As a child, she dreamed of becoming Madhuri Dixit, like most girls our age. Then she wrote a historical novel. Now, she dreams of winning the biggest awards, while she brings up her kids and works on her next book. Her first novel is a historical about Arjuna and goes by the same name. A conversation with Anuja Chandramouli:
Arjuna involved a lot of research, reading it showed how much in-depth knowledge you have acquired. How long did this pre-writing research take?
I have always loved the Mahabharatha and it is a big part of my earliest memories. Even as a little girl, one of my favourite pastimes was to go through Amar Chitra Katha comics and devour every story they carried related to the epic. I particularly enjoyed the tales about Arjuna, who was my favourite character.Over the year, my tastes have changed a lot but my love for Arjuna and the Mahabharatha has endured. So in a way, I guess the research work for Arjuna has gone on all my life and I will go on with it till the end of my days. For that is the beauty of the world’s greatest epic – one lifetime is insufficient to savour it in its entire magnificent glory and every reading gives you new facts or fresh insights, which is why I will never be done with it.
Why Arjuna? Why a historical novel?
When I sat around thinking about what to base my first novel on, I hit a wall and for the life of me, there was no getting around it. People always tell you to write about the things you know but I did not fancy writing anything about myself or my life. And then I had my epiphany – there are few things I know better or love better than the Mahabharatha and since Arjuna is the great love of my life, it made sense that his was the first story I told the world (or the few wonderful folks who picked up my book anyway.
Besides history is a subject, I am passionate about and it gave me a big kick to consider myself a tiny part of the great story – telling tradition that has kept Veda Vyasa’s epic alive and kicking over the centuries.
As Indians, we have heard (and viewed) the Mahabharata so many times that we believe we know it all. I did too. A few pages into Arjuna and I realised there is so much I didn’t. Was it difficult to get viewership initially?
Yes, it was... and it still is. It is my hope, that people will give Arjuna a chance though, for it is full of delicious nuggets of obscure or intriguing facts from the Mahabharatha. And you can call me biased but I would rank my Arjuna as second to none but Veda Vyasa’s immortal version.
Most of my friends who are regular readers have read and loved Arjuna. How does it feel, to be a successful and appreciated author, with your first book itself?
It feels amazing! The Arjuna experience has given me an immense sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. I will always be proud of it.
What next? Would you stick to this genre or venture out as per the plot that comes up in your mind?
After Arjuna, it had been my intention to branch out. I was planning to venture into the horror genre and had even started work on a tentatively titled short story collection called ‘Tales to Loosen the Bowels By’ but my muse had other plans for me and not the least because a Stephen King I certainly am not. It became apparent that mythology was not done with me and I am certainly not done with it.My second book is also going to belong to the same genre but I do have other plans for book 3. Perhaps I’ll continue experimenting with horror or even fantasy or how about erotica? Who knows?
What do you do apart from being an author?
Apart from being an author (I love how that sounds!), I raise my kids, read, work out, cook, clean and do a bunch of other mundane stuff. But mostly, I dream – of winning the Booker Prize, then the Noble Prize, perhaps an Academy award or two, earning indecent amounts of money and saving the world among other things.
Where do you derive your inspirations from? Have you always wanted to be a published author?
I have not always wanted to be a published author. As a little girl who loved dancing to ‘Ek Do Teen’ on table tops to spirited applause, I aspired to be Madhuri Dixit, but changed my mind, when I grew up to be self – conscious and developed a slight phobia for cameras. I must have been twelve or thirteen, when I decided to become a writer and hopefully, a published author. At the time, it seemed like an impossible dream, but I told myself to keep writing and working towards making it come true. Thankfully, for me and the glamour world, everything panned out.
How difficult is to get yourself published, in India? Specially, when one doesn’t reside in Delhi or Bombay?
It is not easy to get published in India, or anywhere in the world for that matter. But I would recommend dogged persistence to aspiring authors. Keep knocking on doors and hopefully a few will open for you. All the publishing houses have websites with submission guidelines. I recommend reading it carefully, before making a pitch.
There are hundreds of budding authors, writing their scripts, some sure of themselves and some not. What would you like to tell them?
Nothing comes to mind but hopeless clichés... so here goes nothing. Personally, I have rare days when I feel confident about my abilities but on most days the predominant feeling is one of terror that the words will just dry up and there is nothing left but the sobering thought that I suck. On such days, I rely on hard work to see me past the fear that I may not be good enough. Budding authors may or may not have what it takes to be an Agatha Christie or a Jane Austen but they can and should work hard, because there is simply no losing that way.
And lastly, when can we expect your next book to be released?
I am hoping it will be out in 2014.