Ashwin Sanghi: I had a rollicking time writing this book

Ashwin Sanghi Photo: G. Ramakrishna   | Photo Credit: G_RAMAKRISHNA

“I am a work in progress; don’t expect a perfect book from me. But with each book, hopefully I’m moving forward,” Ashwin Sanghi tells us, ahead of the launch of ‘The Sialkot Saga’ (Harper Collins) at Landmark bookstore. Ashwin’s fourth in his Bharath series pits together two characters, Arvind Bagadia from Calcutta, and Arbaaz Sheikh from Bombay, in post-Independent India. The book begins in the aftermath of Partition in Sialkot, Pakistan.

Different eras

As with his previous books, ‘The Rozabel Line’, ‘Chanakya’s Chant’ and ‘The Krishna Key’, he straddles different time periods, this time detailing unscrupulous business practices. His fattest book by far, ‘The Sialkot Saga’ has walk-on parts for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao at the least expected turns. The book, at some point, also pops up the question of whether the author packed in a lot more than he should have.

Ashwin says, “One of the difficulties for a writer is to know what to leave out. When you’re doing a lot of research, it’s easy to throw in more and hamper the story. I had 10 times more material than what found its way into the book. Each event and character occurs for a reason. 1947 to 2010 is a long period, so I used walk-on parts as props to give a flavour of the time.”

Ashwin’s fascination with history is evident in this book too, as he weaves in a thread from the time of emperor Ashoka. The writer confesses that like many, he too was bored with history in school, struggling with dates and events one was expected to memorise.

The excitement with history and mythology came through Amar Chitra Katha. “That was a starting point. My grandfather used to send me a lot of reading material. Whenever I raised an issue, he would send me a relevant book. That got me going,” he says.

Writing about ancient India is easier, confesses Ashwin. “In ‘Chanakya’s Chant’, I could describe the streets of Pataliputra as I imagined it to be, because we don’t have texts that describe it. We know that Chanakya wrote ‘Arthashastra’ but there isn’t enough literature on Chanakya himself. We know of Chanakya through ‘Mudrarakshasa’ written by Vishakadatta, almost 700 years after Chanakya’s death. History, at the end of the day, is one version of a story. What if Mudrarakshasa was an ancient day Ashwin Sanghi mixing up facts and fiction?” Ashwin elaborates his case citing how the Aryan theory of invasion got debunked and how later findings proved the existence of river Saraswari and the importance of Rig Veda. “The academia changes slowly, waiting for enough evidence to support a theory. As a fiction writer, I don’t have such barriers,” contends Ashwin.

The ‘The Sialkot Saga’ was a different ball game. There was no room to mess with facts. “There is a need for accuracy when you narrate a story closer to your life time. So I created a skeletal framework with facts and then wove in the story,” he says. Ashwin chose Calcutta and Bombay, the financial capitals rather than the political power centre Delhi. While political, social and business accounts of these cities came from research, the challenge was to depict the lifestyles. “I interviewed people who grew up in Calcutta. For instance, if one were to eat paani puri in the 50s, how much would it have cost? Which were the popular places? Or, if a boy and a girl went on a date, where were they likely to go? Such details rarely come from newspapers and magazines of that time.”

Inevitable comparisons

If ‘The Rozabel Line’ drew comparisons with Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’, his new book has, in a few reviews, brought up references to Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Kane and Abel’. “I played with a format that’s not new and a story that’s been done to death, but the crux is what happens to the two principal characters in 70 years,” says Ashwin.

A young lad roughing it out on the streets of Bombay is also a Manmohan Desai staple. Ashwin describes his book as “Jeffrey Archer meets Sidney Sheldon meets Manmohan Desai meets Ashwin Sanghi”. He laughs heartily and says he had a rollicking time writing the book.

Ashwin is in talks to make the book into a series, in digital or television format, but not a film. “It would be tough to compress this story into 2hr 20 minutes.”

What’s next?

He’s toying with three ideas for his fifth book in the Bharath series. Another collaborative book with James Patterson is on and a couple of books will roll out in the ‘13 Steps…’ series.

‘Private India’, his first collaborative work with James Patterson, drew mixed reactions. Ashwin wasn’t surprised. “Divided reactions will always be there. Even in the Bharat series, those who look for a mythology fix liked ‘The Krishna Key’ and those who like the cerebral game plan liked ‘Chanakya’s Chant’. ‘Private India’ earned me a new set of readers, a segment that was looking for a fast read with lots of thrill,” he says.

Ashwin insists he has the creative freedom in this collaborative work. “James was clear that he wouldn’t inhibit my style. He would lose value if he were to give me an outline in an India-specific book. The DNA is Indian.”

As a parting shot, it’s clear he’s at ease with both praise and criticism. “You can’t be a writer and not be thick skinned,” he laughs.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 7:39:27 AM |

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