‘Alexander’s invasion of Bharat’ sounds like a crazy offbeat idea for a novel. How did you come up with such an idea?
Well, that’s a long story.
Basically, I got the idea for writing this novel from the India against Corruption/Nirbhaya rape case/Jan Lokpal protests that took place in 2011. At that time, I was actively searching for ideas that I could turn into a novel and I remembered these protests and especially an incident in which DU students had been beaten and lathi charged, which had affected me quite a bit.
During that time, things were looking quite bleak and it felt like the country was just going downhill. So I thought of finding a parallel from Indian history where things might have looked equally bad for our country but where we bounced back soon and reached greater heights. And I found this parallel in Alexander’s invasion of India- another period where it might have seemed that all of India would soon fall into the invaders lap. Yet, fifteen to twenty years later we had the emergence of the first all-India empire and the Greeks were kicked out.
So I wrote this story of despair and renewal essentially to give myself and my readers some hope.
When and why did you gravitate towards writing?
I’ll put it in Hindi, if you don’t mind. Basically. ‘Bade ghat ka paani peeke samajh aaya ki aur kucch mein mazaa nahi.’ Basically, after doing a host of different things, I realized I was not too happy and did not find it meaningful or rewarding. That’s when I started putting pen to paper. It started with writing short stories and almost inevitably led to a novel.
Please share your experiences with publishing?
In short- very tough.
No doubt the success of authors like Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi has opened up a whole new market and given a chance to many authors like myself to get published; so things have become easier. But only comparatively. In absolute terms, completing a book and getting it published is still very, very hard.
Just to give you an example- it took me 5-6 months to research about this book and a further 5-6 months to write the first draft. I thought my work was over, but actually, it had just begun. After that it took me 6 months to get accepted by a literary agent. Another 6 months to get a publishing deal and a further 1.5 years wait before the book was finally published.
Your day job is a far cry from writing. What is your writing routine?
Yes, my day job is a far cry from writing and provides ample inspiration and motivation to keep writing. If my day job had been like Anurag Kashyap’s or Biswapati Sarkar’s or Varun Grover’s I would probably not have been writing. But thankfully, my day job is so exciting and fulfilling 😉, that I need to write to get away from it all.
In terms of a writing routine, ideally one should be writing every day. However, I am not able to do this as there are long periods where I am quite busy with work. However, there are periods when I get into the groove and start writing every day. At such times, I usually get into office early by about 8-8:30, when no one is there and then write for the next 2-3 hours.
What are your favourite reads from last year?
Oh, that’s a lovely question. Who doesn’t like talking about books?
One book that I am currently reading and which I love, love, love is ‘Raag Darbaari’. I really think every Indian or at least every North Indian should definitely read it. It’s a brutal and hilarious satire and at the same time it is completely realistic. The way it describes life in a small North Indian village, the situations and the characters are all very relatable. And that is what makes the satire so brutal- that the situations and the characters described therein are still there- all around us. I would definitely recommend this book.
Apart from this couple of other good books I read are ’Travels with Herodotus’ by Ryszard Kapuscinski, ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’ by Rahul Pandita, Ruskin Bond’s autobiography- ‘Lone Fox Dancing’
What are the traps which a writer needs to be careful about while writing Historical Fiction? Well, a couple of traps.
First one- the research must be perfect, and the history must be impartial. See, we study history to learn from it and we will never learn if we only show a rosy, perfect vision of history. That means showing both the good and the bad parts of our history, accepting our mistakes and learning from it- not talking about some fictionalized, glorious past full of the most righteous, honest, brave people who flew about on ‘Udankhatolas’ and were the most advanced people in the world. Unfortunately, this is the kind of historical fiction I see among most of the current books being published in India and I find it revolting.
So in my book, I have tried to keep everything as real as possible including the description of Chandragupta Maurya.
About the Interviewee:
Rahul Mitra grew up in Delhi and is currently working as an IT Marketing Professional with a multinational company in Mumbai. Passionately interested in all things Indian, Rahul is vociferous in his opinions about India, its people and its culture. Like many others before him, he believes he can change the world and influence people though his writing.
Rahul Mitra grew up in Delhi and is currently working as an IT Marketing Professional with a multinational company in Mumbai.
Passionately interested in all things Indian, Rahul is vociferous in his opinions about India, its people and its culture. Like many others before him, he believes he can change the world and influence people though his writing.