At a time when most teenagers are just discovering their passions in life, 18-year-old Nimai Agarwal is celebrating the June publication of his first novel “The Lotus Saga.” The book tells the story of a young scribe named Rook, who is forced to venture out to fight an ancient evil.
“When I started writing the book, my main character Rook was my age, 12 years old. As I grew up, he grew up with me, and by the end of the book, he became 15 [or] 16. My growth was reflected in the book’s growth.”
When Agarwal began writing the book, he was inspired by the wave of young adult fantasy books that became popular in the early 2000s, works like “Eragon” by Christopher Paolini, and the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling. He later moved on to more mature fantasy novels like The Lord of The Rings books by J.R.R. Tolken.
“I lost motivation at a lot of points; I went to many writing camps, where I was surrounded by a lot of amazing writers that gave me a burst of motivation, as I could see my peers doing great things,” said Agarwal. “I wanted to write this book for a long time, so I always found a reserve of motivation when I lost hope, I found it and continued.”
Agarwal also credited his writing teacher Carolivia Herron with his success. Herron is a former Harvard professor and author who lives in Takoma Park and helped Agarwal throughout the process.
“She guided me throughout the way she has been a great shining light,” said Agarwal, “I would send her my draft, and she would tell me what was working well, and what was not working well.”
Agarwal is a devout believer in Vaishnavism, a branch of Hinduism focusing on the worship of the Hindu deity Vishnu, and his incarnation as Krishna. The influence of his religion is evident in his writing as “The Lotus Saga” features Hindu beliefs such as reincarnation. The story also includes the concept of a prison of desire. The idea of being trapped in your mind by your wants is an important part of Vaishnavism, according to Agarwal.
“My faith is a big part of who I am, and writing is taking who you are and putting it down on a page in a sense,” said Agarwal.
For two semesters, Agarwal has taught a club on Hinduism at American University. He discussed the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most sacred texts in Vaishnavism, and the concept of meditation with club members.
“We tried to make it practical, relating these ancient ideas to their own problems,” Agarwal said. He continued saying, “one of the members said the ideas of meditation helped him with his ADHD. Before tests he would meditate and it would help him do better, so he was able to get a lot of benefits, and much peace.”
In 2015 he attended the Parliament of the World Religions on behalf of Kidspirit, an online magazine.
“It was every faith imaginable, Zoroastrians to Wiccans, coming together with different panels and presentations going on all the time. everyone was sharing their ideas.”
When asked about how he was able to balance his time between all these different endeavors, Agarwal cited his homeschooling as a major factor.
“I had a lot of free time. The ability to sculpt my own curriculum, to sculpt how I spent the day. It gave me a lot more flexibility.”
Agarwal is currently looking forward to his freshman year at The University of Pennsylvania where he plans to study philosophy and political science.
Agarwal is also focusing on creating a series of paintings that depict life in the Indian village of Vrindavan. Vrindavan is a holy city for Hindus as it is the birth place of Krishna, a major deity of the religion. According to Agarwal, Vaishnavism considers Krishna to be the representation of God on Earth. He visits the city once every two years.
“It’s a unique place; life is very raw. People live with very little technology” Said Argarwal “I did a painting of a shepherd boy going on his daily rounds. We were the same age, but we have such different life situations, I’m studying while he’s herding sheep.”