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Interview With Rahul Rai | Author Of The Myth Of Hastinapur

Recently we came across a book named “The Myth Of Hastinapur”, written by Rahul Rai. He is another IITian turned author, and he has fantastic writing skills. He took to explore the biggest and complex most epic of the World from various character’s perspective. He came up with rather realistic than the mythological approach in telling the stories. To know more about the book you can read our unbiased book reviews at the following link:

Impressed by Rahul’s command over the language, ability to explore the thoughts on the paper and weaving them altogether, we’ve decided to have a Q/A session with him. Fortunately the things worked out and on behalf of our team, I got the chance to have this interaction with him. Though, the Q/A session is relatively small, it is complete in itself. And, it will definitely give a chance to you to know him better.

Rahul Rai - Author Of The Myth Of Hastinapur

Rahul Rai – Author Of The Myth Of Hastinapur

I’ve tried to skip the question which can rather spill the beans about some of the interesting points in the book.

So, without wasting more time, here we go…

We are glad to have a conversation with you. As your book “The Myth Of Hastinapur” is getting both commercial success and critical acclaim both, and obviously you are enjoying it. Can you share your feelings?

As a first time author, I was waiting for a few honest reviews to flow in. Needless to say, I was a bit jittery about how this book will be received by the audience and the reviewers. Commercial success is a part of the story but surely the kind of reviews I have got has helped me in gaining confidence about the product. Now, I would be having no qualms in adding the author tag to my resume.

Please tell us something about you, your profession and your passions.

I am a former student of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. After my graduation, I have been working in predictive analytics and machine learning for more than 10 years. Problem solving and storyboarding is part of my daily task and I believe to a certain extent it has helped me in building stories.

My hometown is Lucknow where my parents live now while I am located out of Gurugram. My father is a retired civil servant while my mother is a housewife.

I love reading and writing in my past time. I find writing quite liberating as it transports you to an exciting journey away from the daily mundane life. Though it is my first book, I feel great to have discovered writing; something I wish to follow for a lifetime.

We often see that usually an author (when came from a specific field) try to explore his world in his book. For example John Grisham writes Legal thrillers, Ravi Subramanian goes with banking thrillers, Maya Kavita writes thriller about IT industry; you are a student of science stream, why have you decided to explore mythology?

I have read Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas, Panchatantra and other such books related to Indian civilisation as a child and I believe, while there are multiple authors exploring this genre, there are thousands of stories still waiting to be told and retold. Though, I must say there was no specific reason to choose this genre. In fact, this is my second book with the first one still residing on my laptop which is a contemporary fiction. I had invested quite a lot of time in my 1st book but didn’t like some parts of it. The idea of writing a mythological fiction arose while I was on a break from it. I had a few unfinished stories from the past which I started working on which finally became “The Myth of Hastinapur“.

I am revisiting my 1st book now and hopefully, it will see the light of day soon.

It seems you are an avid reader. And possibly you have explored a remarkable amount of mythological literature and tales Puranas. Can you tell us more about your involvement with ancient Indian literature?

To be honest, my exposure to Indian mythology is through the original works of Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas which I read as a child, as indicated earlier. I haven’t read much of the neo-mythological fiction, if I may call this genre so of which now my book is also part of. I still have these mythological books at my home and they were one of the important reference points while writing “The Myth of Hastinapur”. The other was, of course, Internet.

Do you think that it is possible that “Vedas” and “Puranas” are the legacy of a highly advanced earlier civilisation from our pre-historic past?

Hmmm, interesting point. I think we concentrate a lot on religious texts when talking about ancient India. While Vedas and Upanishads are repositories of knowledge, there were thousands of scientific scriptures that we ignore. We forget thinkers like Baudhayana who gave the Pythagoras theorem thousands of years before postulated by Pythagorus himself, Kanada who postulated about Anu (molecules) and Paramanu (atoms), multiple mathematicians and physicists who talked about the shape of the earth, eclipses and concept of zero, decimal places and numbers. There were Charaka and Sushruta as well who talked about medicines and surgery. We even had a book dedicated to veterinary sciences.

Not to forget, the immense philosophical dissertations available in multiple volumes. So, there is no doubt that the ancient Indian civilisation was way ahead of its contemporaries where people talked about concepts and theories not even dreamt of by others.

Having said that, I have my doubts regarding its actual application. So, while we had the best theoretical physicists, astronomers and mathematicians, may be the civilisation lacked in its practical application or was disinterested in it.

As Mahabharata is the most accomplished epic ever known to humankind, there are many retellings of the same are already available. Why did you chose it to explore from your perspective and what is your approach about the epic and the version of the same you were about to explore?

