Two authors who reinterpret the bizarre in the world around us — Zac o’ Yeah and Nilanjan P. Choudhury — chat about their works

On a sleepy, humid afternoon, an expectant audience waited for some therapy in the form of laughter. They received that and how! Comic geniuses Zac O’Yeah and Nilanjan Choudhury snaked their way in through the tantalising piles of books at and regaled the audience with their droll wit. Zac O’Yeah is the author of Once Upon a Time in Scandinavistan, a detective novel set in a world in which global fortunes have been reversed and Sweden has been colonised by India.

“I connected my personal experience of dwindling snow fall in Sweden with global warming. I travelled to India a lot those days and to my astonishment, I would land in an icy Delhi, leaving behind a sunny Sweden. Applying the phenomenon of climate change to other things, I began to wonder what else might change. I ended up predicting the European Union’s financial failure,” he tells us, mock-seriously. The book was well received in Sweden. After all, “who wouldn’t mind some idli and dosa after the monotonous meat and potatoes?” he asks us. He described “the ultimate Indo-Swedish fusion” with witty accuracy. “A moose in a tandoor,” he says, referring to the meat of the animal the Swedes love to eat. For those who want to know what sort of book it is, it will suffice to say that it begins with grisly murders in a tandoor, involves a policeman in training in Gandhian principles of non-violence, and air-conditioned chicken coops. Nilanjan Choudhury asked O’Yeah if he was interested in writing a sequel. The answer was a vehement “No.” “I’d like to cut my heroes some slack; they can’t possibly save the world over and over,” he says. His book has two editions, one Swedish and one Indian, to explain cultural references. “Even if I manage to explain what an idli is, it’ll take me a while to explain to them that it is something to eat and not a shoulder pad.”

Bali and the Ocean of Milk is Nilanjan Choudhury’s debut novel and is based on reinterpretation of the myths of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Astonishingly funny prose and a secular interpretation of religious myths allow people to consider that divinity is not beyond reproach. However, Choudhury is careful not to offend the sentiments of an orthodox reader: “My story is about the less important gods like Indra, whose importance diminished after the Vedic period. Anyway, my story is more about the asuras than the gods,” he says. He says that his book could either be hated or loved, the hate coming mostly from “the saffron-clad ones.”

Both books share similarities — they are both witty reinterpretations of the world we live in. Both authors agree that fiction is a product of the imagination and is a perspective on reality rather than a mindless representation of reality itself. Perhaps, one day, Asia will buy out the European Union and coconut trees will begin to grow in Sweden.

Till then we shall revert to reality.

More In: Books | Metroplus | Features