Since India is a country with huge diversity, every person takes mythology and concepts of religion in his/her own way, so how far do you think that the religious experiences of a writer affects his writings?
Definitely, it affects the writing to a great deal, writers think comprehensively, they have to see what to take into their books and what not to. In the existing diversity of choice, he has to channelize his thoughts and diversity adds the color to it, he has to decide his actual tone of his book.
If you take Hinduism for instance, it is not mono lithic, when you see our Hindu mythology, it is diverse, it is a huge bulk of traditional practices, so when you say that Hinduism has million gods, there is a reason why it has got million gods. Each one was connecting to nature in a way and the basis is the mythology and this mythology percolated into religion and that happened because, as I said earlier mythology sometimes is the foundation of religion. I personally see Ramayana and Mahabharata as pieces of literature. Both are epics, they are poetry and also these two epics are poetic portrayal of characters. And through the ages they became folklore and then they became part of mythology and then they became part of religious scriptures. So as today when we know the difference between mythology and religion, man also must react accordingly.
In my books I am not retelling the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. I am just trying to portray a small chunk, a small aspect which has not been dealt with yet. And I think my books are more about relationships per se than questioning those gods, there are no religious overtones in my work, as I said I will not hurt religious sentiments because it is a highly volatile situation to deal with, it always was, as these are the things which are close to our hearts, I will not do it in order just to sensationalize it.
Since you have been in the field of journalism for a long time, what has inspired you to take up writing about mythology in spite of writing for the media?
There is a lot of difference between journalistic writing and creative writing, I had done 20 years of journalistic writing and this phase of my life is an extension in the form of an attempt to plunge into creative writing. And that is how Karna’s wife came about which fortunately did well, it absolutely gave me the courage to write about Urmila which was supposed to be my first work. After creating the character Urvi in “Karna’s wife” and after seeing the success of doing so, it gave me the courage to flesh out Urmila the way I wanted to.
As you have fleshed out 3 unique women characters in two different books playing the protagonists. So do you think feminism as a concept pre-existed in mythology as it is emerging now?
Yes, definitely! If you look at the character Satyawati, she makes her own rules, she breaks certain rules and she comes out as a winner. Her entire journey is completely fascinating, in fact when Vyas wrote about satyawati, he also wrote about Drowpathy. These are diametrically different characters who had their own journey. I don’t think Vyas would have thought of feminism at that time but it surely existed. According to the way the characters progressed, especially the women characters, all of them came out as strong characters because given the circumstances, it was about how they fought back. They fought back on their own terms. For instance, Kunti’s character is that of a completely sheltered woman at the mercy of Vishnu, a homeless widow who aspired for Yudishtir to have the throne as a matter of fact that she was never fortunate enough to have it.
When we talk about these complex mythological characters, every human being takes it within the bracket of his own knowledge, therefore he writes about it in his own way of interpretation, but do you think that Indian censorship and readership doesn’t let this happen?
No, I absolutely disagree, I think Indian audience are much more mature to take every interpretation in the most optimistic way possible. The way we have reacted to all the recent mythology, there has been no controversy with regard to the books I published. There are shades of grey in Kunti’s character, goes the same with Kausalya’s character. I think the readers took it very well, I think we under estimate our audience’s maturity.
What would be your piece of advice to budding writers in this genre of Hindu mythology or for that matter any genre of writing who are getting their books published at a very young age?
On mythology you have to be extra careful as I said you might end up hurting sentiments, as mythology and religion are closely connected in our society. For young writers, my advice would be- as long as you know how to write a story and how to write it well, then the language is inevitably important and I think a good story can hook your readers to your writings.
It has been an honor to have you with us at HLF. Would you like to say something with regards to the organization of a fest like this?
I had a fabulous time here, the entire session was extremely interesting, wonderful audience, I got to meet a lot of interesting people and the venue is a right academic backdrop and the whole 3 day fest has very brightly centered art and culture in a wonderful way. And of course I am not missing Marathi as Marathi is the language at focus. I went around the workshops and they were delighting. I think the diversity of thought as it has rightly integrated literature, art and culture which are all interconnected in the best way possible here at HLF.