to be lived. The journey is preparing you for the destination.
TBE: Who’s your most favorite character from your book? and why?
Dipa Sanatani: The Little Light, of course. The incessant questions. The curiosity. The innocence. The wisdom. The fear. The apprehension. The courage. The Little Light is every one of us in our most primal form.
TBE: What was your writing process for this book?
Dipa Sanatani: The story and the characters have a life of their own. I write when I can; and I write when the story is ready. I cannot rush it.
TBE: How long did it take you to write this book?
Dipa Sanatani: Believe it or not – that’s a difficult question. My career as a novelist was 12 years in the making. I completed two full-length novels and a screenplay before I finally published The Little Light.
TBE: During your journey from the idea of this book to the publication, what was the most difficult thing you faced? Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Dipa Sanatani: My background’s in business. It was hard for people to understand why I would give up a ‘stable and secure’ life to write books. But the heart wants what it wants. In 2013, I tried getting published the traditional way and failed miserably. Most people said, “I told you so.”
And yet, that little voice inside of me that wanted to tell stories never went away.
In 2018, I decided to try again. I couldn’t be bothered with the unnecessary hassle of going down the traditional route again, so I started my own publishing business.
The rest, as they say, is history.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Dipa Sanatani: Life is short. Savour it.
TBE: According to you What Is Mythology? And why it is important in shaping the society of the world today or in the future?
Dipa Sanatani: Myths are timeless tales that can never die. They are told and retold. No one owns these stories but they belong to all of us. They contain truths about the universal nature of the human experience. Humanity has advanced technologically, but we haven’t stopped asking the age old questions – why are we here, where do we come from and what’s the point of it all.
When we retell the old myths, we remember that we are not alone in the universe. Our stories are as old as time.
TBE: Do you think, for both children and adults, understanding the mythology associated with one’s culture is important? Why?
Dipa Sanatani: There is a proverb, “Blessed be that that give our children roots and wings.”
I do think these myths form the basis of our identity. I’m a fifth generation Singaporean. My mum’s side of the family is British. But we’re still Gujarati and I haven’t forgotten that.
I studied Bharatanatyam for eight years. And took part in the Ramayana. I went to the Durga Ma Temple with my mother every Tuesday. As business owners, we did Lakshmi Puja on Dhanteras. I read Indian comics growing up. When I got older, I’d sit down with thick volumes of the Mahabharata and the Vedas. These practises formed the basis of my understanding of my heritage.
At the same time, I believe that having roots is not enough. If we remain rigid in our beliefs we cannot be enriched by other cultures. We need wings to give us perspective. When I lived in Israel, I had the opportunity to study the Abrahamic religions in Jerusalem. It was through studying the similarities and differences between these two traditions that I saw the common threads across cultures; as well as learnt to appreciate the uniqueness of each tradition.
TBE: Does Indian mythology, if interpreted without any bias, teach people to be more accepting of other cultures than Abrahamic mythologies?
Dipa Sanatani: Indian mythology developed in India and India is home to the largest population of Hindus in the world. Each state in India is like a mini country with its own versions of the myths. India is also home to a multitude of religions that came to the subcontinent from abroad.
Abrahamic mythologies, on the other hand, have larger numbers of followers outside their home countries. For instance, the most populous Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. The USA is home to the largest Christian population in the world; and Judaism developed largely in the diaspora.
From my perspective, the historical development of these two schools of thought are completely different. In either case, I believe we can only keep an old tradition going by adapting it for the modern era.
TBE: What are the main tenets where myths overlap modern scientific findings?
Dipa Sanatani: Myths are stories that offer valuable insight into the human condition. We can retell them and reimagine them – as I have done with The Little Light.
Science, on the other hand, is the systematic study of structure and behaviour of the world through observation and experiment.
If we happen to find nuggets of information in the myths that we can verify through science, then great. But if not, I’m not sure that the two have much in common.
Having said that, I do believe they both have a vital role to play in modern society.
TBE: How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?
Dipa Sanatani: I went with my mum to the Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Singapore. We’re merchants. It’s our tradition. After the prayers, my mum tried to get me to eat one too many homemade ladoos. It was futile to resist.
TBE: Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Dipa Sanatani: I read a lot. If not for Goodreads, I wouldn’t even remember half the books I’ve read. I don’t watch TV and I’m barely even on YouTube other than to listen to music.
My literary influences are: Paulo Coelho, JK Rowling, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, Devdutt Pattanaik, David Mitchell and Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
TBE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Dipa Sanatani: I enjoy cooking. I travel when I can – especially to places with ancient civilisations that are rich in history. I like learning new languages. In my 20s, I leant Hebrew, Spanish and Japanese from scratch. I hear it’s good for the brain.
TBE: Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
Dipa Sanatani: Of course. It happens to all writers. Sometimes the story isn’t ready. It’s important not to force it. At the same time, it’s important not to quit.
TBE: In your opinion, what is the most important thing about any book?
Dipa Sanatani: As an author, I’d say don’t try to please everybody. You can’t.
As a reader, I’d say… our tastes change with age. I’m embarrassed by some of the stuff I used to read as a teenager. Don’t ask me who. I won’t tell you. And no, I never read romance novels and still don’t.
Having said that, some books are timeless.
TBE: What was one of the most surprising things you learned during creation of your book?
Dipa Sanatani: I was a grown adult that had never given up on a childhood dream.
TBE: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Dipa Sanatani: When I learned that saying ‘I want chocolate’ would make it magically appear. My aunties and uncles were very generous with sweets.
TBE: A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, and they are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Dipa Sanatani: Writing a novel is largely a solitary pursuit. Having said that, if you haven’t lived your life and taken your chances, you’ll have nothing to write about.
TBE: If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?
Dipa Sanatani: Honour the journey. Especially the difficult, heart breaking bits. It’s preparing you for your destination.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Dipa Sanatani: I’m working on the sequel of my book. It needs a bit more time to brew and come together… but I’m getting there. If you’re curious to find out what happens to The Little Light when it’s born – stay tuned.
Buy Now: The Little Light by Dipa Sanatani
The Little Light: A Story of Reincarnation and the Crazy Cosmic Family (The Guardians of the Lore Book 1)