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Bhasa inspired Techie’s hit Novel
By Suneetha

Anand Neelakantan’s hero is the anti-hero of mythology, Ravana. At a time when retellings are in vogue, this IOC Engineer admits to have been curious about the ‘other stories’ of mythology from his childhood. His book ‘Asura: Tale of the Vanquished’ is climbing the charts within a month of its release. Anand speaks about his trysts with Bhasa and his readings of the Ramayana.

Techgoss (TG): Tell us about yourself
Anand Neelakantan (AN): Like most persons born in seventies, my career choice was only either becoming a Doctor or an Engineer. I became an Engineer due to peer pressure and not due to any passion.  And I continue to work as an Engineer for putting food on the dining table. I am an Electrical and Electronics Engineering graduate from the Government Engineering College, Thrissur, Calicut University, with a specialization in Petroleum Management. I am with Indian Oil Corporation since 1999.

However, I should admit that Engineering has never been my cup of tea. My passion always has been on the creative side. I have always admired authors.  I had started with reading great writers of Malayalam literature like S K Pottekad, M T Vasudevan Nair, Basheer, Thakazhi all Jnanpith winners and still continue to enjoy their works. The giants of international literature, both classical and modern and Indian English writers like R K Narayan and later Indian English writers like Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh have inspired me in pursuing my passion.

TG: How did you get introduced to mythology?
AN: I grew up in a town which breathes mythology. The town of Thripoonithura was the capital of Cochin kingdom and has more than 100 temples of varying antiquity. Childhood memories are filled with temple festivals, mythological plays, classical arts, music etc. Mythology was never something that came alive in illustrations of Amar Chitra Katha. It was a part of life, the very breath of growing up. Family gatherings, even now tend to be a discussion or heated debate about our traditions, Vedas, mythology etc and rarely about films or sports.

TG: How and when did the 'other perspective' happen? Who was your influence on you to encourage an investigation into the other lives of characters?
AN: It was the learning of Sanskrit in school and discovery of Bhasa, the greatest story teller who ever lived after Veda Vysa that changed my thinking pattern itself. Bhasa had travelled through paths that modern writers have not even thought about. The Oorubhanga of Bhasa, where the great dramatist portrays Duryodhana as the main protagonist is what made me think about Ravana in another light. ASURA- Tale of the vanquished owes a lot to so many people, but if you ask me what the main inspiration is, I will only point out to Bhasa

Then the influence of my father was something which I can never forget. I first heard about all our great epics from him. Like most Indians, I did not read them until I grew up. It was told to me again and again. That was nothing unique, for every child in Indian traditional setting is imparted what was is and wrong, what is acceptable and what was not, through the most effective method of storytelling.

One of the most important lessons I learnt from my father was not to accept anything blindly. He was a pious man, but had heard all my doubts and skepticism with an open mind. He never imposed his thoughts on me. My journey through the other side of Ramayana, can be traced to this training.

TG: What do you read usually? Who is your favourite author/book?
AN: Other than Bhasa and Veda Vyasa, I do not have a personal favorite among writers. I love good stories irrespective of the stature of the author. India has so many master story tellers in various languages that it would be unfair to point out one single person as inspiration. The book I am inspired by is always Mahabharatha and Vyasa has claimed it right- There is nothing in the world that is not in it.

However, I am a voracious reader.  War and Peace, Catch 22, Grapes of Wrath , Razors Edge etc remain some of my favorite books

TG: When and how long did the writing of Asura happen? Why did you write in English?
AN: Writing cannot be measured in time. The book is inside an author and it keeps evolving every minute, with every thought.  The alternative perspective of Ramayana was always inside me, though it started taking shape 6 years back.

Writing in English was a tough decision. Basically we think and write better in our mother tongue. English, for all its merits is an alien language. I may even dare to say that it is not developed as much as most Indian languages. Language is a medium of expression, but English lacks the various hues and emotions associated with words of Indian languages. For instance, if I write a simple conversation, “You come here”, in any Indian language, at least a dozen meaning can be conveyed by the type of address that is used for the word “YOU”.  For conveying respect, one uses a different “You”, for conveying friendship, another “You” and for conveying contempt or superiority, a different word for “You”. If I write about a character who uses this conversation to another one, in any Indian language, just by using the correct form of “You”, I would have conveyed a lot of meaning regarding the social standing of both the characters, their relationship etc, whereas in English, I have to use an entire paragraph to express the same emotion and meaning.

Alas, when I write in Malayalam, I will be conveying my ideas, my stories only to a small group. English due to historical reasons has a wider reach. English is becoming mother tongue for the new generation now and it is easier to edit and make corrections. I will admit that I decided to write in English owing to its wider reach.

TG: Any plans to do this in your mother-tongue Malayalam or even other languages?
AN: I would love to get my work translated to other Indian languages. I would also like to write ASURA in Malayalam at a later stage

TG: How has the book been received? Tell us one response which delighted you as a writer.
AN: Asura hit the stands by May last week. In one month, the book has reached 7th place in Crosswords national best seller, 6th place in Flip kart best seller in fiction, a recommended product of Landmark, 2nd place in Home shop 18 . I have been selected as Author of the month by Reliance time out. The book has recorded online sales of more than 5000 in 4 weeks and most book shops have run out of stocks. Needless to say, this is an encouraging response for any author.

One of the responses which delighted me was a review in flip kart by one reader who has told that I have forgotten what Ramayana stands for and it meaning and has written without knowing the meaning of it. But he has told that I am an excellent writer and the book is a great read. He says that he does not agree in making Ravana the hero or about the content of the book, but he would recommend the book to everyone for the quality of writing.

TG: How did the publishing happen? Was it easy?
AN: Publishing was a long process. I used to get rejection slips from many publishers. One of the major publishers replied that the book is not publishable, within ten minutes of receiving the soft copy of my 600 page manuscript. Another had commented that the subject is not interesting enough. Some publisher’s submission norms are so intimidating and time consuming that it is not for the faint hearted. We cannot blame the publisher as every Engineer and MBA holder dreams of being an author now a days.

But dealing with Leadstart publication was a pleasant experience. I should mention the role of Chandralekha Maitra, Executive director and editor of Leadstart publishing who was like a mentor to me in my writing career. ASURA went through many rounds of editing and proof reading and I am happy with the final product. The entire team of my publisher including the CEO Swarup Nanda and sales team Ifitkar, Apoorv etc have put lot of effort in making Asura a grand success that it has become now.

TG: Any sequels planned?
AN: Asura is a complete story and no sequel is planned for Asura. I believe sequels do not do justice to a reader and it is only a marketing technique. Sequel does not give a sense of completion and satisfaction to a reader. A book reading should be a complete experience and should not be enjoyed in installments. I will continue to write in the same genre but not as a sequel to this book. Indian Mythology is like a vast ocean and one can keep on writing about it as long as readers find it interesting. It has stood the test of time for the past five thousand years.

TG: What next? Any e-books?
AN: I am working on Mahabharata now, though it is in its nascent stage.  E books are the future of publishing and I cannot ignore the trend. An e- version of Asura is planned by end of August. The migration of publishing industry towards e book will be slow process. In the near future, both e versions and conventional paper editions will thrive. Ultimately it is the quality of writing that counts and not the technology of publishing. 

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