Of myths and murder

Ravi Subramanian (centre) with Ashwin Sanghi and Anita Nair at TheHindu Lit for Life festival

Ravi Subramanian (centre) with Ashwin Sanghi and Anita Nair at TheHindu Lit for Life festival   | Photo Credit: R.Ragu

Thiruvananthapuram is the backdrop for Ravi Subramanian’s ninth novel 

It isn’t every day that Thiruvananthapuram, let alone the city’s Padmanabhaswamy temple, becomes the setting for a murder mystery in English. So When prolific author Ravi Subramanian wove the capital city into his latest thriller, In The Name of God, out earlier this week, we couldn’t help but ask why.

The Mumbai-based banker says, “The Padmanabhaswamy temple is the richest temple in the world. A wealth of US $20 billion is estimated to be hidden away in the hitherto unopened vaults of the temple. Come to think of it, it is the only temple in the country which is so wealthy and still under the control of a private trust of the Maharaja of Travancore and his descendants. Till the court ordered security cover for the temple, it was being guarded by a few police officers. Were we relying on the fear of god to be more than the fear of law? There are six possibilities as to why people commit a crime – love, faith, greed, boredom, fear or revenge. The Padmanabhaswamy temple is a perfect backdrop for these motivations to come into play. That’s why I decided to write on this.”

Banker and author Ravi Subramanian

Banker and author Ravi Subramanian   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

While it is every bit a contemporary thriller, Ravi takes readers on a rollercoaster ride across three continents as parallel plots unfold in In The Name Of God. This includes a hiest at a popular mall in Dubai (a true incident). Investigations converge at the Padmanabhaswamy Temple where a Supreme Court nominated team is auditing the vaults and then some murders take place. Whether if these incidents are related forms the crux of the story. Homework involved visits to the places mentioned in the book including Thiruvananthapuram, the temple, the diamond bourse in Mumbai and locations in the Middle East apart from reading up on Kerala, the matriarchal society, the erstwhile maharaja and temples in Tamil Nadu. “I even read the Supreme Court case details of the Padmanabha Swamy temple,” Ravi adds.

The book is a major deviation from his strength — bank thrillers, the first of which, If God Was a Banker, was published 10 years ago.

Ravi feels that awards do not translate into popularity or sales numbers, unless of course it is an award like the Booker. “The only benefit of winning an award is that it gives you the right to prefix ‘award-winning author’ to your name.” Ravi’s last book saw him foray into the genre of romance with The Bestseller She Wrote.

He says of his latest thriller: “This is one of my most complex plots. It has been told in such a simple manner that even a regular reader will be able to relate to it.”

Ravi is hoping his ninth book does not invite any controversies. "These days, anything and everything becomes a reason for controversy. It is not in my hands to say if there will be one or not. I wrote this book with utmost devotion and respect towards Padmanabhaswamy. I have penned a short author’s note before the story requesting readers to read the book as ‘What could have been’ rather than ‘What is’. At the end of the day it is fiction."

Ravi mentions it as the first of his books read by his 17-year-old daughter Anusha, also a published author.

After numerous banking thrillers, he clarifies that there is no walking away from his forte. “I am not going to hand over that space to someone else on a platter. It has given me this place in the world of Indian authors.” Even so, he is of the view that any author who restricts himself to one genre is not doing justice to the craft. “Moving out of one’s comfort zone is the only way he or she will improve.”

Ravi says writing is for the thick skinned. "If you are afraid of being judged, you should not be in writing. It is not a luxury, rather a necessity as people will take potshots at you. Have faith in your writing and everything will fall in place.”

Looking back, every book has been an exercise in improvement for Ravi whose characters touch upon his educational background at IIM-Bangalore and experiences as a finance professional.

"Most of the change has been driven by feedback from my readers. In the earlier books, my characters were largely black or white. These days, most of the characters in my book are grey. My style of story-telling has improved. I have learnt to balance plot, pace and the protagonists.”

He is clear that his background in no way calls for a comparison with Chetan Bhagat. “We write for different readers. In a way, my readership begins where his ends. I guess that’s why we have never been compared. People often ask me though why most of the commercial fiction bestsellers in this country by IIM graduates and/or bankers."

While there is a new author on the block every day, Ravi still says getting published is becoming increasingly difficult. “”Most rejections happen before the editor reaches the end of the first chapter itself. Ensuring that your manuscript is difficult to reject is in your control. Never, ever submit a sub-optimal manuscript."

His banking mysteries have brought forth discussions for movie adaptations. But, while staying hopeful, he calls it ‘a matter of luck in India’. “It is not about how good or bad your story is, but also about the timing – being at the right place at the right time.”

Ten years and nine books later, writing, he notes, is not done with the intention to be prolific. "When you are passionate about something you prioritise it over everything else. I am always thinking of plots. Most of my plots are plagiarised from God – from real life instances. I work very hard to string a series of real life instances into a plot worth reading. But it comes naturally.”

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 10:53:56 AM |

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