Anand Neelakantan’s debut novel is based on mythological epic Ramayana. It is titled ASURA: Tale Of The Vanquished: The Story Of Ravana And His People. In fact, it just completed its fourth anniversary. As a result, it has already established Anand Neelakantan as one of the top writers of India. In addition, the book was already among 5 finalists in the Crossword Popular Award in 2013. As a matter of fact, Asura was unique because for the first time someone has written about Ravana as the main character. On a similar track, he researched about Duryodhana – the main villain among Kauravas in Mahabharata who fought and lost against Pandavas. In fact, For the first time someone has written about Duryodhana as a lead and positive character. The cover of Anand Neelakantan’s second book Ajaya – Epic of Kaurava Clan Book 1 – Roll of the Dice came out in late 2013.
A big thanks Anand Neelakantan for accepting invitation for the interview. And providing us the opportunity to understand more about your first book Asura. About Ajaya and your forthcoming work.
How and when did the idea of Asura evolved in your mind?
Asura evolved right from my childhood. Systematic research happened 8 years back and it took 6 years for me to pen it down. I had grown up in a village where mythology is still a part of life.
At the time of starting writing on Ravana (Asura), did you have any other options in mind?
I toyed with the idea of writing from both Rama’s and Ravana’s point of view to bring a balance, but Lord Rama has so many stories for him. Ravana too have some fan following. The voice of the ordinary man is always muted when the stories of big guys are told. Bhadra was born from this thought.
How much research work you did before/ while writing Asura and then Ajaya?
Almost six years for Asura, Ajaya is about Mahabharat. So most sources were same. That made my task easier as I had the research materials ready.
Asura was an alternative narrative – was the other character totally imaginative? or there is some reality behind him?
Bhadra means brother. In some versions of Ramayana, Bhadra is the name of the washer man who slanders Sita. I took the name from there and created this character.
What make you decide on writing on mythological epics but showcasing them from other side of the wall? Isn’t it a big risk writing about a loser as a Hero, knowing that these epics are in the mind of every Indian right since childhood depicting Winner as hero and loser as anti-hero?
Firstly, I did not think about risk while writing it. Secondly, I had a story to tell and I only thought about that. Thirdly, I do not want to change the world or make people believe in what I believe. Fourthly, I am just a man with a story to tell. Whether the readers accept my version or the original version is up to them and I do not have any control over it.
When did the idea of writing Ajaya incepted in your mind and what all it took to reach to its final destination?
Writing is pleasure, writing is pain. It took many sleepless nights and mood swings to reach it. It took pouring over obscure texts and analysing each versions to accept or reject to write it.
What is the reason of choosing Duryodhana? Why not Karna or Shakuni for that sake?
Karna, Shakuni etc play major role in Ajaya too. There are many stories written from Karna’s angle by many great writers. My intention is not just to write about the other side. I write because, my rereading of Mahabharata after my visit to the Duryodhana temple convinced me that Duryodhana was cheated out of his inheritance and the popular version is the version of one who won the war.
What are the various meanings of Duryodhana?
Actual name of Duryodhana is Suyodhana- the good warrior, the one who uses his arms for good purpose. Duryodhana can mean-. Evil warrior, the one who uses his arms for evil purpose or it can also mean, the warrior who cannot be conquered or is difficult to conquer. Hence the name Ajaya, the one who cannot be conquered. Since my book is also a counter telling to original Jaya (the real name of Mahabharata), I have used the name Ajaya to sound like it is antonym of Jaya (though it is not)
Duryodhana is worshipped and has a temple established in his name? Where is it and tell us about the community that worships him.
The temple is called Malanada Duryodhana temple in Poruvizhy village in South Central Kerala. In Uttarakhand also, I have heard a few temples dedicated to Duryodhana there. The temple in Kerala is a famous one and more than a lakh people assemble for the annual fair. People of all communities worship Duryodhana here and it is said that he is there to protect anyone who is facing oppression from his superiors, any one who is facing poverty. He is the God of downtrodden, irrespective of caste or religion. The priests are not Brahmins but belong to Kurava, a scheduled tribe community.
Is Ajaya written in a narrative style like Asura? If not, why?
Asura was written in first person. Ajaya is not, because Mahabharata has more characters. I did not want Ajaya to be just another copy of Asura, with Duryodhana telling his story in place of Ravana.
What are your next plans after release of Ajaya on December 1, 2013?
Ajaya will be published in two parts. On Dec 1st, the first part Roll of the dice will be out. On Aug 15th, 2014, Rise of Kali, the second part of Ajaya series will be out. In 2015, I hope to come up with Amatya, the story of Chanakya’s foe.
A short message for your readers and fans in your words
I have a small request to my readers.
Without your support, encouragement and criticism, I would not have had the courage to come up with another book within an year. Asura is in the crossword popular award final list of five. The competition is tough, with big names of Industry like Amish, Aswhin Sanghi, Ravi Subramanian and Anuja Chauhan in the list. I request all of you to give the vanquished a chance.
And now some generic ones:
Your real name and pen name?
N Anand and Anand Neelakantan
Please share some of the best memories of your childhood
Hearing stories again and again from my father and the way he used to answer my questions. Childhood also is about sultry afternoons under sweet smelling mango trees, temple ponds and back waters, elephants and festivals, boredom of classes and exhilaration of cricket matches played in coconut plantations with rubber balls, monsoon and friendships that still goes on strong.
About your education;
B tech, certified petroleum manager
What career did you plan during your education days-
Engineer, dreamt to be a cartoonist
What languages you can speak and write?
English, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit to an extent, Kannada to speak
What is your biggest source of inspiration in life.
My father, (late) L Neelakantan
What hurts you most in this world?
What was the biggest challenge of your life? How did you overcome it?
My father’s death. Books helped me to get over that and accept the inevitable.
If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
Yesudas- I have a voice like a frog that has sore throat. I envy people with great voice and I thing Yesudas has the most gifted voice on earth.
What is your favorite genre and why?
Historical fiction as it helps me to live in another era
What is the purpose of your writing?
I do not know, It is like asking what is your purpose of breathing. I write because I want to to, there is no life for me without it.
What four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
Firstly, I write as per my thoughts lead me. Secondly, I do not take care much while writing. Thirdly, I write as the thoughts come. Later during editing, I check for style, grammar and whether the words are sounding right if they are read out aloud. I even write ungrammatically if the words sound right to Indian ears. I read out my writing aloud and that is how I see whether the rhythm is there in it.
Your dream destination on Earth?
Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?
India- I have not visited many countries except Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc for vacation. These were short visits and I cannot say much about their culture in such a small time. Only thing I can say is that their streets are much more cleaner.
Your favorite time of the day?
Dawn and dusk
Your zodiac/ sunsign?
Your favorite color and why?
Green, in fact we have a resort in Wayanad which is very green and we have named it Planet Green Resorts, Wayanad, Kerala
Your favorite book and why?
Mahabharat, there is nothing beyond it
Your favorite celebrity and why?
Gandhiji, his life is his message
Your favorite food?
Some quickies: Sun or Moon, Laughter or Smile, Morning or Evening, Coffee or Tea, Mountain or Sea, Long Drive or Short Drive, Silence or Conversation.
Sun, Laughter, Evening, Coffee, Sea, Long drive, Silence
Finally, State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote.
Victors write history
All the best Anand Neelakantan for your current and all upcoming ventures. In fact, Keep winning the hearts of your fans and readers. In addition, keep increasing your readership. Rather, exponentially with every release.