In an exclusive interview with TOI Books, author Anand Neelakantan tells us about his new audiobook ‘Many Ramayanas, Many Lessons’, what fascinates him about the mytho-fiction genre and more. Excerpts:
1. Tell us about your new non-fiction audiobook ‘Many Ramayanas, Many Lessons’. What was the idea behind it?
There are countless Ramayanas. The greatness of Indian philosophy is the diversity of thoughts and the acceptance of various shades of truth. My book is an attempt to open up this wonderful world to the younger generation. The insistence on one authentic version of the true God, religion or holy book has always led to wars, bloodshed and communal tensions. This book tries to draw from various Ramayana traditions across the world to tell the same story and gives subtle hints on how we can harmonise differing or contrarian versions to arrive at our truth.
2. You say there are close to 300 forms of the Ramayana that are known to exist. How many of these have you mentioned in your 29-episode audiobook?
From the Ramayanas outside India to those orally told, there are not just 300 versions but countless ones. Ramayana tradition is spread from Arabia to the Philippines. The story has travelled from Central Asia to Sri Lanka, taking myriad forms and styles, influencing folk tales, drama, puppetry, music, poetry, art, and architecture. In India, there are numerous versions, most of them oral, that have significant differences from Valmiki Ramayana. But there is a unifying soul to all these versions. My book is not a scholarly interpretation listing down each Ramayana. I am no scholar but a storyteller, and this book is a storyteller’s fascination with so much diversity of human imagination. I have drawn the stories from all the Indian classical languages, from performing folk arts and oral versions.
3. Your new book ‘Valmiki’s Women’ was released recently, followed by the audiobook. You have also worked on scripts (‘Bahubali’ and now ‘Karna’ with Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra) and have also written your first children’s book, which was released in 2020. Which format of writing do you like the most?
I am a storyteller, and I love telling stories. So the form is irrelevant to me. I want to experiment with every format, be it novels, screenplay, stage play, audio narration, audio drama or children’s books. Of all the forms, the most challenging is children’s books and I love this genre the most.
4. Also, how do you manage to write so many stories in such a short duration? Any tips for aspiring writers?
I haven’t written too many stories. Some authors have written and published hundreds of books, while this audiobook in Audible is merely my eleventh book. There is a long way to go and so many stories to tell. But, like any other art, writing also requires constant practice. Reading widely and writing every day as a practice is how I have improved my craft.
5. What fascinates you about the mytho-fiction genre? Would you like to explore any other genres?
The depth of Indian Puranas and their sheer diversity is what attracts me to it. But I have written other genres for television, and I am now writing a thriller. I want to experiment in every genre possible. So I will write horror, thriller, humour, fantasy, science fiction, romance and whatnot. And why not, for there is only one life, and one has to make the most of it.
6. What are you working on next?
I am working on a thriller and a young adult fantasy now. There are other audiobooks and non-fiction books that I have completed and will be published soon. More children’s books would follow. In addition, I am working on two films and a couple of OTT shows.
7. Would you like to add anything else?
My request to my readers of ‘Valmiki’s Women’ or ‘Many Ramayanas, Many Lessons’ is to read/hear the book at a relaxed pace. After a roller-coaster thriller like the Bahubali series, these were written in a reflective and meditative manner.