As you said in your review, you thought it would have been better had the book explored few other strands, I believe Mahabharata is an ocean of knowledge and all the books written till date are just scratching its surface. The amount of understanding one gains about the human behaviour through this epic is immense. It is like a fast paced thriller where every event somehow leads to its devastating climax; the war.

I also liked your analogy of comparing Mahabharata with a tree; banyan perhaps, with infinite shoots and this book explores few of those. Even after completing this, I know I can write a few other stories on similar theme.

I have tried to explore the epic from a neutral viewpoint. For me, there were no heroes in the epic. It was a tale of extra-ordinary humans during extra-ordinary times with each one vulnerable to his or her follies. While the Pandavas seem to be the righteous lot, if read closely, there is not much ill that can be said about the Kauravas as well. From one perspective, even Duryodhana was an enigmatic personality, a loyal friend, a dutiful son fighting for the honor of his father and family, a principled warrior who even after betrayed multiple times on the battlefield at the hands of the Pandavas didn’t break the rules of war in his fight with Bheema. In a way, I would say I wrote what I felt without being bias to any side or anyone.

What are the major challenges you faced when writing this book?

There were multiple challenges. While this book can be read as a collection of story independent of each other, I wanted to follow a loose timeline where first few chapters act as a build-up to climax and give a taste of decay of the royal power followed by chapters on individual personalities participating in war. The last few chapters are dedicated to guilt, remorse, doubts and resignation of main actors after the war is over. So, to choose the stories to be told while maintaining the continuity was one of the challenges.

Other was of course to keep the narrative close to the actual facts as written in the Mahabharata. So, while Shalya did enjoy the hospitality of the Kauravas, his motivation to join the Kauravas has been deciphered differently; Kunti’s love for Nakul and Sahadeva could be the other example.

Last but not the least, the whole publishing process was a challenge. Illustrations, Cover design, Editing, getting it online; each and every one of these tasks required a lot of patience.

Needless to say, my friends and family pitched in to help without even asking. Also, in this journey, I made new contacts and friends; some of whom I will always be indebted to.

Can you tell which part(s) / scene(s) in the book you enjoyed
writing the most / like the most in this book?

Yudhishthira’’s Dilemma is one of my favorite. That story stayed with me in incomplete form for many years. Also, I really liked writing A Father’s Debt. In a way, the story became grimmer as it went along.

Your idea about the war and how it affects to the people who are not even remotely associated with the decision of the war, are quite interesting and realistic. Do you think that the biggest war one has to fight is against the demons within him/her?

You are right in saying that but while we can have a philosophical discussion over a war; any large scale war leads to huge physical loss. A war like the Mahabharata, which involved all the major kingdoms of that time, would have affected generations. In that sense, I believe any conflict, big or small, should be avoided at all costs.

Talking about larger wars in the history, I always see them as egotistical battles where a lot of lives are wasted as most of the participants do not have much reason to fight. And those who are fortunate enough to survive it would definitely be scarred for a lifetime. Slashing through a human being would obviously affect you as it is not the most natural thing. There are many such stories and movies which show the grim side of the war without glorifying it.

What was your idea behind mentioning the stuff like, Bhishma was killed during the war, which was explored quite differently otherwise?

Yeah, I saw that in your review too. I wanted to keep this book as close to reality as possible. The cheerharan scene in “Wrath of Draupadi” is one such example.

Coming back to your question, someone can’t survive for long if dotted by so many arrows. Bhishma was one of the oldest and most respected warriors. For me, he obviously died in his encounter with Arjuna but the participants took their own time in accepting his death as he was a father figure to many who wanted to keep him alive in their memories.

Doing a daily job along with following passion(s) require effective time management, how did you manage it all? Any time management tips you can share?

Everyone has their own methods. I did most of my writing during weekends and whenever I was back from office on weekdays. There was no management formula that I followed but I made it a point to write whenever I got time. Needless to say, it sometimes became quite boring slogging day after day but like you do with any of your office work; try to set milestones, make shorter goals, set deadlines and stick to the schedule and one day you will have your own book in your hands.

Can you tell us more about your writing regime? Are you a method writer or an impulsive one?

There needs to be some method to madness. For me, any writing germinates from an idea but it is not a fairyland as it seems to be. Writing does help you in many ways; it structures your thoughts, makes you more detail-oriented, makes you look at problems from multiple perspectives. But all the same, it is not always enjoyable. You have to give up on your daily routine and remain doggedly working on your draft. There will always be gaps in your writing which you would like to fill and you keep working on them. So, unless, you are ready to annoy few of your friends and family as you will have to ignore a lot of social gatherings, don’t start writing.

The book cover plays an important role in book selling, were you involved in book cover designing process? How much? What is your vision about the cover page of book and illustrations at the beginning of each chapter?

