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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Author Interview: Anand Neelakantan of Author of Asura, Tale of the Vanquished (Part I)

This has to be the most stimulating and thought provoking interview for me. Though it was done by email, it was almost as if Anand Neelakantan was sitting and reciting a story to me.

My fascination for Ravana has been there for me for a long time. I always wondered how and where I would find the answers. 

Until the day, when my eyes drew me to ‘Asura, Tale of the Vanquished’. Then it began, my allure towards Ravana began to take on a whole new form. He rose from the corner of my mind to take centre stage. I wrote a review of 'Asura', but my questions were still there. This interview is an attempt to quell my curiosity.

Now, with his next book, Ajaya the author promises to take the thirst for Mahabharata to a whole new level.

This interview is in two parts. Part 2 will be up in a couple of days. Because, it deserves both the time and the space… 

So, behold… The making of ‘Asura’… and Bhadra…

How did ‘Asura’ happen? What is the research that has gone into it?

‘Asura’ was a product of 6 years of research, reading and travel. It was back-breaking hard work and it was fun.

I had collected lots of folk tales, heard many versions of the Ramayana and read a lot. Thankfully, as both the epics are very much alive in our villages, the research of ‘Asura’ helped me collect material for 'Ajaya' too, as it is based on the Mahabharata.

Did you think that it would become the success it has, today?

Every writer dreams of a best seller, even the literary ones who say they do not care whether the book sells or not and they write for self - expression etc etc. A book, being a best seller is not in our hands. There is an element of luck involved in it. I had never thought about ‘Asura’ being a bestseller, but had continuously dreamt about it. May be dreams are more powerful than thoughts.

Your next book is 'Ajaya.' What is it about?

‘Ajaya’ is the Mahabharata of Kauravas. It will explore the entire epic from the angle of Suyodhana (usually damned as Duryodhana in popular retellings). It will have other major protagonists as Ekalavya, Aswathama, Karna, etc. It is again from the side of the defeated.

How come the attraction towards the so-called ‘villains’ of mythology? How do you differentiate them from the usual understanding of these characters that we get to read about?

The fascination started when I read somewhere; that our first war of independence was called a mere sepoy mutiny, when the British were ruling.

How the perspective has changed after we won the freedom…  History is written by victors. What if the defeated had a story to tell - the same story, yet totally different in its logic and understanding, if we tell it from the other side. 'Asura', 'Ajaya' etc are the products of such thoughts.

Why did you choose Ravana and now, the Kauravas as your ‘heroes’?

Both Ravana and Duryodhana are very strong characters. If we look them a bit more sympathetically, both are like heroes of a Greek tragedy.

Since Indians always side with the winners, both have been blackened beyond recognition, though in original Ramayana or Mahabharata, they are just characters of grey shades.  My stories are not different epics; they are the same stories from the other side.

How do you think your book, ‘Asura’ is different from everyone else’s? 

There have been many books on Ramayana, like Sita’s Ramanayana, Hanuman’s Ramayana, Urmila’s Ramayana and so on. The Ramayana of Ravana is quite rare, with Vayam Rakshamaha in Hindi and Illankaieswaran in Tamil (drama) being the exception to prove the rule. There could be a few more, but generally very few stories give Ravana’s perspective. Asura is in first person narrative of Ravana. 

What makes it different is the invention of the other hero of the book- a common man called Bhadra. Bhadra gives the third perspective to the story, preventing run away glorification of Ravana. I feel Bhadra is what makes Asura different from any one else’s Ramayana.  It is in Bhadra that I found more creative satisfaction.
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