By Nidhi Raj Singh
He single-handedly turned Chanakya, the Mauryan Empire strategist into a cool guru relevant even in the modern times. Hailing from a reputed business family, Ashwin Sanghi has authored The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key, Private series (co-written with James Patterson), 13 Steps To Bloody Good Luck, 13 Steps To Bloody Good Wealth, Sialkot Saga and Keepers Of The Kalachakra.
What is mythology?
It was the novelist CS Lewis who said that a myth is a lie that reveals a truth. The delicious question is “what if?” What if Rama, Krishna, Shiva or Ganesha were real people—historical characters—who began to be worshipped because of their great deeds? I remember visiting a temple in Kolkata where actor Amitabh Bachchan is worshipped as a god. Isn’t it possible that our deities started out like that? Mythology is an overlap of two words, myth and history.
Why do you think mythology has become popular backdrop for novels?
There is an entire generation that has grown up in this millennium with hardly any exposure to Indian mythology like our generation had, thanks to storytelling sessions in joint families, Amar Chitra Katha and television serials. Many of them are desperately trying to reconnect (including the Indian diaspora abroad). Repackaged mythology with a relevance and connect to the modern day is what seems to draw this particular audience.
Do you think too much liberty has been taking interpreting the epics?
That is precisely what has happened down the ages! The Mahabharata started as a story of 25,000 verses called the Jaya. Several hundred years later it morphed into a work called the Bharata that was 50,000 verses long. That eventually became the Mahabharata, an epic of 100,000 verses. I can bet you that every authors along the way added their own spin to the story. We have over 300 versions of the Ramayana. In Tulsidas’s Ramcharitamanas, Rama is treated as a god, but Valmiki’s Ramayana treats Rama as an ordinary man. In the Adbhuta Ramayana it is Sita who kills Ravana, and in the JainRamayana it is Lakshmana who kills Ravana. What makes it new is the language of choice—English.
What characters appeal to you?
I have always loved writing about characters that are shades of grey. Krishna is the lovable cowherd of Gokul and Vrindavan but is also the ruthless strategist of the Mahabharata. Chanakya was the great statesman who created the powerful Mauryan empire but was also a devious and cunning man who had no qualms about the ends justifying the means. Jesus was the great messiah but was also a political activist and rebel of his times.
How do you research for your books?
I spend several months on research. For a typical Bharat series, this could be six to twelve months. I then spend around three months on the plot, followed by writing. Detailed plotting ensures that I do not allow the pace to slacken except of my own choosing. I am not a great writer but I am a decent rewriter, so I rewrite the manuscript several times before it goes in for editing. All in all, two years is the average from beginning to end. The most difficult part of this process is blending fact and fiction. Too much fact and the pace slackens, too much fiction and it doesn’t feel real.
Do you think Indian mythology has a strong feminist narrative?
Oh absolutely. Look at female characters like Draupadi, Durga, Hidimba, Kaikeyi, Parvati…. Unlike western myths that were marked by a fear of women (consider Eve’s temptation or Pandora being created as a punishment), Indian myths celebrated women. The problem is that we have more of a feminist approach in our mythology and theology than we do in our contemporary lives. We worshipShakti in the temple and mistreat her in our real lives.