Smoke in the Deccan. Baby Steps

'Smoke in the Deccan’ is officially the first story to be published under ‘Taccomacco Story Incubation Program’. Quite a long name for a simple idea. The core of the idea is to provide editorial support and mentorship to the new and upcoming batch of bestselling authors. In their nascent stage, it is hard for a writer to get editorial support and guidance on how to tackle the task of writing a story. While writing is an artistic pursuit, our job as mentors is to nudge young writers in a direction where their artistic tendencies meet craft and guile.

Being an early stage startup ourselves, we know how much important it is for someone to get proper guidance and mentorship in the first days of struggle. As a team, we’ve been writing stories for some time now. It was, and is, our conviction that there is an undercurrent of writing talent brimming in this country. And so, following our conviction, we began using our resources to bring forth writers waiting to be found.

In Story Incubation, we onboard new writers through internship. These interns are college students pursuing education in a variety of courses and streams. Selection in this program is judged by the sample story they submit based on an assigned topic. Do it, impress us and get ready to be published in next few months. The judging criteria of a story for internship is three-fold, first being how much of the idea has been reflected in the story, how much can it resonate with readers and the writer’s personal touch to the story and topic.

After completion of the process, strengths and weaknesses are identified based upon the intern’s writing. Similarly interns are also asked about their strengths, the genres they like writing and the ones they don’t or cannot. For example, an applicant may feel he/she is really good at horror, but it’s our job to identify whether he/she is suited to the genre, and if not, what can be done to improve. Forcing a writer to write something out of their domain is useless, and against everything we are trying to accomplish through story incubation.

Based upon this exercise, a story idea is proposed to the writer. The process of writing to publication is then broken down into milestones. Achieving all these milestones verifies and completes the ‘Incubation Program’.

Beginning of the First Story under 'Story Incubation'

Kartik Subodh, a student at SRM University Chennai, was selected through our screening process and he showed great strength in writing stories emphasizing the intensity of emotions characters go through. This gave us the perfect opportunity to pitch the idea of ‘Operation Polo’ i.e. ‘The Annexation of Hyderabad’ to Kartik.

‘The Annexation of Hyderabad’ took place in September, 1948. It was a police action to annex the Princely State of Hyderabad into the Indian Union. After independence, almost all princely states had acceded to either India or Pakistan by 1948, except Hyderabad, one of the wealthiest and most powerful principality. Its ruler Nizam Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII, chose to keep his Hindu-majority princely state independent and maintain it that way through an irregular army recruited from the Muslim aristocracy.

Shortly after Indian Independence in 1947, a Standstill Agreement was signed between Nizam and Indian Government to avoid any military action or violence between the two. During this time, communal Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Hyderabad. The reason for this was the suppression of Hindus in the constituency. This is largely attributed to the fact that even after Hindu held the majority, they were oppressed and marginalized. Partition just added fuel to the fire. Nizam ordered the establishment of a voluntary militia of around 200,000 Muslims, known as the Razakars, to uphold the Islamic domination in the constituency.

The Police Action broke out when Nizam violated the clauses of the agreement and started supporting Pakistan monetarily. In return, India tried to isolate Hyderabad by blocking trade routes. Indian armed forces were also deployed to counter the growing tension, and finally to annex Hyderabad to the Indian Union and avoid the Balkanization of India. This police action worried the Nizam as he only had 24,000 men in his army out of which only 6,000 were fully trained and equipped. After 5 days of violence, Nizam surrendered and acceded to Indian Union.

How ‘Smoke in the Deccan’ came to fruition?

The Annexation of Hyderabad is a major event post-independence and it lacks proper narration even after 71 years. This was the perfect opportunity to create a story that talks about what actually happened and give a narrative to the entire event.

This could have been written as a war & political drama spanning over the time-frame of the entire event, or that’s what we thought the final story would come out to be. But you can’t control the creative freedom of an artist, and that’s the beauty of this process. Even when you have everything planned out, someone or something will always surprise you and bring a smile on your face.

A similar thing happened when Kartik sent us his first draft. We were surprised by the direction he had taken, and were kind of skeptical to go forward with the plot. On further internal discussions, we came to the decision of going forward with it.

It talked about everything we weren’t expecting from it, the emotions and situations a commoner had to go through, the struggle to escape the hardships of Hyderabad & reach India, the killings in the name of religion and the moral dilemma of a soldier at killing his own countrymen. These flavors enhances the beauty of the story.

This exercise also led us to the conclusion that the best part of this Incubation Program will always be the way writer perceives an idea and make a plot around it, subverting the expectations of our editorial team.

We also learned the value of not letting our own expectations affect the creativity of the writer. At the end of the day, we are doing this to help writers, and not turn them into monotonous robots who do as they’re told.