Friday, 16 June 2017

Interview : Rahul Rajan Author of Rudravan

In Conversation With Rahul Rajan

1. Hello Rahul, thanks for being in conversation with me. I would first of all like to know about how you indulged in mythology?

Hi Jasleen, it’s a pleasure J. Frankly, while the Indian audience has woken up to Mythology in the past 7-10 years, it’s been fairly close to my heart for long. My grandfather started me off on this path, first with bedtime tales and moving me on to my first copies of Amar Chitra Katha. In fact, he actually worked on the interpretation of the Vedas while fighting cancer, and managed to complete it just before his death. I’m not sure if that fact influenced me in any way, but I’d like to think of it as fate….preordained, I guess. Actually, it’s not just Indian mythology that interests me. I’m quite a big fan of Greek, Egyptian and the Norse myths as well. I think a bit of that reflects in my writing as well.

2. Why Ramayana? And why Ravana? Do you find him more appealing then Lord Rama or did you find him over-shadowed and wanted to throw some light on him?

You know, as opposed to the majority, I always found the Ramayana more interesting than the Mahabharata. The fact that this was a clash between two beings who could decimate the earth and the heavens if they so wished really appealed to me. It’s the best fantasy/superhero fiction, and it has no equal.

So why write an interpretation? Because in spite of all this, it felt incomplete, somehow. And that ties in with your question on why Rāvan..! Sacrilegious as it may sound, I feel some parts of the story don’t add up.

Rama was born to kill Rāvan. That was the purpose of his avatar. And yet, the events were only set in motion after Rāvan abducted Sita. Just imagine, if the whole banishment to the forest thing hadn’t happened, the epic wouldn’t have taken place at all! Rama would have spent his whole life in Ayodhya, blissfully ignorant of the reason of his existence! That’s like leaving the fate of the universe to chance.

I guess from a logic point of view, I needed a reason to understand why. And once I started, I couldn’t stop looking. And somehow, each question seemed to draw me closer to Rāvan. Why did he need to be killed? And then, how was the boon of Lord Brahma bypassed so easily? And if it had to be a man, then why not ParashuRām? He was an avatar of Vishnu as well. The list of questions was endless. And once I started connecting the dots, they all seemed to link to Rāvan somehow. The search suddenly turned into a story about him, almost on its own. And from then on, the story flowed naturally.

3. I feel that Ramayana is an anti-feministic saga? Taking in notice what happened with Sita at the end of the tale? What are your thoughts over this?

Wow…tough question. Well, no, I don’t think the Ramayana is anti-feminist at all. If the concept of “feminism” equates to that of a woman being confident, self-assured and independent, then the portrayal of Sita was pretty apt. Let me try and explain. Sita was not forced into exile. She went with him out of love, not any obligation. She made that decision, out of her sense of duty, her own Dharma, not as an obligation. We need to understand that difference without losing our own perspective.

Now, the hard part. The trial by fire, and her eventual second exile. This is where Rama-baiters have a field day. But here’s what I have to say, and it might not be what “modernists” want to hear.  “You cannot judge the past by the standards of the present.” Bound by the law of that time, Rama had absolutely no choice in the matter. He was king. And the king was morally obligated to uphold Dharma, as it was defined then, far more than anyone else. So he chose to suffer as a man, rather than diminish the authority of his position.

And he suffered quite a bit. It is mentioned in the Ramayana, that all joy from his life vanished after she left his side.  Sita had her twins, Rama had nothing. When he had to perform the Yagna, he got a golden statue of Sita made to sit beside him. It served to show everyone that never for a moment did he doubt her purity. It was his public act of defiance, the most he could do.

And before you say I’m presenting a one sided story, let me tell you that Sita knew this for a fact. Never once does she believe that he can live in happiness without her. If you look deeper into their situation, you feel bad for Sita, but you feel pity for Rama.

She lived life on her own terms, including choosing the manner of her death. He was bound by oaths and duties throughout. How is that anti-feminist?

