This is not a research heavy book. It is essentially a work of imagination, not a retelling or strictly speaking not even a re-imagination but a new story altogether. Apart from drawing from the very well known myth of the churning of the ocean, the rest of it is pure fiction and the characters and situations are of my making. Although it would appear that the book is about mythology, it is used only as one would use a vase of flowers in a room – for fragrance and colour – the heart of the book lies in its human characters and political satire.
Those are the names of the Holy Trinity referred to in the Hurrian myth, on which the story of Bali is based. As the preface to the novel says, the actual Hurrian names are Sam Bah, Vee Lu and Jeh, which have been Indianized to Sambha, Viru and Jai in this version. It is mere coincidence that they are also names of characters from a film called Sholay.
Why not Gabbar? Probably because the Hurrians didn’t think that it was a very god-like name…but then that is mere conjecture….
I don’t know yet. I have been toying with the idea of doing something based on Greek mythology but it’s just a twinkle in the eye right now. I might also want to get my teeth into something completely contemporary.
Superman meets Satyajit Ray, escapism with an anchor – to my mind that is the USP of high quality mythological fiction. Magic, fantasy, mythology all offer an escape from reality and ooze the colours, sights, smells and textures that contemporary literary fiction often lacks. However since the cornerstone of most mythology is often a strong narrative with fascinating characters, dilemmas and situations, good myth inspired tales have an core human appeal that stays after you strip away all the special effects.
I also think that both writers and readers find it interesting to explore old characters in new contexts. There are close parallels between the ancient and the modern, suggestive of the fact that humans haven’t really changed much over the ages. That is perhaps another source of amusement.
In general, I am quite sure that the IIT/IIM tag has nothing to do with good writing. The only connection I can think of is that people graduating from such places often get stuck in well paying but mundane jobs and they may take to writing and so on as a release. In any case, the number of “writers” compared to number of people graduating every year from IIT/ IIM is miniscule. Having being asked similar questions earlier as well, I sometimes wonder whether they would have been raised, if say, a St. Stephen’s or a Presidency College were to produce a flurry of authors…
Coming to my personal reasons for writing this novel – like in the murder mysteries, the answer has three parts – motive, opportunity and means.
Motive – I wanted to write a black comedy, let’s say the literary equivalent of Dr. Strangelove, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron etc. which I thought wasn’t really available in Indian literature. Tall order you might say – but that was the starting point.
Opportunity – time on my hands during the recession a couple of years ago.
Means – long commutes in Bangalore with a laptop, a driver and the backseat of a car.
Yes there has been an explosion of genres, voices, writers and publishers – mostly for the good I think. Today’s writing also caters to wider segments of society – not just the literary types and we should welcome the phenomenon of Indians writing for Indians rather than for western markets or the diaspora. However while publishing may just have got easier, standing out of the clutter has become a good deal more difficult. In all probability, we will soon have many writers who will become famous for 5 minutes, rather than the more respectable 15.
Without reference to any particular writer or his/her clones, I would add though, that a lot of the stuff that comes out today is pretty sad in terms of quality – and by quality I mean the flesh and blood of fiction writing i.e. characters, motivation, conflict and so on rather than poor language, style etc which are important but secondary.
It would be nice to belong to both. But like all good clubs (especially those of British vintage) both camps have their own sets of unwritten laws, snobberies and prejudices. The sales of many bestsellers would probably have halved for every favourable review published in a “reputed” publication, scaring the lay reader into thinking that “it’s too hi- fi for me.” Similarly, influential critics look askance at anything that seems to be enjoyable and easy to read, as if they were on a diet that prevents them from appreciating anything that is easily digestible.
But to draw a parallel from cinema, surely modern Indian writing needs the literary equivalents of a Hrishikesh Mukherjee – neither David Dhawan nor Ritwik Ghatak. I think that good writing that is also accessible to the lay reader is the missing link today.
The in-built snobbery of the snooty critic and the irrational apprehensions of the “I toh only read Filmfare, baba !!” reader shouldn’t prevent the rise of high quality, “middle-brow” writing.
A large number and a wide range of books fill my shelves. But apart from Amish, whose Meluha book I read about a month ago (to avoid any influence) I haven’t read any of the others that you mention. A brutally shortened favourites list include Vikram Seth, R K Narayan, Hemingway, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steinbeck, John Mortimer, J K Rowling, Tolkien, Doyle etc etc.
It wasn’t as if I suffering from deep agonies along the lines of “I must write or I will die” – I began writing as a lark and found myself enjoying the process. Like Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” and a deep interest in literature, theatre, music and film has long been a part of me. I guess it just took a long time for the interest to change from passive to active.
In my case it is certainly acquired. I also think that many people can become decent writers with generous helpings of hard work, humility, self-belief and a wide range quality reading. Of course, there are the geniuses with god given gifts who defy all such analyses.
Yes, theatre has been an important part of my life for several years now and has in many ways influenced and helped my writing.
Thank you Nilanjan! It was interesting knowing your views of varied topics.