Anuja Chandramouli, author of Arjuna, Kamadeva, Shakti and Yama’s Lieutenant, talks about writing mythology and what comes with it.
July 21, 2017
People think writing books on mythology is easy. Hell, in fact most who don’t know better assume that penning a novel itself is one of those cushy jobs, where you sit your butt down, hammer a few keys, pause for long breaks where you chug coffee by the gallon while staring aimlessly into the distance pretending to be busy, and out pops a finished manuscript,. But that is a rant for another day. Getting back to the prior point, the general assumption seems to be that all one needs to be a successful author nowadays is to choose any character from mythology, brush up on the tales grandma used to narrate and reproduce it as best as can be managed. The trick here is to, generate as much outrage as possible, calibrating it to that fine point, where you get to laugh all the way to the bank having managed to manufacture a viral response without incurring the wrath of the bhakts who may just be inclined to bomb you into oblivion for daring to take liberties with our ‘rich cultural heritage.’
I have lost track of the number of people who have congratulated me on my brilliant decision to take up with this cash cow, which has the added benefit of being sacred, and milking it for all it’s worth in the current political climate where it is practically a mandate that we revere all things bovine. Needless to say, this is the sort of thing which makes one empathize with those entitled, privileged celeb kids who spit fire every time they hear the word nepotism, insisting that they had to slog it out to make their mark in a cruel, unforgiving industry that treats everybody just the same, irrespective of gender and pedigree.
The truth is, writing about Indian mythology is like walking on a tightrope across a massive gorge without a safety harness. The material is that delicate and volatile. Which is why solid, painstaking research work is a must since it is the only thing that makes for an adequate safety net. During the inevitable plunge into the depths, it is the only thing that can facilitate a bounce back or prevent one attempting the Herculean task, from going splat. Needless to say, I recommend thoroughness or an intimate familiarity with Puranic lore most strongly.
It is important to treat the source material with the respect it deserves given that Indian mythology is a treasure trove that keeps on giving. Within its fathomless depths, lie the solution to every conundrum, keys to knowledge, precious insight into universal truths and answers to every question that has ever been asked or will be, irrespective of whether it is profane or profound. Mining into its core, would yield not only pearls of wisdom but forkfuls of folly, both of which are equally informative when used to inform the life choices that fall to us to make. There are silly parables to entertain children and complex philosophy to confound Confucius. The information gleaned could mean everything, anything, and nothing.
That said though, slavish parroting of the stories contained therein is a foolhardy attempt since nothing is set in stone. Ours was originally an oral tradition, all the better to preserve the entirely organic and assimilative quality of this ever shape–shifting entity called mythology. Every story has many variations, and permutations are being typed out even at this very moment by new age storytellers. This constant metamorphosis is most welcome, especially when coloured with unique shades of perspective that imbue the older versions with fresh layers and multiple hues that make it all the more glorious, relevant and though - provoking. This fluidity is the main factor that has ensured the survival of our myths and aided in the preservation of its innate charm. Therefore it must not only be tolerated but perpetuated and actively encouraged.
Perhaps in trying to establish that writing on Indian mythology is daredevilry at its most dangerous which involves a delicate balancing act between maintaining the integrity of the core while building upon it, taking in the requirements of the age in which it is set, I have oversold my case and made it all sound risky, too extreme (if such a thing were possible) and tedious, best suited for the closet rebels among the pedagogues. When it comes to the unvarnished truth though, mythology is endlessly fascinating and loads of fun!
As far as I am concerned, Indian mythology and writing about it, never gets old. Ever. There is always the prospect of exploration, adventure and fresh discovery. It has the feeling of easy intimacy shared only with the oldest of friends who have been a part of your life forever, while holding out the chance to make new ones who may just grab your hand and take you on a rollicking ride of a lifetime.
For me, the lifelong affair with mythology has been one hell of an incredible romance. It has been a captivating journey that has shaped me identity personally and professionally, while also taking me to wonderful places and helping me meet lovely people. Forevermore, I will remain grateful for the magic, wonder and blessing that Indian mythology has infused my life with. It is my fondest hope and strongest belief that this love story will last forever. And a day.
You can buy a copy of her latest book, Yama's Lieutenant and The Stone Witch here : https://goo.gl/FVjLav