Krishna Udayasankar remembers wanting to be a writer ever since she could read, which was before she could speak. Although she can’t entirely vouch for it, but by the age of five she wanted to grow up to be an astronaut or a writer – “But I’m not sure I even knew what an astronaut really was, so it was always writer!” she says.
Udayasankar, who had earlier written the bestselling Aryavarta Chronicles, is now out with her latest release, Beast, where the Assistant Commissioner of Police Aditi Kashyap is called upon to solve a gruesome triple homicide in a Mumbai suburb, and she is dragged into the terrifying world of the Saimhas – werelions – who have lived alongside humans, hiding amongst them, since ancient times.
Speaking about how she came up with the idea of such a unique crime fantasy, the author adds, “One could say it is an urban fantasy adventure inspired by myth, but as a story, it builds its own mythology, it has its own world-rules, so to say. As to how I came up with the idea – I think it’s a mix of factors: I personally enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction a lot, so it’s natural I would want to veer in that direction.
I remember thinking about the purity of animal instinct and the horrors that humans, with their rational minds are capable of.
But I also remember thinking (and have a little note scrawled in my journal) about the purity of animal instinct and the horrors that humans, with their rational minds are capable of. In everyday usage, we so easily refer to murderers and rapists and generally evil people as “beasts”, and I thought, not in a flippant way, that animals ought to be offended by that reference. I’m not sure what mental whirlwind began there, but before I knew it, I had the vague outline of this novel in my head.”
Having grown up in many places, ‘both inside my head and in real life’, and travelled a fair bit with her parents, Udayasankar informs that she still has very vivid, visual images of the places and things she’s seen, so when she sets a particular scene in a book in a certain locale, she might rely on a very, very old memory.
“In Beast, for example, there are scenes set in the forest, of lions, much of which comes from my memory of living in Africa when I was about eight years old. But coming back to my career as a writer – I think I gave up on the idea for a while, but when I look back now at the kinds of careers I pursued, I always was writing something – research papers, journal articles. But after a while, it wasn’t enough, so I began writing fiction alongside my day job, before quitting about 3 years ago. Now I pretend to write full-time.
The Singapore-based author who had studied to be a lawyer says that what she writes at any point of time is really the sum total of all her life experiences – both professionally and personally.
In addition to giving me research skills (and patience), my academic and legal background also influence the content.
“In addition to giving me research skills (and patience), my academic and legal background also influence the content. Despite being an action-packed book, Beast has a perceptible subtext of class and caste hierarchies, of fundamental notions of society, hierarchy and governance, and the rule of law versus free will.”
Research is also an integral part of all her books, but the topic of the research does vary highly from one to another. And when the writing is concerned, most of her books start off as a scene in her head, one that plays over and over till she knows there’s a story around it that won’t let go of her till she tries to put it down. From storyboarding to research and scrapping entire scenes, the process that ensues is very eclectic.
“And then, one fine day, I will realise that I have a full first draft. It’s quite a depressing moment, really. It’s the feeling that all the magical, infinite possibilities in the world have now boiled down to one. There’s quite a sense of loss I associate with it,” says the author who looks up to the likes of Isaac Asimov, JRR Tolkien and Neil Gaiman.
She hopes that Beast assures readers that it’s possible to have fast-paced, entertaining books that are well-written and provoke thought on social issues.
“Of late, I find that the boundaries between “literary” and “commercial” are growing impermeable, and that readers (and writers) often think a book has to be one or another. I hope, through this book and all my other work, to show that it’s possible to bridge this apparent gap,” adds Udayasankar.
Picture Credits: Krishna Udayasankar/ Penguin Books