Recently we got a chance to have a Q/A session with Rahul Mitra. His maiden book – The Boy From Pataliputra – is a historical fiction and is definitely worth reading.
He found very candid during the Q/A session and despite his busy schedules at the personal end, he talked about various aspects at a length. He is very vocal about his opinions and he is very frank too. It is a delight to have Q/A session with him.
Extremely, extremely thankful and privileged. That’s the over-riding emotion right now.
I live in Mumbai and work in IT marketing so that part of my life is quite boring.
Actually, as a matter of fact, the rest of my life is also fairly boring. I am fairly laid back, happy in my own space kind of person & not particularly adventurous or outgoing. I like to read, sleep, try out new places to eat and I like lifting heavy weights. I also spend a lot of time just lying around on my ass and staring at the fan. I also spend a lot of time thinking of what is going on in our country and in the world today.
And oh yes, I also have an insatiable curiosity and so I waste a lot of hours reading about obscure topics on the internet.
Number of things attract me:
- This feels like work worth doing. If I can change or influence my countrymen’s opinions or inspire, motivate or entertain them then it really adds a lot of meaning to my life.
- I have very strong opinions on India as well as about humans in general and writing seems to be a way to share those opinions with others or to influence other people with my opinion.
- It’s creative work, so on the days that I’m writing well, it gives a sense of satisfaction that cannot be matched by any other work.
Well, honestly I am interested in a wide variety of topics but choosing Historical Fiction was a carefully thought out decision. You know at the time I was thinking of writing a full-scale novel (I had already written a number of short stories by then) the market was flooded with books based on Indian mythology. Amish at that time was doing very well and I wanted to emulate him. But I also realized that I had missed the mythology wave and there was no point writing a me-too book. So I started looking for a genre that would be somewhat like Amish and yet had not been explored yet and I found the answer in historical fiction.
You know according to me historical fiction in India has a bad name, as a lot of people confuse it with mythology. Or people base their stories on legends and pass them off as historical fiction, so I wanted to write a proper historical fiction that would be based on actual research- something that would really tell people about India including both the good and bad points. That’s why I chose this.
And apart from that, yes history is something I love reading about and as I said I love research so everything kind of came together.
Ok, look there is a story behind this and I have actually repeated the story in a number of my interviews. So I will just repeat what I have already said earlier, OK?
So in a nutshell- I got the idea for writing this novel during the India against corruption/Nirbhaya rape case/Jan Lokpal protests that took place in 2011. At that time, I was actively searching for ideas that I could turn into a novel and I remembered these protests and especially an incident in which DU students had been beaten and lathicharged, which had affected me quite a bit.
During that time, things were looking quite bleak and it felt like the country was just going downhill. So I thought of finding a parallel from Indian history where things might have looked equally bad for our country but where we bounced back soon and reached greater heights. And I found this parallel in Alexander’s invasion of India- another period where it might have seemed that all of India would soon fall into the invaders’ lap. Yet, fifteen to twenty years later we had the emergence of the first all-India empire and the Greeks were kicked out.
So I wrote this story of despair and renewal essentially to give myself and my readers some hope. And thinking of the way students were beaten I somehow got an image of students in Takshashila revolting which is said to have happened when Alexander invaded India. That thought or that image basically triggered everything, and I decided this is what I would write about.
Haha, in short-tough. It requires a lot of patience and doggedness. Lage rehna padhta hai through multiple setbacks.
As I said, I got the idea after being disgusted at the way the authorities came down on protesting students in Delhi with lathicharges, beatings, water cannons and tear gas. After I got the idea, I spent almost 5-6 months reading up, taking notes and researching on the topic. Only after doing a thorough research, did I get down to writing and I think it took me another 6 months to put the first draft together. I thought my work was over, but actually, it had just begun.
There was a lot of struggle first finding a literary agent and then finally placing this book with a publisher and at every stage, different people asked me to change certain aspects of the book so I went through several bouts of re-writing. I actually got turned down by a number of literary agents who while turning it down said, it’s interesting and we kind of like it but can you rewrite it along these XYZ lines? So I approached one agent and they gave some feedback and I rewrote, then I approached another and they asked me to add some other element and so on. To main basically dhakke kha raha tha. Even my current literary agent, Kanishka Gupta, had initially rejected the book based on feedback from another author.
