Making of an Audio Chapter

Too-much-work

I have been making the 10 Minute Audio Chapter series of the Mahabharata for a little over a year now.

For those hearing about it for the first time, it’s available at www.MahabharataStory.com/Audio

While the journey has been fascinating to say the least, a significant amount of hours goes into the making. This is a run down of the effort that goes behind the making of each chapter.

First is the reading. I read KM Ganguli’s translation of the original Mahabharata. This is an unabridged, unadulterated version. There is no interpretation. There is no omission from Vyasa’s words. Just pure translation. As you can imagine, it is very elaborate and extensive. A story that you hear in 10 minutes could easily be a hundred pages in the original Mahabharata.

I take my notes.

Then, wherever I am uncertain of a pronunciation or intended meaning, I refer the original Mahabharata in Samskritam. This is Vyasa’s words in it’s original form. Of course, I don’t understand Samskritam in that detail, so I gather my notes along with the Samskritam verses and refer them to an expert at Samskrita Bharati USA. This process clears the doubts.

I take more notes.

Next is the research. Unfortunately, we don’t have Vyasa in our lives to explain his intended meaning or ways of interpretation. I am on our own for this one. Also, since Vyasa also wrote the other 18 Maha Puranas, he omits details in the Mahabharata if they are present in his other works. For example, Krishna’s history is not a part of the Mahabharata. Neither are Vishnu’s Avatars. Sometimes, Vyasa refers to characters and incidents that are covered in other epics. To adequately understand his words, an appreciation of related stories is vital. Therefore, I dig into other available material. This leads me to reading epics like the Ramayana. Or the Bhagavada Purana. Or the Vedas. Or even stories of characters like Brahma and Shiva.

I take more notes.

Then comes contemporization. The crux of my narration is to relate it to today’s life. If I sense a message in Vyasa’s story, I make a note of it. Then, I try to find examples of current day problems that it may address. This part is hard because the listener is spread across a broad age group. A problem faced by a child in school is seldom similar to that faced by an adult at work. Both both relate to duty. A marital problem is different from a parental one. But both relate to relationships. Once I find the common string, I do my research by talking to close friends or watch speeches of more learned men and women.

During this process, I also read the writings of inspirational personalities who have overcome adversaries. Some of them are Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Einstein, and even Hitler.

I take my final notes.

Next, I write down all my material into a story, weaving the pieces together. This is the first draft.

Then comes the toughest part. I have 2 rules in this process. One, that no content will be omitted. I want the series I write and narrate to be the COMPLETE Mahabharata. While I can (and have to) cut down on description, I will not compromise on content. No story is too insignificant. My first rule therefore is that I will tell ALL the stories written in the original Mahabharata.

Second rule is that the finished story should not cross four pages of a word document in Calibri Font size 13.

Following these rules allows me to stay focussed on the content while not being overly elaborate and run the risk of boring the listener.

Condensing takes the most time. I rewrite my words, maybe a dozen times.

Once I have a finished manuscript of a story, I open Garageband on my Mac, and start narrating. Once the narration is over, I listen to it a few times and delete it. (Yes – delete it). Then, I close my notes, close my eyes, and re-record another time. This, time I am narrating from memory. This way, I can be sure that I am “telling a story” as opposed to “reading a script”.

Once the final recording is over, I run through the recording second by second and clean it up – remove breathing noise, background noise, re-record sections as needed, etc.

Once the cleaned up audio is ready, I overlay the recording with a mild, soothing music – usually the Tampura.

I mark the beginning and end, and export the MP3. The audio is finally ready. Whew!

Next, I google the story and find relevant images. I import the audio into iMovie, overlay the images I downloaded and make it into a nice picture story and add some titles. Once my iMovie is pieced together, I export it to an MOV file and upload it on Youtube and add relevant tags, a description, etc.

Finally, I post it on my Facebook Page and share it on my own timeline, on twitter, and to the groups I am a member of. Some people have volunteered to share it in their circles, so I send them the link as well.

This whole process, from end to end takes about 40 hours on an average. At the end of this process, I have ONE AUDIO CHAPTER.

Now, before I finish, I would like to caution against becoming overwhelmed. Or awed.

The process of doing these audio chapters has taught me some valuable lessons.

1. Learning is joy

I do this as much for myself as the benefit it provides to others. I learn much in the process for which I am grateful. Like Sherlock Holmes said, “The work is it’s own reward”.

2. Slow and Steady

40 hours is quite some time for a 10 minute product. Yes. However, I don’t try to do this at a single stretch, or even 3-4 sessions. I spread my work very widely. Sometimes I work on it only 10 minutes. Sometimes 3 hours. Nevertheless, the process has taught me the value of “Slow and Steady”.

3. Perseverance

I find it excruciating to read vast descriptions. At times, I am not sure what was going on in Vyasa’s mind when he chose to describe Draupadi’s attire for 350 words. Sometimes, I get bogged down by work (yes, of course I have a day job). Sometimes my relationships drive me mad. Sometimes I fall sick. It is easy to give up any of those times. It’s easy to say, “I’ll do this when I have time.” But I try not to give in. Even if it is only 10 minutes, I try to do something about it EVERY DAY. Perseverance is powerful.

4. Be prepared to do it ALL yourself

The last lesson is the simplest. Sometimes, I finish writing and recording, but uploading and sharing becomes menial work. I yearn for someone else to do the “dirty work”, so to speak. I yearn for someone to just tell me the story instead of going through enormous amounts of research myself. I get frustrated that I have no help. I find it incredulous that there are 20,000 people who listen to these recordings around the globe, but few come forward to help with the process.
Of course I go through the frustrations. But, if I start blaming external forces for my inadequacies, I will not finish a single chapter. I have learnt to do it all myself. The research. The reading. The recording. The mixing. The movie making. The uploading, sharing and spreading.

Help would be great, but the lack of it won’t stop me.

Hope this post helps – in whatever way.

Now, here’s a sample chapter. 🙂

CHAPTER 2 – How the Mahabharata Came to be Written

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