Tiya Chatterji is a marine archaeologist with a background of history, archaeology, and museology. She currently works in the Indian Naval History Division in New Delhi and is passionate about research and creative writing. As she gears up for the release of her first book “Underwater Archaeology in India – The Lost Enigma” which she wrote as a Research Fellow at Maritime Research Center, Pune, Tiya shares with us the journey of her book, its challenges and joys, and her plans ahead. Excerpts:

Underwater archaeology in India is a very niche topic. How did you come across it, and what sparked your interest?

Being an archaeologist, I am acquainted with the nature of field work, but I have always wondered how it is to conduct archaeological field work underwater. Archaeological studies are a niche discipline, yes, but their challenging nature has kept me captivated. Research in marine archaeology was a dream come true for the rebel in me, with a quest to discover something new.

Dr Arnab Das, my guide at MRC [Maritime Research Centre, Pune], initiated the idea and being an adventures and curious woman, I happily agreed: this was an opportunity to explore a niche dimension holding unforeseen potential.

The tagline of your book says, “the lost enigma”. Why is it so?

My research compliments the existing testimonies about the huge wealth of maritime heritage in India. We have shifted our focus away from this treasure, to our loss. Our continued sea-blind attitude towards maritime heritage in our country is a prime example of this shift.

Several remarkable discoveries were made in India, but their gradual neglect is painful to witness. Our disconnect with our maritime heritage is highly visible and we should address it to conserve our heritage not only for our future generations, but also to ensure the survival of the domain.

Underwater archaeology in India has unparalleled potential, but it is still very much unrealised. Hence the tagline of my book talks about this unrealised potential and tries to bring attention towards the domain in an initiative to ‘rekindle the spirit’.

Underwater Archaeology in India – The Lost Enigma. Source: Tiya Chatterji.

At what point during your research did you decide to write this book? What was your inspiration/motivation to do so?

My tenure with MRC was for only 6 months and the aim was to write a couple of insightful  research papers. Writing a book was never on the cards, but as the research progressed and I garnered interest, the Indian Maritime Foundation suggested I compile my findings in the form of a book. Dr Das also supported this.

I was very sceptical about writing a whole book! It was intimidating to put out my thoughts based on secondary sources about a subject less explored in India. Nevertheless, I took the plunge as I knew it would prove to be a steppingstone in my research in the domain and would be a catalyst in spreading awareness.

What were some challenges and/or memorable experiences you had while writing this book?

Researching in such a niche discipline itself was challenging. There is a dearth of data and experts, which was an added constrain. I had limited resources and hence I couldn’t learn diving, which was my biggest insecurity. However, with motivation from Dr Das and a change in perspective, I realised that this research based on secondary sources was a great precursor to further research based on primary data.

One of the biggest challenges would be to own up for my work, as it would be out in the public domain.

There would be flaws and criticisms and that’s what scared me at first, but as the book progressed, I started understanding that criticisms would pave the way for exploring new horizons and that inspired me to work harder. I began feeling confident of taking the responsibility of effective dissemination of my research.

The journey has been memorable for the support and motivation I received and my interactions with relevant industry experts who gave me with useful feedback as well as support.

Your book was about to be released when the pandemic hit, and lockdowns were announced. What was your reaction?

Just 15 days were left for the book release, tickets were booked, my parents were on cloud nine and I was all set for one of the most significant milestones in my life, when the [Covid-19] pandemic hit. The launch was cancelled, and the overall situation made me feel very depressed and upset. I felt faithless after having worked so relentlessly yet being deprived of my big day.

There were many initiations for a reschedule but they were always waived off owing to increasing number of Covid-19 cases. My family and friends motivated me to embrace the changed times and see the brighter side of connecting to more people on an online platform to share my story. It took me a while to accept that I had to conduct my book release online but now I feel content about it actually happening!

Who is the target audience of your book? What can readers expect to find in it?

As I progressed in my research, I realised that really, only a handful of people are aware of and appreciate our maritime heritage. This was not a surprise, as archaeology itself is a lesser known subject. As someone motivated to step out of the comfort zone and do things others don’t think of, I have written this book for anyone looking to satiate their curiosity in the field of maritime heritage studies.

Readers will find an interesting format of factual storytelling and for students of maritime studies, it is useful in terms of gaining a wholesome view. The book provides a glimpse of the domain in India and I hope it sparks interest for further research.

Following this book, what activities are you planning to do next?

I feel happy being a part of this journey, but I am not satisfied yet, as the journey doesn’t end with the book. This research has motivated me to pursue further studies in the domain, beyond the scope of this book. I consider this book as my first step into the field.

First and foremost, I plan on learning diving as soon as the lockdown eases completely. I look forward to continuing research in underwater archaeology, obtaining primary data and building productive collaborations to enhance my knowledge further. I intend to produce quality research and work towards conservation of our heritage.

By doing so, I hope to set an example for others and inspire them to seek interest in this field, believing in the context of ‘shared heritage’.

“Underwater Archaeology in India – The Lost Enigma” is set to be released on 2nd October 2020 (Friday) at 1130 HRS IST. Registration and details here.

Gauri Noolkar-Oak

Gauri Noolkar-Oak is a transboundary water conflicts researcher and has studied river basins in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. She is also the Founder of Lokmaanya.


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