Thankfully, I had also sent a copy to Rahul Soni, the person who had published the excellent Hindi magazine called Pratilipi (I think it’s defunct now). He happened to like my story and recommended it to Kanishka. He was also very kind, in that he agreed for me to call him and I called and asked his advice, and he really encouraged me and gave me confidence in my story. For him, perhaps it was nothing, just giving half an hour of his life to someone he didn’t know but for me that half an hour, which came at a low point when it looked like I had knocked on all the doors available and they were all closing, was an act of kindness I will always remember.
Anyways, so after that call I again started working on my book along the lines Rahul had advised and while I was only half-way, I started getting calls from Kanishka. Apparently, Rahul Soni had also recommended the book to Kanishka. However, I was in the middle of another re-write so I asked him to wait a bit. Anyways, so I finally got through the rewrite and signed up with Kanishka who then started pitching my book to publishers.
Even there, there were a number of near misses, for instance, the book was liked by editors at two of the biggest publishers in India. However, the book was finally turned down at both places as the marketing department thought that the book would not sell. At one place the commissioning editor literally disappeared after saying ok the contract is coming etc. So again, a lot of visits to the temple, a lot of patience and a lot of ups and downs. The book finally found a home with Fingerprint, I think because the owner herself read it and liked it.
Even then, it was about a 1.5 year wait before the editing (with publisher) process started and the book came out after six months of that, editing, proof-reading etc. So essentially, it’s a book written over a number of years and is probably the 7th or 8th draft. So yes, the journey is a very long one and requires a lot of faith, persistence and most of all, patience.
Well, basically I wanted to convey a journey, and a sense of moving forward towards unknown horizons. I also wanted the rain to show that one has to keep moving forward, not matter what the conditions. After all, that is what life is for all of us, isn’t it?
And that’s why I wanted Aditya and the horse to be in solid black, to be just a silhouette rather than a very distinct individual, so that there is a sense that this is any or perhaps all of us.
I personally think a well made book trailer is very effective, provided it is promoted well. We live in an age of dwindling attention spans, and a short, interesting video is perfectly suited for such an age. Especially if you are a debut author and no one knows your name, you need to spark that initial interest in your book and a trailer video can help you do that.
I enjoyed writing a number of scenes, especially those involving Tanku or Philotas. I also enjoyed writing the war scenes and the horse racing scenes as it was a lot of fun to imagine it.
Hahaha… the research was the easiest part. As I said, I enjoy doing the research.
- Firstly, there are gaps in what we know about our historical figures from that era and a lot of what we think of as confirmed fact, are in fact, legends. And I was very clear that I wanted to write real, accurate history and not get caught out as wrong or fanciful, especially when writing about well-known historical figures. That’s why you will notice there is nothing fanciful about how I have described Chandragupta or Chanakya or even our hero Aditya.
- Secondly, and this is interesting because I believe you were the only one among all my reviewers who pointed out that the book could also be read as a motivational book. And you are right, I also wrote the book to motivate and encourage my readers and share with them my view of what life is. That’s why I picked an unknown like Aditya, for he is everyman and his journey is our journey. We may have been exceptional students or been laggards like Aditya, all of us might not have had our brothers executed but no matter what our circumstances, each of us have had to go through a journey, a journey where we venture out of our homes, stand on our own two feet and move towards our goals. And along that journey, each of us has made allies and friends (such as Rishabha and Radha), had mentors or someone who really taught us something valuable (like Pandi), had heartbreaks (Devika), made complete asses of ourselves (like getting beaten up by Sumukha and friends) and through it all we have moved forward, for that is life. This is what I wanted to convey, what it means to be an adult, what it means to be a man and all of this I thought I could do better by making an everyman and an underdog like Aditya as my hero.
Absolutely and horribly ignorant. I could talk to you for two hours on this.
On the one hand, there are active efforts being made today to rewrite history and on the other hand more and more fanciful theories are being floated as realistic. See let me tell you, a true sense of pride and a true love for your country can only be based on real facts, and that includes acknowledging the inconvenient facts as well. The moment a society or a person starts creating tall stories about past greatness and glories, know that that society is suffering from insecurity and that sort of bluster always ends up in losses and failures.
I for one completely accept all that was bad about India and still I am proud of my history because I know what good there used to be here. I don’t have to make hollow claims about yantras or flying machines to feel proud of my country. The tragedy is that a lot of real facts are not known- our achievements in Mathematics, astronomy, medicine, literature, theatre and most of all the depth and complexity of our spirituality and philosophy are something almost mind-blowing and yet people don’t know about these and so need to invent facts to bolster their self-confidence.
