INTERVIEW With Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished, Anand Neelakantan presents an alternative perspective on the Asuras
The temple town of Tripunithura, near Kochi, has had a profound impact on Anand Neelakantan. The town with more than a 100 temples is a rich repository of the classical arts. It is not a place, the author says, where mythology is something vaguely referred to during rituals or festivals. It is still a living tradition. There are debates and arguments (based on the Puranas) about life’s problems.
When younger, Anand used to take the contrarian view. It triggered a lot of heated debates with the conservative elders. But, he had the support of his father, who believed that questioning is the first step in understanding something.
That background probably led to Asura: Tale of the Vanquished , his debut novel. It narrates the story of Ravana and his people. In an e-mail interview Anand talks about his influences, asuras and more.
How do you view deconstruction of myths in a society such as ours?
Myths never get deconstructed. Asura is not an attempt to deconstruct a myth. Myths evolve with time and get rewritten and reinterpreted again and again. The R amayana and The Mahabharata are not static stories.
Over the ages, different people from different sub-cultures have reinterpreted it, retold it and repacked it many times over. The strength of Indian mythology is layer upon layer gets added on to it. That is what I said about Indian English being in its infancy.
How have the other versions of the Ramayana influenced your work? Is there any other version that looks at the story from another viewpoint?
It is said that every person has his own Ramayana . Many works have looked differently at the Ramayana and the Mahabharata . A. K. Ramanujam says that there are more than 300 versions of the Ramayana .
My take on the Ramayana has been influenced by the many stories I have heard in my childhood, by the many folk tales I had heard in my travels and also by the many books I have read. I cannot pinpoint one particular Ramayana as influence. Asura is not a research paper; it is a product of my imagination and experience and the hundreds of versions that I heard from people all over the country.
Bhadra is your own character. What's your take on this character? How do your place him in the context of the story and life itself?
I created Bhadra as an image of the common man. Bhadra’s voice is the voice of the muted majority. Bhadra was created to draw attention to this fact. It would have been easy to just say Ravana’s story. But, then, as an author, my contribution would be zero. Bhadra anchors the story. His character gives it a third perspective.
Bhadra is the bridge between the ancient world of the Ramayana and today. He is the window that allows us to gaze at that hazy period through modern eyes.
This work is good material for a film. Are talks on for this?
There have been talks with a few Telugu producers, but nothing has been finalised as of now. I would love to have Mohanlal or Mammooty play Ravana and Salim kumar or Kalabhavan Mani play Bhadra, if it is made into a film in Malayalam.
Asura is your first work and a very successful debut too. What next?
I am working on Duryodhana’s Mahabharatha and it is expected to be published by October this year.