Aroon Raman talks about his new book, and his penchant for historical fiction

On his website, Aroon Raman confesses that The Shadow Throne surprised him by becoming a national bestseller. Packed with intrigue, mystery and a healthy dose of history, the fast paced thriller was destined for success. His second and recently launched book, The Treasure of Kafur, looks like it is all set to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps. A Mughal mystery, the book is a heady mix of historical fiction and information. Excerpts from an interview with the author:

A little about “The Treasure of Kafur”, the idea’s germination, the impetus to write the book?

The Treasure of Kafur was in the making for six years; the idea germinated at a time when I was doing a fair bit of reading on the pre-Mughal and Mughal periods, especially the reign of Akbar. Akbar’s personality is so dominant, has such depth and resonance to us even over the passage of many centuries that I felt his was a character that would lend itself very well to an adventure story. Coincidentally, I had just completed reading of Kafur’s campaign in South India, and as events progressed to the main events of Akbar’s reign, the idea suddenly clicked: why not an adventure set in Akbar’s time? Almost instantly, ideas started to flow like a flood — and I found it hard to stop! In a very positive way, I’d like to say that the book represents a happy confluence of my own love of adventure stories and a fascination with history.    

Writing historical fiction is never easy, and the research can be daunting. How was it for you?

On the contrary! If one loves the subject, then the research is never a dry effort. One is constantly learning new things about the period the book deals with and the main characters and events. For TOK, as I understood more about Malik Kafur, the state of the Deccan at the time of Akbar, and key characters such as Akbar and Pratap, the excitement of using these facts in the story grew and grew. For example in the meeting between Akbar and Pratap, I used my imagination at full stretch to sketch the scene, but always relied on my image of them as drawn from history. The result is a book where the descriptions will hopefully draw the reader into the scene and the atmosphere powerfully enough to live them through the pages of the book — the ultimate aim of a novel of this type!  

After the success of “The Shadow Throne”, did you find that you had found your authorial voice, and thriller had become the genre you wanted to explore?

The Shadow Throne (TST) was in fact my second book, though the first to be published. Fortunately, it clicked with the readers and has done very well with its theme of an Indo-Pak nuclear Armageddon. But TOK was actually also in the making well before that, and in that sense, I first found my voice as an author through TOK rather than TST.

That said, both the thriller and adventure writing in English for the Indian market are quite underdeveloped as compared to literary fiction. The Indian crime thriller at least has attracted more talent over the recent years with authors like Ravi Subramaniam, Ashwin Sanghi, and a crop of new writers such as Madhumita Bhattacharya; but quality Indian adventure writing is almost non-existent. So this is a happy co-incidence that my innate inclination towards writing adventure stories and the ‘market gap’ are well matched!

Both books have enough of the story left over for me to plan sequels — readers have overwhelmingly demanded a sequel to TST and I’m hoping there will be a similar demand for TOK as well — so enough to keep me fixed to this genre for the time being!   

What’s it like, striking a balance between running your business and writing? The trick is not to think of it strictly as a ‘balance.’ I find that I’m as susceptible to writer’s block as anyone else. My general tactic when I’m faced a dead-end in my writing is to turn my mind to business. Of course, the reverse holds true as well: when I’m faced with a tough business problem and need to look at it from multiple angles, it helps to turn my mind to writing and then come back to the business issues with a clear mind. So, in a word, if handled correctly, the two lives can in fact greatly complement each other. Of course, business tends to be far more demanding in the sense that customers and markets dictate the pace and not one’s own inclinations, but I am lucky in that I have a pretty good management team in my company that handles things on the ground, allowing me to focus on the broader issues.  

What made you choose the Mughal period as the historical context of your novel?

The Mughal Age is one of the most documented periods in Indian history; apart from the Raj, and of course, modern Indian history, there is no other age about which we have such a wealth of information. It is also peopled by many larger-than-life characters: Babur, Akbar, Nur Jahan, and such, but also several lesser known but extremely interesting characters. One such is Khusrau, the son of Jahangir. There are certainly other ages such as the Mauryan Empire and the Vijaynagar period which have great features of interest, but anchoring an adventure in a historical time and context lends an added atmosphere to the tale, and that comes with using actual history as a backdrop to hook the reader. That being said, I have always believed that Indian history provides us an extraordinarily rich canvas for works of fiction. One has only to read Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, which I read in Tamil, to understand how one can use practically any period to weave a great story.