4. Do you think Ravana can rule the hearts with the help of your book? Or you have just penned the story as it is shown in all these years?

Well, the book was never written with the intention of Rāvan ruling anyone’s heart. It’s more of a perspective on the events that led to his death, and how despite all his power, the deck was always stacked against him.

Yes, I do believe readers will see a very different Rāvan. He is not the magnificent hero that Rama is, nor the invincible, and yet humble warrior that Hanuman is. In fact, whenever they are in conflict, you would see that Rama is the better man, at least morally. And yet, you will find yourself empathizing with Rāvan. Because he behaves like a man, trapped in a world of Gods. You know he is wrong, but a part of you still wants him to win. You know he will die, but you want to prolong the inevitable. I think that sense of empathy, that sense of giving Rāvan the respect I feel he has been denied so far…I think that’s all I am looking for.

5. What makes your book different from others? What can readers expect?

It’s hard to answer this question without sounding presumptuous. I think first of all, it’s written as a thriller…a mystery. You will find yourself wondering what will happen next, despite the story staying true to the events of the original epic. You know Ravan is going to die in the last day of battle, but until the last paragraph, you will not know how. I think that’s the best part.

The other is the sense of logic in the story, the interweaving of so many secondary myths to form one meta-story. It’s like the strands of a spider-web all coming together at the center. Everything is connected.

Lastly, unlike most mythological reinterpretations, this does not attempt to present Gods and Demons as humans. This is mythology-plus, if I may say so. These are beings that can destroy planets on a whim, consume suns, collapse whole universes. I think the cosmic scale of this story is quite unlike what readers have been exposed to until now.

And lastly, it’s not a black and white story of good vs evil. It’s good vs good, with an equal and opposite justification throughout. I really think…no…I believe…firmly…that the readers are going to love it.

6. What are your favorite books, genres and authors?

No surprises here. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, Arthur C Clarke’s “The Odyssey series”, the original pulp fantasy works of Robert E Howard, David Edding’s “Tamuli” series, almost all books of Clive Cussler (Action-Adventure) and Michael Crichton (Sci-fi adventure). I think the fantasy/sci-fi/mythology mash-up really is my thing. I am also a HUGE Superhero fan, and might have the largest collection of DC/Marvel. And I think a lot of that has also found its way into my writing. I would have loved to write humor as well, being a P.G Wodehouse geek as well, but I don’t think I have that kind of ability.

7. What are your future plans in writing? Will you try anything extra-ordinary just like this book of yours? Or will you be trying any other genre?

Yeah, hopefully I’m not a one book wonder. I have some ideas on what I want to write on next, and I have begun work on that. Research mostly. I’m not sure about the word “extraordinary”, but it will be on a scale larger than Rudrāvan. Regarding the genre, I am going to be dipping into mythology once again, but not to the extent of this one. I want to really experiment with the fantasy and sci-fi angle a lot more, with mythology playing second fiddle this time. I think I want to carve a unique space for myself, my own personal sandbox, so to speak. And yeah, it’s not going to be one book. It’s time I entered the world of trilogies. J

8. What is hard: thinking about the concept, writing the story, editing it or getting it published? Tell your story from start till the end.

Getting it published is the hardest part, really. It’s almost painful, the kind of effort that you have to put in there. But to answer your question completely, I guess thinking about a concept is not tough for a writer, even an aspiring one. Most of us are quite imaginative, and never short of ideas or concepts. I think the tougher part is sifting through hundreds of those and finally deciding on which one to choose. Rudrāvan too happened quite like that. Then comes the plot. The theme, the dilemma, the characters, the twists etc. Then the plot linkages, making sure each event flows logically into the next and your story doesn’t suffer from a case of deux ex machina, which I think lots of writers fall prey to. Then comes the research, ensuring that you don’t get the basics of what you are writing wrong. Writer’s liberty cannot and should not be misused. Post that, a seasoned writer can write the story pretty easily. I know I only face a real problem with descriptive parts, but that’s just me, I guess. Editing, for me, was both educational, and laborious. Educational because I realized that even after multiple rewrites, there was a chance I was not getting my point across. Laborious because of the sheer effort to going back to story with another person and taking them through it word by word. It was grueling, to say the least.

