Reading has always been a big part of author Anuja Chandramouli’s life. She remembers that as kids when she and her friends used to play a game where they would fantasize about who they would like to be stuck with on a deserted island, her answer was usually books, all the ones that could be possibly crammed in there. Devouring tomes on mythology, history, crime, psychological thrillers, horror, literary classics or just about anything, she is still an avid reader. And an equally prolific writer, because last year she had three books releasing simultaneously, with three different publishers.
How did she manage to pull off such an incredible feat?
She says, in retrospect, she is still trying to figure that out – ” The year 2017 has been absolutely insane and intoxicating. I was working on Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts at the beginning of the year and it was hugely demanding and challenging since there was an ocean of research to wade through and it was my first attempt at writing in this genre. It was also one of the most fulfilling and fun things ever since I am a huge history buff. Having finished it after digging up reserves of energy I did not know I had it was time to hearken to the call of mythology and the irresistible lure of Kartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son mostly because I love him and also because of a contractual obligation!
“I was running on fumes, but there was an adrenaline surge as well which kept me going. It was important that I do justice to all three characters and that was what kept me focused and motivated.”
Somewhere between the two books, I got the offer to work on Padmavati: The Burning Queen and it was not something I could resist especially after the high of working on Prithviraj plus the fact that Rani Padmavati is one of the most fascinating figures in history. By then I was running on fumes, but there was an adrenaline surge as well which kept me going. It was important that I do justice to all three characters and that was what kept me focused and motivated. All in all, I am just grateful that I managed to get everything done without screwing up or losing my mind!”
Since the time Anuja decided to try to make it as an author, the obvious choice was to write a book on Arjuna, who is her favorite character from Mahabharata, an epic she has read numerous times. There has been no looking back since for the author! “Guess it is going to be mythology and me till death do us part,” she says.
Padmavati: The Burning Queen
Her book Padmavati: The Burning Queen released around the same time that the Karni Sena threatened to cut Deepika Padukone’s nose off should the film Padmavati (now called Padmavat) be released. Was she apprehensive that her book might meet the same fate? What was it about this one queen that made her want to tell her story?
Of course, words have power and they can provoke strong sentiments and books may have bans slapped on them in a heartbeat, but readers are usually a breed of people who are less inclined to chop the noses off people or rough them up when angered.
“I wasn’t really apprehensive for the simple reason that as a writer, I operate almost entirely in a beautiful, extremely private space created exclusively for my use and needs, which is as far removed as it is possible to be from extremist groups, hell raisers, bomb throwers and any sort of unpleasantness actually. It is a great way to do what you have set out to do without having to bother with bullies who are out to derail your efforts.
Book Readers are less inclined to chop the noses off people
Besides books are somewhat different from the razzle-dazzle, eyeball-grabbing, ultra-glam ways of Bollywood right? Of course, words have power and they can provoke strong sentiments and books may have bans slapped on them in a heartbeat, but readers are usually a breed of people who are less inclined to chop the noses off people or rough them up when angered. There have been ugly incidents in the history of the written word as well (Ask Salman Rushdie, Perumal Murugan or those featured in the Index of Forbidden Books) but mostly it was the work of trouble mongers who couldn’t be bothered with reading a book from cover to cover or those who seek to distort a work of art to serve their twisted purposes. In fact, I genuinely think there will be less threatening, fatwa-issuing, assaulting etc. in the world if people stopped listening to hearsay and read more.
“I wanted to spin a ripping good yarn that would help readers realize that life is never going to be easy irrespective of when, where and to whom you are born or no matter what your personal circumstances and shortcomings are but that is no reason to stop you from being the best possible version of you or embracing all things heroic within.”
My decision to tell her story was partly inspired by my kids and my dream for the kind of world I would like them to inherit. It is a place where people are not judged on the basis of gender, caste, creed or sexual preference and where the spirit of tolerance and friendship has prevailed over corrosive emotions and senseless violence. Mostly though, I wanted to spin a ripping good yarn that would help readers realize that life is never going to be easy irrespective of when, where and to whom you are born or no matter what your personal circumstances and shortcomings are but that is no reason to stop you from being the best possible version of you or embracing all things heroic within.
Finally, in the interests of brutal honesty, a teeny-weeny part of me figured what the hell, perhaps I ought to cash in on the buzz surrounding the movie and laugh all the way to the bank! (Ka-ching!!),” the author adds in good humour.
As a Country, We have an Issue Stepping Out of our Past Shadow
Needless to say, in our country, people take offense too easily when it comes to letting a creative person have artistic liberties in depicting history and mythology. Why does she think, as a country, we have an issue stepping out of our past shadow and letting people interpret it in their own way?
“Celebs and creative people are soft targets for the misguided mob to vent their fury on, their heads fully turned by talk of preserving our past glory (which of course, is no small thing) when it should be the present and future we should be investing our time and effort in.”
“I think it is possible that Indians are painfully aware of the many problems that plague our nation, which makes them more than a little scared, angry and insecure. To paraphrase Yoda from Star Wars, this trifecta is the surest way to the dark side. The road to improvement and a better India is going to be a long and arduous one, beset with the petty issues that have long plagued us because we have always had an issue with getting over our differences and working together for the common good. Instead of doing something constructive which is, of course, going to be complicated we opt for simplistic measures – from raving and ranting across social media platforms every time something stirs our conscience to hating on those who dare to provide alternate interpretations of our cultural legacy.”
Veda Vyasa is the greatest storyteller
According to Anuja, Veda Vyasa is the greatest storyteller this world has seen and she is forever in his debt. She also looks up to stalwarts in the field like Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton, Bill Watterson, Thomas Bulfinch, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Perumal Murugan, Kalki, Stephen King and Jeffrey Archer, because “they are so bloody good at what they do!” It is her aim in life, to create a comparable body of work or write that one book which transcends the limitations of the medium!
“There are many writers out there whose words I lap up and work, I worship but I also try to focus solely on honing my craft and striving for impossible perfection.”
“Among the books, I read recently, Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints and Perumal Murugan’s Pyre made a big impression… However, as a rule, I try not to compare myself with others who play ball on the same court and encourage myself to avoid playing the ‘What if’ game especially with regard to somebody else’s ideas or books. So to each his own. There are many writers out there whose words I lap up and work, I worship but I also try to focus solely on honing my craft and striving for impossible perfection. Plus in my humble opinion, I am a decent writer who is constantly improving.”
Finally, what are her future plans. Is she thinking of experimenting across genres? What are the projects she is currently working on?
Anuja adds, “With the Yama’s Lieutenant series, I managed to create something in the fantasy genre and with Prithviraj and Padmavati, have made my bones in historical fiction. Horror is a genre that I love and it would be awesome to write a truly terrifying tale someday that is definitely not for the fainthearted. In the meantime, I have a few ideas to work on books featuring exciting characters from history and mythology and at this point, even I am not sure about which ones are actually going to materialize… but whichever way it goes, I am sure it is going to be one amazing ride!”
Also Read: An Excerpt: The New Wealth of Nations, Surjit S. Bhalla
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