Maths hater, frying pan seller and finally celebrated bestseller author
All five novels penned were bestsellers. Six lakh copies of the first novel were sold. Rs 1.5 crore earned for the rights to film adaptation of the novel. Excerpts from the interview with Indian English writer Anand Neelakantan.
Was it easy for you to reach this level of career?
There was an element of fortune in my case. I took six years to complete my first novel ‘Asura’. Though I sacrificed my family time for writing it, 18 publishers rejected the novel. At least one lakh English books are published a year. We have to be in the top ten among them. So, I think there is a luck factor in my life.
Efforts also cannot be undervalued. You did not withdraw even after 18 rejections
Each time they sent it back, I would re-read them. Finally, Leadstart Publishers, a less known publishing house, published it. A Mumbai-based woman retired from Penguin had joined there recently. She happened to read my book and decided to publish the same soon after she finished reading it.
A result of confidence, right?
I had a stand rather than confidence. But I was super-confident about it. The thing I wrote before starting to write the novel was ‘this book will be a bestseller’. I am planning to write another book on this topic ‘Asura Margam’.
All your books are re-telling of Puranas. Any connection between your home place and writing?
Even the recently published ‘Vanara’ was inspired by Kathakali. I used to watch Kathakali and Ottan Thullal at a young age. Once I got prize for Geetha Quiz at the age of 6 competing with elder children. Seeing this, Chinmayananda Swamy said this boy will go ahead with Puranas. It came true, but I’m moving in the opposite direction.
You are making Ravana a hero, Duryodhana a virtuous man.
My father used to tell me many stories when I was a kid. I had many doubts in my mind then, and the answers to them formed my writing now. It is only my perception. Gandhari talks to Krishna in a rude way in Mahabharata and so is the case with Tara talking to Rama in Ramayana. I have only changed the angle.
Why are you writing in English?
I learned English through hard work. When I joined engineering college, there was an elocution in English. But I could not speak fluently and I blurted out some blunders. Audience catcalled and I had to leave the stage embarrassed.
Thus I felt a strong desire to learn English. I took ‘Freedom at Midnight’ and its Malayalam translation and read them together. By the time I was in final year, I got prize for English writing and elocution. I started writing 15 years after that.
How did a man who loved history and myth turn to engineering?
I had to choose engineering for a living. There was no option other than engineering or medicine. Even at this age of 45, I sometimes have a nightmare that tomorrow is maths exam. The same me went for engineering. My sister was famous for her maths tuition. The only one she failed to teach was myself.
Did you get a job soon after?
I got a job in Zenith Computers in Delhi. But I left the job after having an argument with the manager. But it was hard to get a new job as I was not proficient in English and could not speak Hindi at all. Thus I ended up working for frying pan marketing for a small company. They taught me a Hindi sentence to sell the pan. I learned it by heart and went to every household in the streets of Delhi.
Since I was poor in Hindi, I was made a laughing stock. But I started earning well from it. I used to study for civil service at the time. Later I got a job in Indian Oil Corporation and the hectic work destroyed my dream of civil service. I worked there for 10 years. Them I was fed up with it and started drawing.
What was the future of drawing?
I used to get a small payment for it. But I dropped it and started a resort in Wayanad. After sometime, I got bored again. As I got prizes for writing in college, I began writing in Malayalam. My cartoons and stories were published in Pakkanar, Hasya Kairali and Tik Tik.
How was the entry to Purana?
I was confused about what to write. The biggest hit story in world is Ramayana. It was my favourite subject. Thus I chose Ravana which was haunting me for long.
What is your success secret?
I balance entertainment factor in writing. No story without entertainment will exist. I admire Sreenivasan as a writer. The works of award winning writers are easily forgotten. But we remember the movie dialogues of Sreenivasan forever. That is the success of a writer.
You are rebel in writing. Is it the same case in your life?
Mine is a normal life. I don’t drink, smoke or use ganja. I don’t think people who roam around the street in unclean clothes only can write. If that is rebel, I’m conservative.
How did you write the rest of the story of the super hit movie ‘Bahubali’?
I reached to it accidentally. Rajamouli was sure that Bahubali cannot be completely told within 3 hours. So he approached me and asked to write a prequel of the story including the birth of their kingdom and how Sivagami became the queen. I wrote it within 109 days. People should feel that such a history really existed when they read it after 100 years.
Does your family influence your writing?
The first listener of my novels is my wife Aparna. If she listens to the novel stopping her works in kitchen, I think that part is okay. Otherwise, I will rework it. She criticises me correctly.
Also I have some beta readers like director Siddharth Bharathan. I send my drafts to them. They send it back marking the boring parts. I will rework on them. Now I’m practiced to this process.