Finally, getting published is a nightmare. I think it’s really hard for a first timer to get picked up. The dynamics of economics are simply stacked against you, and the quality of your writing has precious little to do with it.  I was lucky Leadstart picked me up. But it was just that…luck.

9. What role does the publishing firm plays in an author’s life, especially in the life of a debutant author?

I think a publishing firm gives an author credibility, more than anything else. This is not to diminish self-published authors in any way. God knows I was ready to take that plunge myself. But I guess the sense of professionalism a publishing firm adds is critical. Getting an editor assigned, discussions on cover layouts, page layouts, font sizes, advice on media mgmt., e-com and e-book listing, all of that is pretty important. Obviously firms lean forward a lot more in the case of an established author, while a newbie gets the no-frills version. But that again is dictated by market dynamics, which unfortunately for us writers, is a fact of life.

10. Any part of the book which:

·         You want to changeà  I would have loved to change the sales figures for sure J. You know, pre-booking in millions, a film deal…the works. Seriously though, I should have worked harder on the art. J. Else, I don’t think I’d like to change anything. It turned out just as I had imagined it would.
·         You find the bestà Far too many. Rāvan lifting Kailash, Ram breaking the Pināk, The battle of Dandakaranya, the conversations between Shiva and Vishnu, Ravan’s first encounter with Vishnu, Parashuram’s battle with Kartavirya Arjun, Hanuman defying Ravan in the court of Lanka….far too many, like I said.
·         You can re-read till deathà Only JRR Tolkein can be re-read till death.  I’m not there yet.
·         You memorize by heart. Hahaha….I think it’s the dialogue between Rāvan and Hanuman. I had a ball writing it.

 “You insolent bastard,” growled Rāvan, “do you think you can so easily escape from Lanka?”
Hanuman laughed, “Escape?” he asked, “I did not come here to escape, Ravan. I came here to break your world…just as I have broken your sons.”

11. Your favorite quotes from the book?

There aren’t too many quotes in the book. But there is a passage where Ravan first learns of Ram. It is after Ram breaks the bow of Shiva.

“The prince of Ayodhya, they whisper…as they see him hold the broken bow, and the smile on his perfect face reappears. He turns to look at them, and a silence falls once more as he raises the bow of Shiva.
And then the sound that follows drowns even the thunder of the shattering of the Pinaak. It is the sound of the name of its conqueror…the name of the prince of Ayodhya.
Ram…they say…they shout…again…and again…and again…Ram!”

12. This book certainly shows that it needed a lot of research work and knowledge in the subject matter. Tell us about your journey of this phase?

I think I answered that partly before. See, before knowledge comes interest. If you are interested in a subject, you won’t mind reading tons of literature on the subject. As I’ve already said before, mythology is my calling. I never tire of the subject. In this case, the basic knowledge was already there. The real problem was actually with that knowledge. The inconsistencies that were far too many to ignore. The tough part was finding a solution where none had even envisioned a problem. But here I found our mythology to be wondrous. I had to create very little of the events myself. As I began searching for one answer, it would lead me to another path with another question getting answered. I ended up with a whole list of facts and people connections that I had not known previously. Some of them were automatic fits into my story, and some I had to adapt. A certain event that seemingly existed in isolation, but in my eyes, tied into a larger story.

It was like a genuine mystery. “The mystery of Ravan’s death,” if you want to name it.

13. What are your needs as a writer? A long follower list or readers with a genuine understanding? Do you think the race is never-ending?

Well, I’d be lying if I said fame and adulation don’t matter to me. But I also know that my choice of genre, and my style of writing limits my numeric target segment. And I am ok with that. But I really want my core readers to love what I write. Their…what did you say …”genuine understanding” is really important to me. More than that, I want them to proudly acknowledge that they love my writing. About the race part, I guess only the top dogs are in any kind of race. The rest of us are too far down in the food chain to actually worry about such things. But if it ever came down to it, I’m cool with any and all competition.

