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From humour to horror
Arnab Ray at the launch of his The Mine at Starmark, South City. (Rashbehari Das)

A centuries-old shrine is unearthed in a mine in the Thar desert of Rajasthan, setting off a chain of accidents. A team of experts is brought in to investigate, but each has something to hide. With a nerve gas playing tricks on their minds and their own guilty consciences adding to the strain, how long will the team survive? Or will they, with their deaths, play out the imagery on the shrine?

That’s Gariahat boy Arnab Ray’s second book The Mine [Westland, Rs 195] for you.

The author of the laugh riot May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss is also known to many by his blog name, Greatbong. With The Mine, Ray has tried to break out of his comfort zone humour to come up with a dark novel that he describes as a “psychological horror thriller”.

“I have had the idea for this book since 2004, but I wasn’t confident of making it my debut novel. I was not sure of the response. Also, I am not sure I could have written it then,” the former student of South Point and Jadavpur University told t2 before the launch of The Mine at Starmark, South City, recently.

Darkness, fear, death and gore, The Mine has all the elements of a jolly horror jaunt. And the twist in the end is worth the read. But the idea of death and deception in a closed space is not new, and many of the incidents are fantastic, requiring a willing suspension of disbelief.

“Usually horror makes people think of monsters, a thriller brings to mind Sherlock Holmes. But here the evil comes from the mind,” explained the 36-year-old, who works as a research scientist at the University of Maryland, US.

Ray said the book was not easy to write. “Humour is easy. But to put a horror experience into words is not.”

The first draft was done in six-seven months, after which the author spent some time fine-tuning the text. “I had Greek myths in mind, such as Tartarus, while writing. Also somewhere I was thinking of Agatha Christie’s works,” he said.

The presentation is cinematic, he added, prompting the next, rather obvious, question. So, does he have a film in mind? “I am not against the idea, but only if I have a say in the presentation,” he answered promptly.

Ray said he watches almost every “good and bad” Bollywood offering, based though he is in the US. “I like the 1990s masala films, I like single-screen movie halls.... My holidays have all been to India.”

So how did he come up with the name Greatbong? “A Bong to me is someone who is very wannabe. When I went to the US, a friend’s friend jokingly named me the Greatbong. And when I started writing a blog, I thought of using that name,” he smiled.

The courtesan & the kid

Two-and-a-half thousand years after her time, Amrapali continues to hold her sway over men, and little boys too, it seems!

In town recently for the launch of The Legend of Amrapali [Shrishti, Rs 200], author Anurag Anand revealed that the first time he had heard about the nagarvadhu of Vaishali of 500 BC was in the granny tales of his childhood. “The story that interested me the most was of Amrapali. Because there was a veil of mystery about her,” said Anand.

Amrapali survived in his memory and moved him to explore more. “But we know very little about Amrapali only that she was the prettiest girl ever and a good dancer, that she was a nagarvadhu [courtesan], that she had a child with emperor Bimbisara and that in her later years, she became a disciple of Buddha,” said the Mumbai-based banking professional who has four other books in his kitty.

Anand made his way through “everything from Amar Chitra Katha to a Hindi book titled Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu” but in the end, had to rely on his imagination to piece together Amrapali’s tale. Most of the characters around her are fictitious, he admitted.

Sadly, some of the grammar and vocabulary are a tad fictitious too.

Anand already has a movie adaptation in mind, and has received a call from a Bolly filmmaker too, he said. “Aishwarya for her beauty, Vidya Balan for her ability to portray Amrapali’s emotions and Nandana Sen for her grace, beauty and intellect,” were the names he picked when asked which actress came closest to his vision of Amrapali.

Nandana, who was supposed to attend the book launch at Crossword, Elgin Road, but missed it because she fell ill, sent a note: “While Helen of Troy remains a figment of epic imagination as the mythological daughter of Zeus, as Indians we can be proud that Amrapali was a glorious true-life heroine, not a poetic metaphor. Moreover, she was a formidable player rather than a mere catalyst like Helen,” wrote the Rang Rasiya girl.