That is another reason why I have not described either Chandragupta or Aditya to be this extremely good looking, muscular, six-foot tall characters who can shoot shabdabhedi arrows, fight 20 people at once and kill a tiger with one punch. Those are cardboard characters, completely unreal! And unfortunately, such unreal depictions are entering more and more into serials and books about our historical heroes. My belief is that because of such exaggerated descriptions, our popular imaginations have become warped. As a nation, we believe more and more in superheroes and strongmen to come and save us, rather than realizing that it is you and me who must change and participate (as Adiytya did) in the struggle to improve our nation and society.
I am sure they also suffered many defeats in life, because the only easy path is that towards very easy goals. But their determination or their devotion to a certain ideal pushed them to greatness.
Anyway, this is one of those topics I could talk for hours on so I’ll end it here. If you are interested, sure we can meet sometime and discuss this in detail 🙂
Do you think that it is quite possible that Alexander didn’t have a clean victory in India, and eventually he decided to march back to his native (due to various reasons)?
Yes, it is more than possible. I have never heard of any other winning army which revolts against it’s leaders wanting to go back home or of one king shaking hands with another in the middle of a battle.
However, I did not want to go against the written accounts of the battle (all of which exist only in Greek sources) so I have kept this vague in the book and have shown it to be kind of a truce between Porus and Alexander. But in the notes section, I have written about this possibility and listed the reasons to support my view.
No, not at all. Of course, the book will have a successor. Aditya has to get his revenge and find closure, become a more complete and rounded human being and the first all-India empire in history has to be formed and the Greeks have to be kicked out of India. All of that is coming.
Method. Write every day for at least two to three hours. I don’t think any time is better than the other but I would say write at the same time every day. It puts you into a rhythm. And write everyday.
Honestly telling you I am not sure if I have changed at all. I am just as confused about many things and just as angry at things going on in the world as I used to be earlier.
Haha…not very sure. But for Tanku definitely Nawazuddin Siddique or Raghubir Yadav. For Pandi Randeep Hooda or Irfan Khan
And if we can get Kangana Ranaut for Devika to fir to mazaa hi aa jayega
No one has really asked me for an autograph, but people have asked me to sign their books. I don’t remember the first incident but till today I feel embarrassed every time someone asks me to sign their book.
Well, basically I like reading anything and everything including newspapers, magazines and even encyclopaedias. If you ask me about favourite genres I would say autobiographies as I find them inspirational. I also like mythology and historical fiction etc.
Oh many many many of them- I can read Ernest Hemingway, Manto,Satyajit Ray, Ismat Chughtai, Pu. La. Deshpande, Parsai, Ryszard Kapuscinski, John Irving, Alexandre Dumas or William Saroyan on any given day. Some other favourites are George Orwell, Bonophool, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Mark Twain, RL Stevenson, Antoine de St. Exupery, Salman Rushdie, Roald Dahl, GRR Martin, Bibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay and Ruskin Bond.
I am sure I have forgotten a number of names though
Well, I enjoy weightlifting as well as surfing the internet for hours on end. Obviously, I also like reading.
I think in general all underdog stories inspire me. So among inspirations, you could count Charlie Chaplin just for his sheer genius as well as his vision and ideals. There is also Van Gogh, for the incredible struggle of his life and his ability to give happiness to millions of people of so many generations.
In general, you can think of characters like the cricketer Robin Singh. I used to find him tremendously inspirational. A bits and pieces cricketer, in an era or team that included the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj, Sehwag and Ganguly; Robin Singh might have been the least talented guy in the field but as long as he was on the field you saw that he was giving his 100%. Whether in fielding, or bowling or batting as long as he was on the field, you knew he was giving it his all and those are the kind of characters I find inspirational.
I am not sure if people were ever into reading actually. However, one thing is for sure that attention spans have gone down. In a world that is fragmented by constant interruptions, multi-tasking and social media, people are taking in information in small and sensational bytes. This makes them more inclined towards shallower and lighter reads.
In such a world, something like Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with it’s multiple story lines, vast sweep of eras and long story line would have no chance. It is something I struggle with, for my own writing style is to some extent influenced by the classics I grew up reading. But that’s the way it is going.
Surprisingly, I like the format of e-books. Things like Kindle are very convenient, so in my view they are a positive development.
However, there is one thing missing in e-books and readers. I feel that the emotional connection one can develop with actual books does not develop for e-books. With books, you can pick one up and remember the person who gave it to you, or the time in your life when you first read it, or what the book means to you. You can also just pick it up and re-read it, maybe just a couple of your favourite chapters from time to time. This is something I find does not happen with e-books. It’s like, with e-books you read them once and you are done….the behavior of picking that book up again and re-reading bits of it does not happen.
