Sukriti YJ

The Author of Gold Digger - Treasure of Son Bhandar


Sukriti YJ (pen name: “Sukriti”) is an author and screenwriter. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia University, a B.Sc. in Managerial Economics from the London School of Economics, and attended high school at Dhirubhai Ambani International School, Mumbai.

Sukriti’s writing is in Vox, Quartz, Bustle, New Statesman, The Hindu, The Times of India, and elsewhere. She is the researcher of The Power of Bad (2019), written by New York Times’ science columnist John Tierney. She is the researcher and co-author of Untapped (2018), published for corporate distribution by Womenkind, a Manhattan-based marketing agency.

As a screenwriter, she is working on original and adapted screenplays for feature films and web-series. Her sci-fi feature Beta Builder, was awarded at the Writers’ INK Lab 2023 by NYU and UCLA film faculty. Her sitcom DIL MIL was shortlisted at Netflix’s 2023 TakeTen contest. She is represented by Tulsea.

Sukriti lives in Mumbai, and is the founder of Unibrow Stories, which creates fun, Indian stories for page and screen.

TBE: What inspired you to write Gold Digger, an adventure novel set around the legendary treasure-caves of Son Bhandar and the ancient history of Bihar?

Sukriti YJ: In its day, Rajgir would’ve been as famous as Rome or Athens. It was the seat of successive empires, including the Magadha and Mauryan dynasties. (“Raj Grih” = Place of Kings.)

When I started researching the town, my jaw dropped. Next to the famed Son Bhandar caves of Rajgir was the ancient university of Nalanda, and next to that the final resting place of the Buddha… so many historical treasures, all packed into one town!

TBE: Your protagonists Aunum Pal and Dr. Prateek Yadav have such a fun, combustible dynamic. What was your process for developing their contrasting personalities and slow-burn chemistry?

Sukriti YJ: It’s lovely to hear that! One of my favourite things about my spouse is that he is almost always interested to talk about or try out something I’m interested in: this shared curiosity became the basis of Aunum and Prateek’s friendship, and their subsequent flirtation.

And yet, Aunum and Prateek have very different moral compasses. Aunum will do anything for her mother; Prateek for his motherland. That helped create the friction, mistrust, and competition between them, in the earlier chapters.

TBE: Aunum is such a refreshingly modern female adventure heroine. What sort of examples or influences did you draw from when creating her character?

Sukriti YJ: My friend Vatsal was the one who truly bottled the character of Aunum Pal, when he said she is Lara Croft—if Lara was buried under the patriarchy.

Once I heard that, I realised Aunum Pal is like any other savvy, talented young girl in an organisation who isn’t getting her due. And who doesn’t even really believe she’s ready for more. How would someone like that break away from the establishment and try to make a mark on her own?

The one thing I was determined to do was give Aunum a cheerful temperament. I modelled her on the protagonist of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, who is optimistic, joyful, hopeful in the face of all odds, and so endearing.

TBE: The book weaves in so much vivid detail about Indian folklore, mythology, language, and cultural traditions. How much research went into depicting those elements with such authenticity?

Sukriti YJ: I read books and websites, watched videos of the caves and the town, and spoke to the elders in my family about stories that might have been passed down through history; part of my family comes from the neighbouring state of U.P.

I quite willingly fell from one rabbit-hole into another. The research was perhaps my favourite part of the entire project.

TBE: Nik Arora is an absolutely loathsome yet strangely compelling villain. What was your approach to shaping such a memorable antagonist?

Sukriti YJ: Ooh, aren’t loathsome villains the best? It’s one of my writerly dreams to create someone as despicable as Gabbar Singh, Langda Tyagi, or Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.

Nik came together piece by piece. He is, unfortunately, based on someone I know. His devious, strategic character was also helped by feedback from beta readers. Finally, the way Nik’s father treats his mother is such a big part of how Nik treats Aunum, and I still dislike him for it.

TBE: There’s clearly an undercurrent celebrating the preservation of regional Indian history and pushing back against cultural exploitation. Was delivering those themes important to you?

Sukriti YJ: Yes. I relate a lot to Aunum Pal, our heroine, and her drive for rediscovering Indian history. I too spent some years living abroad, visiting world museums, and–oddly–that’s when my real fascination with Indian history began. I realised what a legacy, what a wealth of stories we’ve inherited. It became my goal to make them known. We can only protect what we know.

TBE: The action sequences in Gold Digger are wildly cinematic. Did you visualize or storyboard some of the big set pieces like the Buddhist cave infiltrations?

Sukriti YJ: That’s a very insightful question. This novel was birthed out of a screenplay, which helped develop action set pieces like the one set in the Saptaparni Buddhist caves.

Writing a story out as a screenplay doesn’t always allow for very deep insight into character motivations, but I didn’t mind that particularly for this novel. The goal was to write something nimble, speedy, and fun.

TBE: What were some of the biggest creative challenges you faced in plotting out the riddles, challenges, and ancient mysteries surrounding the Son Bhandar treasure?

Frankly, the biggest challenge was deciding what to exclude: there are so many historical gems in Rajgir, and I couldn’t fit all of them into the book. The mighty and ancient battle arena of warrior-king Jarasandh is also in Rajgir, for instance. An earlier draft of the novel used that location, but eventually, I had to let it go.

And I don’t speak Sanskrit so figuring out a Sanskrit-based riddle was also a wonderful challenge.

TBE: Aunum and Prateek’s relationship seems clearly primed to continue developing across future adventures. If so, can you tease what sorts of expeditions you might have in mind for them next?

Sukriti YJ: My favourite question! I’m so excited for Aunum and Prateek to set off on their next adventure, but all I can say about that at the moment is that they will soon be heading south.

TBE: For readers who devoured Gold Digger, what are some other adventure novels or franchises you’d recommend while they await the sequel?

Sukriti YJ: Way to Dusty Death by Alistair MacLeanis a fantastic adventure novel about an F-1 racer. I’ve just started reading a new series called The Mahabharata Quest: The Alexander Secret which seems quite interesting so far: a blend of Indian and Persian histories.

TBE: The book has such a distinctive blend of tones – thrilling action, romance, comedy, spirituality. How did you find the right balance in your writing style?

Sukriti YJ: What I write straddles all these genres because that’s what I watch or read too: books like The Da Vinci Code, and films like The Mummy series. Unconsciously, I’m mimicking them.

A shoutout here to my younger sister, Sonika, who came up with the title Gold Digger. Somehow, that tongue-in-cheek pun perfectly fit the tone of this book.

TBE: Now that Gold Digger is out in the world, what has the experience been like for you as a debut author starting a new adventure series? Have you been surprised by any of the reactions?

Sukriti YJ: It’s been heart-warming and surprisingly easy, thanks to communities like yours at The Bookish Elf. It’s been wonderful to connect with readers through Instagram, and I hope more reach out to me if they’re reading this interview.


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