Yes, the book cover as well as the illustrations. Though, I must say I got more than I asked for. Vikas Chettri, a NIFT graduate, drew all the illustrations I needed. I explained to him the concepts but he took them to a completely different level.

Abhilash Chaurasiya took up upon himself the task of designing the cover. I am really sorry for annoying him with infinite requests. We kept on remaking the cover and also, how the text would appear on it multiple times. Add to that, our inexperience with the whole process, it did take us a lot of time to come up with it.

For me, a book cover should talk about the content. The complexity may vary but it should give a prospective reader the view of the book. Talking about the cover of The Myth of Hastinapur, it is Mahabharata through multiple vantages and thus, there are illustrations depicting different episodes. Also, we pondered a lot on using brighter colours versus darker hues. We went with the darker ones as it goes well with the storyline.

We all get inspired by the people living around us and incidents happening around us. Writers take a lot of inspiration from these realities and then mix it with fantasies. While writing mythology there is not much scope, however a lot of imagination has to be weaved in the tale, Can you share any of real incidents which helped you in writing this book?

It is really difficult for a writer to completely disengage from his realities while writing. May be, it might come with practice but your realities do affect your writings during early phase. Though, I cannot think of any particular incident, I have always seen history as an ode to the winners. Taking a neutral view of a significant event is quite difficult though this is what I tried in this book.

Also, I feel a person’s personality is a complex concoction of his upbringing, experiences and circumstances. Giving a central theme to a personality would amount to taking off the finer layers. So, in my book, it is sometimes the upbringing (“All in the family”), experiences (“Radheya”) or circumstances (“Dance of death”) that drive the story.

Every book affects its author in some way. How do you think writing these books affected you.

Well, to be short and crisp, I do have few ideas to chase in the mythological genre .

What is your favorite genre when it comes to reading?

I do not have a particular genre that I stick to though I have read a lot of Indian authors like Amitav Ghosh, Shashi Tharoor, Jeet Thayil, Jhumpa Lahiri etc. I generally go along with the recommendations of my friends which I have found useful till now. I think I have definitely read books from almost all the genres be it crime fiction or mystery, fantasy, science fiction, biographies etc.

There are books in each of these genres which I like though I must say my affection is with absurdism. Though, the genre is termed absurdism, ironically it makes all sense to me .

Who are your favorite authors whom you love to read?

I would like to say Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami are one of my favourites. Their style of writing belongs to the genre absurdism. Some other stories I like are “Waiting for Godot” by Camus, The Metamorphosis by Kafka which belong to the same genre.

Though there are other books which are my favourite. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (I would definitely read his new book being released after a long gap), The Kite Runner, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance among many.

What is your opinion about EBook readers and their impact on the generation overall?

Everyone has a choice to choose his platform of entertainment. I am sure when the printing presses were invented, there would have been people who must have felt how it will ruin the authenticity of hand-written books and how any good work will become a product designed for mass consumption destroying the local cultures.

I have my own kindle and also, it is installed on my phone. I used to travel a lot and found it quite handy as compared to carrying books. In terms of readability, physical books are still better than any device but kindle and other eBook readers are need of the hour for a mobile workforce.

Do you think that we are gradually losing the tradition of hearing “moral and ethical stories from grandparents”?

I do not compartmentalise stories. It is true owing to the multiple social interaction platforms like FaceBook, Instagram, our attention span has been affected. There are too much superficial data floating around us that it is difficult for our mind to remain engaged in good long conversations. But I see it as a phase. Good stories, moral and ethical ones included, survive generations and with time, people will realise the need for deeper more engaging relationships and conversations.

Please share your Social Media/web presence, so that readers and fans can follow/contact you.

I am present on Facebook and made a recent one on Goodreads.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rahulrai.iitkgp
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8043369.Rahul_Rai

If this book (as it has potential) has to be adapted as a TV Series, whom would you like to play the main characters?

Hmmm, I hope it becomes a series. As female leads, I would like someone who can play a strong women with panache (Supriya Pathak would be apt for Kunti). I do not have a definitive choice of males but the character of Krishna needs someone with sad brooding eyes; a particular name doesn’t come to my mind.

Can you tell us about what are you planning to write next?

As stated earlier, I am working on my previous unfinished work (fingers crossed). It will be a contemporary fiction.

Over To You:

Hope you have enjoyed the Q/A session with him. And many of your questions might be already answered. Let us know that what do you think about this Interview session? Do you want us to ask anything else to him on your behalf? Do let us know. Also, let us know which other authors you like us to interview? Do let us know your thoughts and remarks via comments below. Do not forget to share this article with your friends over various social networks via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and others. And yes, you may like to subscribe to our RSS feeds and follow us on various Social networks to get latest updates for the site to land right in your mail box.

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