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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Author Interview : Krishna Udayasankar, author of ‘Govinda’ and ‘Kaurava’

I have always enjoyed reading mythology and so, I just happened to pick up ‘Govinda’. I never thought that I would enjoy a book, quite so much. In fact, this author drove me to read up more of the ‘Mahabharata'. And so, now am all set to read not just about Krishna, but about Karna, Draupadi, Arjuna and even Ravana and various other characters in various books.

There is so much to read in the 'Mahabharata' itself. But ‘Govinda’, I remember gave me fresh and colourful dreams. And ‘Kaurava’ took them forward. And so, I wrote the review of ‘Govinda’ and ‘Kaurava’, and now am interviewing the author. 

So, here is Part I of this funny and interesting interview with Krishna Udayasankar.

Aryavarta Chronicles must have begun a long time ago. Could you describe the journey? How did it begin?

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who said: ‘I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or an astronaut.’ She ended up getting a law degree, and then went to Sydney to study management. And then came to Singapore to do a PhD. She met a charming prince and got married and they had two lovely fur-babies.

And then, one day, in early 2008, the little girl who was now all grown up got all stressed out about something, and so did something she had not done in a long, long time. She wrote a poem. And then another one. And another one. She showed them to a nice poet who told her ‘This sucks. Try writing prose.’

‘Can I do that?’ the little-grown-up-girl asked.

‘Of course you can, darling,’ her prince assured her. Her fur-kids also said, ‘Arwhooo.’

And so, she began writing The Aryavarta Chronicles, and everyone except her readers lived happily ever after. :)

‘Govinda’, your debut novel came out along with a number of mythological novels. What according to you was different about it?

‘Govinda’ and the rest of the books in The Aryavarta Chronicles series are not stories of gods and magic, but of people and political revolution. Understanding the history behind what has subsequently been aggrandized into mythology and used to legitimize or justify today’s social structures and norms was, to me, an essential way of understanding the world we live in.  

Consequently, I wanted to explore the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history. In fact, I call the Chronicles mytho-history – the label itself distinguishing it from other mytho-fiction.
How did your novels, ‘Govinda’ and ‘Kaurava’ happen? What kind of research did you put into them?

As I often say: I stand on the shoulders of giants – the amount of material that is out there – both popular and scholarly, which deals with the epic and the epic ages; both is simply astounding.

It did take many months of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across India and other parts of Asia too.

The field already has a rich and long-standing legacy of both English and vernacular literature as well as international academic research, that deal not just with the historicity of the epic, but also the broader social and political landscape of the times, including many details – from clothes to culture and weapons and warfare.

As someone trained in social sciences research, I have tried my best to bring that strength to my books when coming to conclusions on why or how things happened in a particular way.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

Oh, this is a tough one to answer – I’m having a movie-style flashback moment now, complete with swirling colours, and scenes from childhood are flashing before my eyes. Okay, jokes apart, the number of people I owe for setting me on this road are many: my family - including mom Shobana and husband Jaishankar - is certainly on that list, as is my mentor, noted poet Alvin Pang. 

But the flashback scene goes all the way back to my English teacher at La Martiniere for Girls, Calcutta: Ms. Sumita Chattopadhyay. She told me I could write. Her words kept the dream alive for decades.

How would you relate the lives of Govinda and Panchali to the lives today? Any similarities?

Govinda Shauri is hope. He is the person we need to find inside ourselves, within
each of us.

Panchali, on the other hand, is reality – she is who we all are, as people, as individuals - someone who is strong yet weak, wise and silly both, brave and scared. Yes, they very much relate to our lives today, because they are you and I.

Authors have a way of telling their story, with elements that are most important. Between your storyline and your characters, which takes precedence?

Frankly, I don’t think one can have strength without the other. The storyline moves the way it does because characters are who they are. Converse, characters actions affect the progression of events.

I think both storyline and characters need to be given importance, and must stand the test of reason. I don’t like coincindences and serendipity in high doses, and I also try very hard to give my stories internal logical consistency – the world that is created must be plausible as an organic whole, because my aim is to transport the reader completely into Aryavarta. But for that logical consistency, both characters and storyline are important.
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