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Friday, July 10, 2015

Author Interview : Abhijit Basu, author of ‘Prophets, Poets and Philosopher-Kings' (Part 2)

Read up, more of Abhijit Basu's Interview. In this part, he reveals to us, how he managed to blend Kalidasa's stories and the Western philosophy, and how he thinks his book stands out from the other mythological stories. He goes on to tell us, what he is reading at the moment, Folks...

How are Kalidasa’s stories and the Western philosophy blended into this narrative?
The book aims to present ‘Sketches on India’s Spiritual and Literary Heritage.’ The first six chapters all relate to either epics or religious and spiritual literature. The last piece on Kalidasa’s Shakuntala is the sole representative of the rich classical secular literature that is an integral part of India’s cultural heritage. 
Apart from its sheer value as a great poetic drama, Abhijnana Shakuntalam is an ideal subject of critical study for two other reasons. The first reason is the exceptional genius of Kalidasa, which has transformed a rather cut-and-dried story from the Mahabharata into a superior and almost perfect romantic drama, so much so that people now remember Dushyanta, Shakuntala, Anasuya, Priyamvada et al created by Kalidasa rather than the sketchy characters of only the first two from Vyasa’s Great Epic.

The second reason is the phenomenal popularity in the West of Abhijnana Shakuntalam, translated over two centuries ago by William Jones and profusely praised by Goethe among others. An English literary review of the great book from modern perspective therefore seemed to me a good subject to study and write on.

In today’s world where there is no lack of books on mythology, how does your book stand out from the rest?

Yes, there is renewed interest in mythology now. More and more young authors are coming out with their adaptations of events and characters from the epics and Puranas.
A number of those are bold modern interpretive re-creation of myths while some others fall in the genre of fantasy. But by and large, my approach has been to select characters and episodes which may arguably be more than myths. 
Apart from their intrinsic literary qualities, I look for some plausible proto-historical and cultural leads in our ancient legends. After all, legends are the staple of ancient history, as anyone can find from the works of Herodotus. Even where the old stories are palpably fictional, they still can throw some light on the thoughts and practices of ancient societies. In short, I try to look at the ancient world through the magnifying lens of our evolved humanistic understanding.   
Abhijit Basu at Author Corner in last year's World Book Fair, Delhi
What book is coming from your desk, next? When do you see that released?

I am now more than halfway through a manuscript on India’s civilisational and cultural continuity. Some of its chapters (e.g. on Sanskrit, on ‘Yayaati’s Children’ and on ‘Indian Concept of Time’) have been uploaded in the academia.edu web-journal, where they have attracted good readership. As for its likely date of release, Inshallah, let me first find the prospective Publisher!
Which books are you currently reading?

Apart from literature research for my current book project, I am now reading a Pulitzer-winning book on the American Civil War, titled ‘The Killer Angels’ by Michael Shaara (President Lincoln and the American Civil War being one of my favourite subjects of study).

Also reading, Leonard A Gordon’s ‘Brothers against the Raj’, a fine twin-biography of Subhas Bose and Sarat Bose. Then, to provide a lighter feel of things, I am rereading ‘Psmith Omnibus’ by PG Wodehouse, whom I admire as a master humorist and prose stylist.  

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