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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Author Interview: R Venketesh, author of 'Gods, Kings and Slaves: The Siege of Madurai'

This book, ‘Gods, Kings and Slaves: The Siege of Madurai’ came to me at a time when I was into mythology. So now, this book had a special challenge to win me over. And it did. 

When I first started to read this book, I knew that a war would come, but it came with quite a few twists in the start itself. It had me at word go, and then some more. R Venketesh had a singular challenge, a) To write an awesome book, and b) to write it in English. I guess he almost did win… on both counts. You can catch the Review here.

In this interview, he tells us how to the book was first conceptualised, how he moved from Tamil to English, where he is a popular author and how he has written the book out of imagination considering only thirty percent is fact. So, let’s read on…


I was researching the Kohinoor diamond when I came across its first appearance in history, at the time of the Kakatiyas, and Malik Kafur, the general who won it in the war.

Malik Kafur slowly drew me in and I ended up with the idea for a full sized novel.

You have already written in Tamil. How was the experience of moving from a regional language to English?

I have been writing simultaneously in both languages for a long time, so I could switch from one language to another quite easily.

But there is a lot of difference in writing in the two languages, as far as editing and storylines are concerned.

What kind of research did you put into the writing of the book?

A lot of research did go in; I believe in giving details.

Where we couldn’t get the exact detail from history, we superimposed similar situations, such as the Khambayat slave market, which were based on descriptions of slave markets during the Ottoman Empire.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?

I have a habit of looking up and comparing contemporaries during a period. For example, the novel is set between 1250 to 1320 CE.

I came across these two parallel stories of a slave who rose to be Naib Sultan, and two step-brothers who fought between themselves and lost an empire.

How would you relate the book and its characters to the lives today?

A rival is always bigger than an enemy. That’s the fundamental thesis behind my book and we can see it happen in today’s politics too.

Also, we see people rise from the gutters to great heights even today, just like Malik Kafur did.

You have put in a lot of topics such as religion, administration, and even day to day lives into the book. How did you do it?

The period I chose has not been written about much. In general, Indian history has been about the Mughals, and Tamil history has been about the Cholas. So, I needed to acquaint my readers to everyday life of that period.

Though only a century and a half separated Malik Kafur and the Mughals, warfare had changed during that time. There were no guns during Kafur’s period. So had religion. Administration during the Khilji period was excellent in price control, crime reduction etc.

I thought they would be interesting as well and therefore incorporated them into the book.

How much of the series is based on facts and how much is fiction?

I would say, 30 per cent of the book is based on fact and the rest is fiction.

The main idea of Malik Kafur’s foray into the south is true. The personal lives and battle strategies are all fictional.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing a book?

Seeing it in print, of course and witnessing the reach of your idea.

What book is coming from your desk, next? When do you see it released?

Sometime  in mid-2014. It’s a fantasy set in the same period as Malik Kafur’s invasion of the south. There is lots of alchemy, treasure and magic in it.

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

My English teacher in school when she read my first poem.

Any advice to writers that would like to be published today? How tough is it to be published in India?

Very tough, but don’t lose patience. Don’t rush into self publishing.

Who are your favourite authors?


Which book are you currently reading?


What else do you like to do on a daily basis?

I read a lot, I browse a lot. We have a lot of writers in our walking group and we discuss ideas among ourselves.

Professionally, I help builders and architects fine-tune their buildings if there are any Vaastu requirements. I travel widely for this purpose but make it a point to see places of historical importance wherever I go.



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