Author and scriptwriter Ashok Banker doesn’t quite agree with labelling books into genres … “too limiting in scope” he tells Sonam Jain

Regarded as a pioneering literary novelist, Ashok K. Banker made a place for himself in the world of writing early in life. His works spans essays and features to advertising, script writing and novels.

His epic series Ramayana is internationally acclaimed and he scripted “Mouthful of Sky”, the first English television series. His latest work, Gods of War, recently hit the shelves. Excerpts from an interview:

From a modern adaptation of the Ramayana to a science-fiction seems like an abrupt change ….

I would debate the classification of Gods of War as science-fiction. It is a very basic and generic contemporary story, which uses some scientific devices and concepts. But that does not make it a hard-core science fiction. In fact, I do not agree with modern terms like science fiction, fantasy, drama etc. I think they are too limiting in their scope and are labelled to help marketers shelve their books in the book stores! If I had to classify Gods of War, I would say it is an Epic.

Who is your target audience?

Anybody who is interested in humanity as a whole. There is no particular age or gender that can read the book. Why should I limit myself to a particular story or person? I am interested in all people and all stories.

What is the main concept and how have you executed it?

When I write a book, there is no transition from concept to execution. There is only execution of the concept. The book is the first expression of the idea. I don’t write my books as a play to be executed. I write the play itself as a whole. There is no forethought or planning and I discover along with the reader about the events and how the story unfolds itself. That is the pleasure of writing.

How long did it take you to write Gods of War?

I sort of had a glimpse of the book as long back as 30 years ago and, with time, my life experiences kept giving different dimensions to the idea.

The writer is always writing even when he is not and I find myself often mentally rewriting and revising my works.

I finally got down to writing it in 2006, finished it in 2007, but still I did not let go of it. It was only in the beginning of 2009 that I finally gave it to the publishers for print.

Which aspects of your work did you enjoy the most?

I absolutely enjoyed the individual persons (characters in the book), their lives, their cultures. I had the greatest fun discovering this eclectic group of people. I deliberately call them people because, to me, they are real life people. It is from their point of view that I see the story, and it was the greatest adventure to see the same thing in such different ways. They are different from any of the characters I have ever written about.

What are your core concerns as a writer?

The core concerns that we all have as human beings: War and how to avoid it, violence and how to stop it, love and how to proliferate it to name a few. I always write with an agenda.

For instance, in Gods of War, you will find an introduction that talks about violence and why should it be there in the first place. In which so-called science fiction book do you ever find such an introduction?

What would you say has been your most significant achievement?

I would have to answer that in two parts: personal and professional. Having had extremely unfortunate childhood experiences, having just survived it all and to have lived on has to be my greatest personal achievement. I was born a blue baby with the doctors having given up on me, I had a psychotic mother and a father who abandoned us, and I landed with a foster father who used to abuse us. Since the age of 14, I had to earn and take care of myself and my mother. I don’t drink or smoke or have any other bad habits, and I guess this was my way of fighting life.

My greatest professional achievement has probably been that I managed to reach out and touch tens of thousands of people with my writing in some positive way. This I know by the number of mails I keep receiving, to which, by the way, I always respond. I guess I have that knack or craft of writing in a way that people can relate to me and feel like writing back to me.

Which authors influenced you the most?

That I think keeps changing for me depending on the mood I am in when I read. It’s always been different authors at different points of time. That said, the greatest influence for me is an author called Life. Literature only attempts to create life within the pages of the book. The real literature is life itself.

Your screenplay “Sid” is all set to be a big budget film. Tell us something about that.

“Sid” was a concept formed a long time ago. It was dormant inside me, and I never thought that I will ever be able to frame it in any form. It was only when Abhishek Kapoor came to me looking for a great script that I finally got down to writing it. He loved it the minute he saw it and paid a sum for it which, I believe, is ten times the last highest paid script in India. To be directed by Abhishek Kapoor and produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani, I hear it is all game for the Oscars. However, as a friend commented, it is the exact opposite of “Slumdog Millionaire”. Where the former was a small-budget movie about Indians set in India, “Sid” is a very big-budget movie set in America, with the main protagonist being an American. As for the story itself, I have tried to describe it with a tagline: “Sid is one man’s epic journey from war to enlightenment.”

What’s coming in the near future?

Right now I have a contract for two books. One is Krishna Coriolis, to be published by Harper Collins. In this series, I retell the story of Krishna in my own way. It is set to start from April next year. The other is a non-fiction I am currently working on, tentatively titled Valmiki Syndrome to be published by Random House India.

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