Society

Born to write

She is only 31 and has got four delightful books published. All the books were written in last six years and have made it to the bestsellers list. “I want to be a prolific writer like Agatha Christie,” Anuja Chandramouli is restless to keep up the pace. “I get better with each work,” says the young fiction writer from small town Sivakasi who is creating waves in literary circles and at lit fests with her writings drawn from Indian mythology and beautifully blended with an element of fantasy and psycho-thrill.

Yet she is humble enough and candid in saying she piggy-backed on Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi’s success. “I cashed in on the mythology genre and people are happy reading me too!”

Born into a coffee exporter’s family in Virudhunagar, Anuja says she followed the typical route of an obedient eldest daughter. “Studying in a convent school in Yercaud and preparing myself for an early marriage,” she giggles. But what was also simultaneously developing was her reading habit and writing skills.

At five, she finished reading David Copperfield and surprised her father by narrating the story to him. Her English teacher at school was her mentor stepping in with tips and suggestions and there was no creative writing competition Anuja did not participate in and win a prize.

“My friends thought I hide a dictionary,” she says, also recalling the hundreds of pages she filled with small daily entries in her diary. If anything, her mother would constantly worry about her daughter’s emotional angst over violence in general. “I led such a sheltered life that it made me wonder about criminal psychology,” she says. Why people take to drugs, why a rapist rapes, why a terrorist kills, why a serial killer stalks, why people turn violent were the questions that bothered her immensely.

“I always felt I need to go deeper,” says Anuja, and aspired to become a war correspondent or be in the hot spot of crime scenes and report for a big media house.”

But marriage in 2005, immediately after she finished B.Sc (Psychology) from Women’s Christian College Chennai, put her racing mind on a brake. It was an impulsive decision four years later when her daughter was two years old and she was carrying her second baby that Anuja decided to lift the pen again.

“I felt it was time to take the plunge,” she says.

Her first book “ Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava” was her secret mission only her father and husband were aware of. “I was kind of insecure…what if publishers or readers reject my book? So I did not want many people to know that I was writing one!”

The subject, title, storyline – everything came to her naturally. Having read the Mahabharata in every possible version since her childhood, Anuja was much in love with Arjuna’s character. “Real life is filled with insecurities and I always look up to Arjuna as the saviour and guide. He is a winner and somebody who represents perfection.”

Though, says Anuja, she had the simplest story in mind she found it hardest to write and took three years to complete her first manuscript. Then rejections came as the biggest shock. “I followed all submission guidelines and sent it to publishers in India and abroad. Penguin was the first to respond saying they were not interested in the title and Rupa publishers said they may revert to me later and that devastated me,” says Anuja. But with Anand Neelakantan’s “ Asura: Tale of the Vanquished” creating a buzz during that time, the Leadstart Publishing House appreciated her sample chapters on Arjuna.

“When I received the first copy of my book, it did not feel real. It was a very special moment,” she says.

Rest is history, as they say. With modern reinterpretation and the retelling of Indian mythology finding a way to popularity, Anuja’s next two books – “ Kamadeva: The God of Desire” and “ Shakti: The Divine Feminine” came out in quick succession in 2014 and 2015 with Rupa publishers keeping the promise. This June, her fourth book “ Yama’s Lieutenant” was published by Random House and raced to the top seller chart within days of its launch. And Anuja’s mind is already working on her fifth. “It will be a sequel to Yama,” she says with cool confidence, “because I feel certain threads are left hanging and it is still calling me.”

In her first three books, she knew with her last sentence she had completed the story.

“It is a combination of things that aid you in writing,” says Anuja. “I read like crazy and drive myself mad when I am writing my own script. Every word I choose has to be perfect and whether I am cooking, doing yoga or running on the treadmill, cycling or walking my pets or practising Bharatanatyam, my mind is only searching for words,” she says.

“Myth is the oldest and most enduring form of story telling. And fantasy lives on because you can merge it with real and still make your characters do anything. It is the combination of this power writing that has taken a leap now,” feels Anuja.

Booked with her lit fest itinerary in Hyderabad, Panchkula, Odisha and Ahmedabad, Anuja says she finds her interactions with other writers very productive but refrains from reading her own genre Indian English writers because comparison is often counter-productive.

A fan of Dennis Lehane novels, Harry Potter series, Tolkien’s works among many others, Anuja says, “Everything supernatural, fictionalised mythologies, fantasy and thriller put across in over-simplified and contemporary format is popular now.” “I would love to experiment,” she adds, “with a wicked horror story in near future!”

From the book shelf:

Anuja Chandramouli has been appreciated for her gripping and racy style of writing. Each of her novels hold on to the reader’s attention given the steady pace of her novels and the way she merges the real world with fantasy. Readers find the characters relatable because while telling the stories of God, she humanises them in the most relevant way. Her in-depth research on every character – essentially the gods and goddesses we revere – and the plots shows in her every piece of work. She oscillates between ostentatious language and simple presentation making her books attractive to read. Her narration is balanced and realistic with subtle social commentary.

In her latest book Yama’s Lieutenant, with much imagination and compassion, she tells the story of what could happen when the forces of hell, heaven and earth collide. She creates a terrifying world of demons and necromancers and creates strange parallels so identifiable with contemporary times. It starts with sibling love between six-year-old Varuna and her twin brother Agni Prakash, whose world turns upside down by the death of his sister. As he languishes in depression, Yama summons him to stop the inhabitants of hell who have escaped to ruin the three worlds. Agni chances upon a manuscript left behind by his sister that tells the story of celestial twins Yama and Yami. With coincidences and connections, the book traverses a dual plot before hitting an action-packed climax.

Her first book Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince is all about the famous Mahabharata character Anuja hero-worships. It is an intense story of weaknesses and follies, ambitions and desires, love and friendship, death and revival told humorously against the staggering backdrop of the epic. It appeals to all age-groups.

Very little is known about Kamadeva, the God of Desire and Anuja has dedicated an entire book to him with the same title and discusses some things relevant in our society today. It has a mix of everything, the enigma of Kamadeva’s adventures, his heady romance with Rati, his friendship with Indra and his life as a dream. And then the tantalising dark side comes out when danger strikes in the form of Shiva’s pre-ordained curse and the king of hearts hurtles towards his destiny.

Anuja’s third book, Shakti: The Divine Feminine is one of her powerful writing replete with enthralling dialogues on contentious issues. She picks some of the best stories and treads the tricky path of Devi mythology, the goddess who is essentially every woman. She takes many liberties twisting the original mythological stories and changing the characters to unify her narrative into an appealing one.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 2:03:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Born-to-write/article14564162.ece

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