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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Author Interview: Anand Neelakantan, author of 'Ajaya' and 'Asura'

My longing for knowing more about the villains of Ramayana was quenched with ‘Asura’ and now the author, Anand Neelakantan comes up with ‘Ajaya’ which is his take on the Mahabharata.

He answers the five Ws and one H of the Mahabharata, from the so-called villain’s perspective. Who was Suyodhana, What was his take on the entire Mahabharata, When did it actually strike him that a war was necessary, Where did it happen and Why? The How remains the crux of this story.

I remember interviewing Anand Neelakantan, the first time and now am happy to say that I am interviewing him a second time, for 'Ajaya'. You can read my review here...

In this interview, Neelakantan talks about why he started off ‘Ajaya’ with almost 5,000 plus years of the general views about the Mahabharata. How he transformed the villains into ‘heroes’ and brought about a change in the readers’ perspective. So, let’s read on…

How did ‘Ajaya, Epic of the Kaurava Clan, Roll of the Dice' happen? What is the research that has gone into it?

Ajaya’ happened due to a visit to a temple I had been to, a few years back. The deity of the temple is Duryodhana.

I have talked about the story in detail in this book. Why so many people should worship the so-called villain, was the reason that made me think about Mahabharata from the Kauravas perspective.

How long does it take for you to research your books?

‘Asura’ took six years, but the source of materials for ‘Ajaya’ were the same (folktales, etc), Ajaya’s research was done parallel as ‘Asura’.

How different is writing a series compared to writing a stand-alone book?

To keep the interest of the reader is difficult in a series, but the author gets a second chance to correct the mistakes in the sequel

What are your expectations from ‘Ajaya’, considering ‘Asura’ did so well?

Expectations are bigger from ‘Ajaya’ and the book has continued to top the charts since its launch, three months ago.

Your characters are almost opposite from what they usually are. How did you expect people to respond to some of the characters?

That is a challenge I have taken and I know it is not an easy task. I have to work against 5,000 years of conditioning and yet, stay close to the original. It is tough and I enjoy it.

How would you relate the life of Suyodhana’s to the lives today? Any similarities or dissimilarities?

The fun goes if the author points that out. That is for the reader to pick it out. I have given sufficient hints. If I have to point it out, I have failed as an author.

What can we expect from ‘Ajaya, Rise of Kali’? How different is it going to be from ‘Ajaya, Roll of the Dice’?

It is a sequel and the story will race to the inevitable war. Everyone knows the story, yet the story will be different due to the change of perspective.

You have Jara and Dharma in this book, just like you had Bhadra in the ‘Asura’. How similar or dissimilar are the two of them?

They are similar, yet different. Both are the representatives of the common man. You can find both kind of men in the society (and women too). When Bhadra is a survivor due to his cynicism, Jara is a survivor due to his unflinching faith.

After ‘Ajaya, rise of Kali’, I understand that ‘Amatya’, the story of Chanakya’s foe is expected. What is that one about?

That is the entire Mudrarakshasa from Rakshasa’s perspective. Rakshasa is the villain to the traditional hero, Chanakya.

In my story, Rakshasa is the hero who fights for his motherland from invaders like Alexander and upstarts like Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya.
How is the ‘Amatya’ going to different from the so-called villans that we have seen till now, through ‘Asura’ and ‘Ajaya’?

It will be a racier thriller against the backdrop; Alexander’s invasion of India and how two intellectual giants like Chanakya and Amatya Rakashasa play the toughest political game with intrigue and espionage. It will have less musing and more action

What else can we expect from you in the coming years?

Indian mythology and history are rich with stories. I will be digging deeper into mythology for my future stories.

How much of your thoughts and feelings are included in your books?

There is very less of what I am in the book. I do not know what my beliefs are. When I write a character, for many days I will be that character, thinking like Ravana or Bhadra or Suyodhana.

When I write the chapters of Krishna, I will be thinking like the enemy of Suyodhana. It is a creative process and fiction is not an essay, so the thoughts I express are those of what the character could have thought or what I think he or she would have thought in that particular instance of the story. Nothing  more, nothing less.

Is your life different now, after the success of both your books? How?

Not a bit. Success will come and go, books will remain. I will consider myself successful if people discuss my books, say in ten or fifteen years or even later.

Otherwise, it is just a commercial success, which while being sweet, does not mean much in the long run.

Who is your first reader when your write your books?

My wife, Aparna.

Which book are you reading, currently?

Parva by SL Bhyrappa - a great take on the epic of ‘Mahabharata’. Rereading, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, too.

Are you influenced by the authors you read? Anyone in particular?

Yes, I am influenced by all-time greats like Leo Tolstoy, W Somerset Maugham and Franz Kafka on one hand, and thriller writers like Ken Follett or Agatha Christie on another.

I also admire great Malayalam authors like M T Vasudevan Nair, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer or S K Pottekatt and authors like Cyrus Mistry, Vikram Chandra and Amitav Ghosh but in my writing, I am very conscious about not imitating anyone.

I do not want to be known as a second grade Indian version of some foreign author, so I am trying to make my own distinct style.

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