Sravasti Datta takes a peek into the mind of Aroon Raman as he speaks of his life as a writer and entrepreneur
Aroon Raman has two success stories: one as an entrepreneur, the other as an author. His debut novel The Shadow Throne, a fast-spaced spy thriller, was a national bestseller. However, technically, his first book was the recently-released The Treasure of Kafur as it was written before The Shadow Throne.
While The Shadow Throne took six months to write, The Treasure of Kafur was five to six years in the making. It is a tantalising adventure story set in the Mughal period. The novel features partly fictionalised historical characters, such as Akbar and Man Singh, alongside talking animals, which adds a dimension of fantasy to the novel. “It is primarily a novel of action. I would define the genre as a tale of high adventure set in a historical period.”
Aroon always had a love for writing. “I used to tell stories orally. Then it all went away because of my business pressures. Then one day I decided to write.” Aroon grew up listening to stories narrated by his father. “His depth of reading and knowledge was extraordinary,” says Aroon of his father. As a boy, Aroon read widely, particularly crime detectives and adventure. Listing his favourite authors, he says: “I grew up reading Sir Henry Rider Haggard who was the most entertaining adventure novelists of the 1880s and 1890s. He wrote one of the greatest adventure stories, King Solomon’s Mines. John Buchan’s most famous book was The Thirty-Nine Steps. I also read great detective novelists such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. A big formative influence on my language comes from British authors of the late 19th century. I admire G.K. Chesterton and Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. The language of these authors was measured and they could push the action in a fantastic way.”
Aroon evokes the atmosphere of the Mughal period in The Treasure of Kafur. Akbar is an important character, authentically described by the author. “His profile is drawn from history, it’s not imagined. Jahangir writes about his father, Akbar. There are descriptions of him from contemporary European observers, by contrast, we know little or nothing about Man Singh — he is drawn from imagination. In that sense, writing this novel entailed lots of research.”
Thriller writing in India is in its nascent stage. Aroon can be counted as one of the few thriller writers to have made a mark in this genre. “Thriller writing is an art. In my view, the characters must have a certain resonance. There’s not a lot of depth in the characters in The Da Vinci Code, but the plot is phenomenally gripping, which is the secret of the success of the book. I’d say plot is number one, pace is number two, character authenticity is number three and backdrop, number four. In The Treasure of Kafur, I have included all four elements.”
To the question of which element matters more in thriller novels, plot or language, Aroon says: “In thriller or adventure writing, your command over language and your ability to use language will play a role. But if some of the other elements of the adventure novel works well, for example plot, pace, certain amount of characterisation, even someone who is not a very good writer can churn out a very good book. I would not over emphasize language skill in success. The book should hook the reader.”
Is there a distinction between literary fiction and thriller fiction? “Where does mass market fiction stop and where does literary fiction begin? Obviously it’s a continuum. It’s going to be hard to differentiate between literary fiction and thriller fiction and well-written thrillers and not well-written thrillers. I write in a particular style, but others do it in very different way,” contends Aroon.
The conversation veers towards Aroon’s research and innovation company which works in the area of materials science. His company is acclaimed for developing scientific talent in the grass-roots level. “Quite a few of my scientists are from the tenth standard, they are village youngsters, who develop top class products. I am generally of the opinion that education has got nothing to do with intelligence. Education helps you, hopefully, to channelise your intelligence into something successful. But intelligence exists in people who are not particularly educated. Akbar, for example, was unlettered. He couldn’t even write and was illiterate. He had people read to him. It was said of him when you listen to him in discussion with very learned men you felt he was among the most learned of them all.”
Among Aroon’s other interests are advising and supporting NGOs and travel writing. “I have a feel for non-fiction writing as well. I like to trek, it sort of opens my mind out.”