Of course, we are. In fact, I don’t know if it would be right to say we are losing the tradition right now or if we already lost that tradition across large parts of our society.
Keep in mind that mythology, folklore and all such stories served very important roles in every culture. Retelling those tales was a way of instilling values and imparting lessons to the younger generation. Books like hitopdesha or mythology like Ramayana would help impress youngsters with the values a particular culture prized. For instance, the tale of the 300 Spartans was told to Greek youngsters to underline bravery that the Greeks prized, in our culture we had maryada purushottam Ram to give an idea of what an ideal man should be ie: obedience to parents, duty towards kingdom, honouring your promises etc. So we also see different types of heroes in different cultures representing the values that those cultures stood for.
For instance, Bloodthirsty Odin, the warrior Thor in Norse mythology, the fool and trickster Mullah Nasruddin in chaotic Central Asia and the heroes who upheld democracy and freedom in Roman mythology. In the absence of these stories, our kids will now consciously or unconsciously imbibe values from Bollywood or popular serials where it seems that entertainment is prized more than any life lessons.
Potential in what sense? We have a very rich and well-developed Mythology as well as dramatic traditions. The potential does not have to be proven to anyone but the original works need to be studied. If you say potential to rewrite adding a dash of current shallowness to epics which have survived for a thousand years, then I am not sure whether I really like that trend.
So, yes, they have a lot of potential and yes they need to be promoted but if you say unimaginative authors re-interpreting books that have survived two or three thousand years for a generation that has not read the originals and then getting applauded for it, I would say that only makes me mad. It makes me mad because its like seeing a cheap imitation being prized and applauded while the original lies forgotten and unacknowledged in some dusty corner.
Yes, it will but as I said, I hope readers would know more about the originals. They will find all the depths the drama and the excitement in the original works themselves without having to add masala to it or having Shiva behave like a Hindi film hero when wooing Parvati.
Without a doubt, it’s The Mahabharata. I think it’s the best story ever told and is amongst the foremost of all mythology anywhere in the world. It literally beats the Illiad and the Odessey hollow, and these are Greek epics which are supposed to be cornerstone of a proper Liberal Arts education in the west. The depth of the Mahabharata, the sophistication with which it explores various philosophical questions, the layers to the stories and the characters, and the tight plot which despite the thousands of characters, number of back stories and ‘stories within stories’ seems to be leading almost inevitably towards the Kurukshetra War are things that cannot be matched by anything else I have read.
One of the things I find beautiful about The Mahabharata is the character development. Every character is developed so thoroughly that you just know that there is only one way in which he or she will react in a particular situation. And all these characters with their backstories, their motivations, their strengths and weaknesses, their curses and boons come together, interact with each other and react to various situations in a way that is absolutely true to their own character. Yet, taken together all of these actions drive the story forward and lead on to its conclusion. This sort of thousands of elements being so true and well-developed and yet fitting together so neatly is something I find mind-blowing.
Not very sure about this. Honestly, most of the books like this I see on the market I believe are trash. Maybe some of the quotations and sayings from Chanakya Niti perhaps.
I will write everything not just historical fiction. Just give me some time.
There is nothing concretely in my mind but there are a couple of ideas that I have thought about. Maybe write about Sher Shah Suri for he is also a very neglected part of our history and he did contribute a lot. Or about the 100-year period in Punjab when the misls were dominant and about the shifting loyalties and treacherous politics of an era that was the fore-runner to the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I also thought of writing an entire novel around just one day- the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and the Afghans.
Nothing specific, but it stems from my interest in Hyderbadi language or dakkhani, the language that was made famous by comedian Mehmood in a number of his movies. I find it an extremely colourful language and used to talk in that language to a couple of my friends. Anytime one of my friends would call, I would greet him “Kya bhai, kya karre tumhe?” or say things like”Ma ki kirkiri, baingan mein mila daala bhai“. So automatically when I was setting up my Twitter account, such thoughts came to mind.
By the way, bhagare baingan is also a very famous hyderabadi dish.
(Here is a public video by Food Junction about it)
Thank you so much.
- The Boy From Pataliputra –
- Paperback version from Amazon India
- Kindle Ebook from Amazon India
- Official website: http://www.theboyfrompataliputra.com/ (Also available: free chapters to read from this book).
- Author’s views about Alexander: Why do we call this man ‘Alexander the Great’?
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.