A graduate of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore, Krishna Udayasankar also holds a Ph.D. in Strategic Management from the Nanyang Business School, Singapore, where she works as a lecturer. Her recent book, 3, focuses on the early 13th Century happenings of the Srivijaya Empire, considered to be one of the world’s greatest maritime forces. The story follows Emperor Prabhu Dharmasena and his kin, who leave behind their island realm to traverse the seas, desperate and homeless. Among those who sail with the emperor is his youngest son, Nila Utama. 3 is also the founding legend of Singapore and a tale of love and adventure. Krishna talks about the research, recreating historic scenes and her method of writing.
The title is interestingly numeric. Any specific reason?
It’s a play on the many elements and themes in the book. The honorific the protagonist earns at the end of the book is ‘Thribuvana’ or ‘Lord of Three Worlds’ — an honour that is all the more significant because the protagonist constantly questions his role in the larger scheme of things, including in the philosophical sense of earth, water and sky — the three realms.
In more literal terms, the story takes place in three parts, signifying the three stages or phases of the hero’s life. I chose a number rather than a text form title for the book, because I wanted to convey the more ethereal, inconstant context to the main character, the sense of searching that the protagonist goes through.
I read somewhere that you had extensive conversations with modern-day pirates for research. Is that true? If so, how did you get hold of these ‘modern-day pirates’ and who are they?
(Laughs) Not conversations, though that would have been quite interesting! I did read up extensively on modern-day pirates, including those off the East African coast, to see what sort of guerrilla and other tactics they used in their raids, as well as the security countermeasures that coast guards took.
This was to be able to understand many aspects I touched upon in the book, including how and why piracy came up in the region, and how the protagonist and his forces could have fought against such pirates.
To more serious questions. How did you go about researching for this book? Were there any other books you looked up?
Like with all my books, I think research is imperative to telling a more believable and engrossing story. Particularly when dealing with history, one has to understand many aspects — social, economic and political — that underlie the events.
My reading for 3 was varied, ranging from the pirate stuff I mentioned earlier to historical text, the genealogy of the Malay kings and many other books.
There’s a list of selected references at the end of the book, as also an author’s note. I guess the social scientist in me just cannot keep out of the way, which isn’t a bad thing really, since it gives my work what I call internal logical consistency — a sense of the story being something probable and not just possible.
How difficult was it to recreate scenes from the 13th Century?
Creating any scene requires a certain degree of letting yourself travel into the story-world, whether in terms of time and era or location and plot.
Dealing with anachronism is something I’ve learnt over the three books of The Aryavarta Chronicles, so that wasn’t too tough.
In fact, it was more difficult to remind myself that this book is not set in 500 B.C, and I had to bring out the feeling of that era, rather than giving it just a historical setting.
Did you have a fixed routine while writing this book? Or any other book for that matter?
My writing habits are pretty erratic and fit around my day-job as a lecturer (I teach International Business at Nanyang Business School), my family, home and the gym.
I am a proud dog-mother, so I actually love to sit in my pyjamas with my fur-kids curled up next to me, while I write.