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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Three years ago, we sought to take a break from homework amid the pandemic. This resulted in the book,  Another Close Call: European Adventures and Indian Battles

We began with gusto and inspiration – choosing plots, developing characters, creating environments. Our original idea was to have a world-dominating conqueror and describe his feats. Combining the names of Napoleon Bonaparte and Julius Caesar, we molded them into a character called “Napoleon Caesar.” After some debate, the idea became to have him be not a world-conqueror but an aristocrat. 

Napoleon Caesar is at the center of two converging stories set in 1871. Napoleon’s father and also internationally acclaimed merchant Albert Caesar is kidnapped by a mysterious Indian cult known as the “Babitites.” Napoleon gathers seven companions on the journey and ventures to British India to save his father. 

Fighting The Babitites

Meanwhile, tensions rise in British India as the Babitites seize the opportunity to conquer much of the country. Three young Indians – Jamnalal, Shravan, and Keshav – are conscripted into the British army in a desperate attempt to defend the colonial capital, Kolkata, from the Babitite onslaught. The three are then sent on a mission to destroy Babitite artillery, but when they do, they get captured and sent to a Babitite slave mine. They eventually lead a slave revolt, and their story continues from there as they lead Indian efforts against the Babitites. 

We wrote the first chapters of the book towards the end of 2018 and took a break from it for a long period. Eighth grade had been quite a hard year, especially with the fact that one of our teachers in particular was rather strict and gave lots of assignments. Our freshman year of high school was equally hard as it was transformative.

Enter The Pandemic

So how did we find the time? Enter the COVID pandemic of 2020. Online learning, in its early stages, was very different from what was done before, so schools eased up on students at the start of the pandemic. In Ariel’s school during the start of the lockdowns, for example, letter grades were replaced by the“pass or fail” system. This allowed us to spend much-needed time working on their novel.

The combination of the summer and the pandemic was a game-changer. Ariel and I would usually be away in India or Israel, but due to travel restrictions, we were stuck at home. This prompted us to work on the book and we were able to complete it within a month.

And They Persisted

Then Mr. Rohit Handa stepped in. Mr. Handa happens to be my grandfather and the author of two books, A Twisted Cue (2003) and Comrade Sahib (1974). For the entirety of July and half of August, we called him every day, adjusting for time zone differences between California and India. Mr. Handa gave us priceless suggestions, including feasibility, grammar, and historical accuracy. For example, there was one entry in the novel where we used the word “Ottomans” ten times in one paragraph. He revealed the flaw to us and had us replace “Ottomans” with “Turks” and “them” so that there would be less redundancy.

And then, when remote learning began in August 2020, we could not work on it every day, but we did persist call Mr. Handa every weekend. Eventually, after four to five months of these weekend calls, we declared the story was ready. To be published? Not quite.

Historical Accuracy

Mr. Handa connected us to a prominent New Delhi-based editor. She proved a useful resource in our journey by providing loads of feedback, the vast majority of which was accepted.

The novel required us to do extensive research. Sanctifying historical accuracy more than plot at times, we would go to great lengths to make sure that technology used in the book was not invented after 1871 when the novel takes place. Pranav also meticulously made sure that we would get soldiers’ ranks correct, while Ariel thought in a more general manner.

The two of us had our disagreements. Ariel cared more about the plot and was fine with historical inaccuracy for the sake of the plot. And sometimes, Ariel used a lot of casual language in the novel, which Pranav did not consider appropriate. We often compromised, and our mutual concessions created literature of its own value. 

Ali Erbil

The novel consists of many colorful elements. Though some may rightly think that the first novel of two teenagers would be an amateur work, we cannot overlook some of our feats. We managed to create two separate stories and connect them in the end, and we wrote about dozens of fast-paced European adventures and titanic Indian battles. There was one adventure where Napoleon Caesar rescued Ali Erbil, a notorious thief, from the noose by breaking into the prison yard in a carriage. 

Ali Erbil, though a minor character in this novel, is currently having his prequel written; we hope to publish it by mid-to-late 2022. Ariel also wrote a novel with the help of Pranav that is yet to be published, being about the funniest character in Another Close Call, Charlie Charles. The Misadventures of Charlie Charles is about his life during the American Civil War. 

We are proud to have connected through literature, and we hope to publish many more books as our lives continue. 

Ariel Shalev

Ariel Shalev is an Israeli-American high school junior who lives in Sunnyvale. In his free time, he writes, studies religion, indulges in music, practices Tai Chi, and runs. He can be found on Twitter...

Pranav Khosla

Pranav Khosla is an Indian-American high school junior who lives in San Ramon. In his free time, he enjoys writing with Shalev and reading. He can be found on Twitter @ShadowSlayer045 and Instagram @pranavkhosla11.