Where did the idea of ‘Spiritual Parenting’ come from?
I was about 3-4 weeks pregnant when I started attending Vedanta classes under the aegis of the Chinmaya Mission in Bombay. A couple of weeks later I found out I was pregnant – with twins! I have to admit that my initial reaction was shock and I wondered how I would cope and how my life would change. Over the course of the next nine months, I continued my study of Vedanta, which I found calmed me and helped me put my life in perspective. The more I studied, the more I was convinced that all that I was absorbing was percolating down to my kids. Even when I went to have my cesarean operation, I was very calm.
Once the kids were born, I was so sure of my ability to mother them. I applied a lot of what I learned in my Vedanta class to parenting them. For instance, when they would cry (and as a new mom you rarely know why your kid is crying), I would chant and I found this calmed them down instantly. As they grew older, a lot of what I learned in class became pertinent and applicable to how I dealt with them as a parent. And so when someone suggested I write a book on using Vedantic principles to raise kids, I though “Why not?” and that’s how Spiritual Parenting was born.
When you were writing the book – did you ever think it would become a bestseller, or as popular as it has?
Not at all! If there’s one principle of the Geeta that I’ve sort-of internalized, it’s the principle of nishkama karma – acting without expectation. I wrote the book because it was meant to be written. I truly believe that this book came through me – it was almost like I was a medium to write it. So when it was done I thought it would be a good idea to publish it. And the entire process of publishing it and getting it out was so smooth and effortless, that it was like it was meant to be this way.
One thing I will say is that I had tremendous faith in the book. Even when it wasn’t being picked up by publishers, when I was getting one reject letter after another, I firmly believed that there was someone out there who would see what I did in the book and publish it.
How did you go through the process of writing the book? Was it written in chapters or did you write bits as you were inspired? What background research did you do for the book?
To start with, I created a list of topics I thought I should cover. This served as a basic contents page, and was modified several times through the writing of the book as I thought of more ideas or felt that something was too trite or was repeated. Spiritual Parenting is very largely personal so I drew a lot on my own experiences as a parent. I also spoke with a lot of other parents on their experiences and perspectives.
In addition to this, I read a lot – from the Vedantic texts I was studying to spiritual and other forms of literature. I explored new age philosophies, texts on psychology and family relationships and dynamics, but at the centre of it all was the Geeta, which I believe is the greatest text ever written as it is as contemporary and relevant today as the day it was revealed.
You’ve interlinked a multiple of narratives into the book, the most endearing is your own experiences of a mother: how has motherhood changed you, and what have you learned about your writing since becoming a mother?
At the risk of sounding extremely clichéd, motherhood has made me a better person. It’s made me bigger than myself. By this I don’t mean in terms of the ego (or even my size!), but in terms of who and what I am to my children. To them, I am their first point of reference for everything, and so how and who I am will reflect to a certain extent in how and who they become. I have learned to be more patient (it doesn’t always work!), to be kinder and more compassionate, to be more generous and at an even more basic level to do things that will inspire them. For instance, I’m taking part in the marathon this year because I want my kids to feel, “Wow! There my mom running, and so can I.” The idea is not for them to run or jump or become a banker or social worker, but just to know that they can be anything and anybody they want to be.
As a writer, I feel motherhood and writing about it has smoothened the rough edges of my writing. When one writes about something or someone one loves so deeply, it reflects in the writing. I think because Spiritual Parenting has been written from the heart, it strikes readers as true.
I’m interested in knowing who you wrote the book for? Did you have a specific person or type of mother that you were writing for?
Like I said earlier, I just wrote the book because it had to be written. Every day I would write a bit and then leave it. I worked when my kids were at school and napping and honestly, I didn’t think it would result in a whole book, so there wasn’t a particular person or target audience I had in mind. Although it’s meant for parents, I’ve had people come up and tell me that you don’t need to be a parent to enjoy it, which I think is a huge compliment.
Moving on from the writing process, to getting published…how did you go about getting an agent?
I was getting one reject letter after another from publishers while I happened to be reading ‘The Red Carpet’ by Lavanya Sankaran. She’s related to a friend who was telling me that she (Lavanya) had a great agent and so I thought I should get one too. I called a friend who literally knows everyone in town and she connected me with my agent Sherna Khambatta. I call Sherna my good luck charm and she really is. I was her first client as she was just starting up and neither of us envisioned Spiritual Parenting to be the success it is. I do believe that luck was on my side because I signed the contract with Hay House India six months after sending my manuscript to Sherna.
What did the publication process involve and how were you treated by publishers?
The publication process was relatively easy. I signed my contract with Hay House India in April 2008 and by February 2009, the first copy of Spiritual Parenting was in my hands. They did a great job with the edit and the design. They hardly cut anything from the manuscript, and wherever they made changes I was kept informed. I particularly love the cover design by Aeshna Roy who works with them – it’s so eye-catching that people feel they just have to pick it up.
Finally what advice would you give to aspiring writers of a non fiction book?
Write with heart. As a fiction writer, it’s easier to fall in love with your characters and write through them, but when you’re writing non-fiction, the writing can become very dry and boring. I love the New York Times style of writing, where even a boring town meeting is infused with details to bring the entire scene alive for readers. That’s what I try to do through my writing.
Gopika Kapoor is a Mumbai-based writer and communications consultant. She has written for a number of leading publications, including The Times of India, The Indian Express, Elle, Seventeen India, and Andpersand Magazine, and has been consulted on various communications initiatives and Child Relief and You (CRY), Point of View, CERA, and Save the Children, Sweden. Gopika lives in Mumbai with her husband Mohit, a corporate lawyer and life coach, and her twins, Vir and Gayatri. Her books Spiritual Pregnancy and Spiritual Dating will both be released by Hay House India in 2010.