Anand Neelakantan is turning Indian Mythology on its head!

Three years back, an engineer working with the Indian Oil Corporation burst on to our bookshelves with a runaway bestseller, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, which retold the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. Next it was Mahabharata, from the point of view of the Kauravas. Split into two volumes, Ajaya Part 1 (Roll of the Dice) came out in 2013 and ruled the charts. The second volume, Rise of Kali (Leadstart Publishing, Rs 399) was released a few days back. A t2 chat with the 41-year-old writer who lives in Mumbai.

By Samhita Chakraborty
  • Published 26.08.15
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Three years back, an engineer working with the Indian Oil Corporation burst on to our bookshelves with a runaway bestseller, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, which retold the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. Next it was Mahabharata, from the point of view of the Kauravas. Split into two volumes, Ajaya Part 1 (Roll of the Dice) came out in 2013 and ruled the charts. The second volume, Rise of Kali (Leadstart Publishing, Rs 399) was released a few days back. A t2 chat with the 41-year-old writer who lives in Mumbai.

Your latest book brings to a close your retelling of the Mahabharata. Why is Book 2 called Rise of Kali?

The second book is also a part of the Ajaya series. ‘Ajaya’ means unconquerable. It is also a wordplay on the original name of the epic, ‘Jaya’. The first book ended with the game of dice and hence the name Roll of the Dice. Shakuni had rolled his master plan for the destruction of Bharatavarsha. In the second, after the war, the dark age of Kali 
is rising. 

In the Ajaya series, the man we know as Duryodhana is called Suyodhana... why?

The real name of Duryodhana is Suyodhana and in the original Mahabharata, he is called Suyodhana only by his brothers and Yudhisthira. Others call him Duryodhana to denigrate him. It is difficult to imagine that the king of Hastinapura, Dhritarashtra, would give all his children names that start with the inauspicious ‘du’ syllable.

You have portrayed Bhishma in an interesting manner too. Who would have thought the great Pitamaha would get annoyed if little things prevented him from appearing grand?!

Bhishma is a very complicated character in the epic. Only TV Mahabharatas made him squeaky white. Not only Bhishma, all the characters of Mahabharata, including Krishna, have shades of grey in them.
 
 

Duryodhana (played by Arpit Ranka in Mahabharat on STAR Plus) is known as ‘Suyodhana’ in the Ajaya series

The futility of war is one of the main themes of this series, along with what is dharma… are these questions equally relevant in today’s world? 

I think Sage Vyasa called his epic Jaya to drive home the point that no one won in the so-called dharmakshetra. The Mahabharata is essentially an anti-war story that was hijacked by the Vaishnavite Bhakti movement to glorify Vishnu. When the world is becoming a more and more dangerous place to live in, the relevance of the Mahabharata as an anti-war story is only growing every day. My Ajaya series is my humble attempt to bring the attention of readers to the fact that Mahabharata is the world’s first anti-war story and has relevance in this present world.

Coming to Asura, your first book, how did you hit upon the idea of Ravana as the hero?

As a character, Ravana has always fascinated me. The ideals that Rama portrays are quite lofty and difficult to emulate, whereas being a Ravana is quite a natural thing for all humans. Ravana exudes an earthy charm that no character in world literature can match.

In Asura, you say Sita was Ravana’s daughter. Is there a mythological basis for this or is it your imagination?

This is a commonly known folk tale in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and there have been many classical plays, poetry and epics written in Malayalam and Tamil. In Sanghadasa’s Jain version dated approximately 3rd century BC, Sita is Ravana’s daughter. This is not something I invented for taking creative liberty. This knowledge is a part of many southern folk Ramayanas.
 
You’ve retold the Ramayana and the Mahabharata from the point of view of the vanquished, showing how it is the victors who write — and therefore distort — history. Do you think that is true of modern history too? 

Winston Churchill, who was responsible for the Great Bengal Famine, and President Truman, who ordered two atom bombs to be dropped on Japan, are now considered heroes and Hitler and Mussolini villains by history, though all these leaders were responsible for horrifying deaths of many millions. If there was some justice in history, Winston Churchill, who killed his colonial subjects, should be treated on a par with Hitler, who gassed Jews. Both were racially prejudiced men. Modern history is full of such examples. 

Now that the two epics are done, what’s next?

My daughter Ananya, who is 12, is a great fan of western fantasy thrillers like Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series and thinks Indian mythology is boring. In an attempt to prove her wrong, I am writing Devayani, a young adult fantasy novel based on Indian mythology.

Mythology seems to be the route to the bestseller list these days. Why do you think Indians are reading authors like you, Amish or Devdutt Pattanaik in such large numbers?

More and more families across the country are becoming nuclear and there are no grandpas and grandmas to tell them such stories. The village bards have vanished and TV has become repetitive. May be, authors in the genre of Indian mythological fiction are becoming the new bards for the McDonald’s generation.
 
To end this on a lighter note, if you had to act in a mythological film or play, which character would you pitch for?

Bhadra, if Asura is made into a film, or any of the atheist Maharishis like Jabali or Carvaka.

Are authors of Indian mythological fiction becoming the new bards for the McDonald’s generation? Tell t2@abp.in