14. Do you think the book market is expanding in a wrong way? What chance does a debutant hold in the midst of the chaos?

Hmmm…not sure about this one. I do think that the major publishers are playing it very safe, and it’s very tough for a new author to crack the code. When things like safe word count, safe genre, previous writing credentials (which are mostly none for a first timer) enter into a writer’s world, he is limited in a huge way. And frankly, history has shown that publishers almost always get it wrong. Just look at JK Rowling. So it’s pretty disheartening for a debutant. But my advice is to not lose hope. You just have to believe in what you have written. Be open to criticism, and even reworking your book entirely. But in the end, if you are sure, and nobody is still willing to bet on you, bet on yourself. I know that’s what I would have done.

15. Would you like to pass on a message to your readers before they try your book?

If you are fans of mythology, fantasy, even sci-fi, you will love this book.
Most reinterpretations offer a different viewer’s perspective of the original tales. This book goes beyond that. It offers you the perspective of each player involved, and never lets you choose a side. It forces the readers to become the jury in a grand trial with each side arguing its case equally well.
The second is the mystery element. Despite knowing the end of the story, readers will struggle to guess how that end would come about.

Lastly, the story is set on a cosmic scale. It takes away the homely representation of our myths and replaces them with beings whose existences span universes, and who actions can instantly lay waste to entire worlds.

It will show our Gods in a light in which they have been seldom seen before, and give our legends the respect that is their rightful due.

Thank You author for the wonderful answers :)

About the book:

The greatest villain of our legends, burnt down every year, reduced to ashes again and again, only to rise anew. His is a cycle of death and rebirth that never ends, a legend that refuses to die. And there is a reason for that.

The tale of Rāvan still screams to be told, to break free of the falsehoods that have buried his truth. But in the vastness of our myths, there are bits and pieces of his legend scattered all around, leading us to the truth of what could well be the greatest unsolved mystery of all time. The truth of Rāvan's life, and his death by a God in mortal flesh…

Rāvan's origin, as the descendant of Lord Brahma, his devotion to Shiva and his conquest of Swarga speak of a great king, stronger and wiser than even the Devas. How then does he succumb to lust, cowardice and finally, foolhardiness?

And what was Rāvan's sin that made his death necessary? The abduction of Sitā was a mere front, for the Rām avatar had been born long before that. Why did Vishnu stand against him, when he was blessed by both Shiva and Brahma? How was Rāvan, blessed with invincibility, defeated so conveniently, by a God in human flesh? Could Rāvan not have thought of that, and prepared against it?

And why did Shiva allow the death of his greatest worshipper, the one he himself had named?

What if the Rāmayan was just a part of a greater story, a cosmic game
of chess between Vishnu and Rāvan? What if our greatest epic is merely the end of a tale that had begun long ago?"

About the author:

"'Rahul Rajan is a self- anointed master of all knowledge least relevant to the real world, and more suited to an era that he admits 'never quite existed.' Dropping out of college to joining the Merchant Navy to seek adventure in far off lands (not realizing that he was about 500 years too late), he counts sailing through the Bermuda Triangle and the Amazon River amongst some of the highest points of his life. Aften a severe back injury forced him back on shore, he completed his BSc in Physics from Fergusson College, Pune and then completed an MBA in Marketing from the SP Jain Institute of Mgmt. & Research, Mumbai. Fate then took him on the turbulent waters of the corporate world, where he worked with Procter & Gamble for seven years before moving on to Philips. And now, disguided as a mild mannered cubicle dweller, fighting a never ending battle for sales and distribution, he spends his nights typing away on his laptop, creating imaginary worlds and creatures that have dwelled in his subconsicous mind for far too long. He is settled in Gurgaon with his wife Ruchi and two sons Abhimanyu and Shaurya. He can be reached on Facebook at ''Rahul Rajan's Rudravan""

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