Interview with Anand Neelkantan

Here’s an in-depth interview with the author of Asura, Ajaya and the soon to release the sequel to Ajaya, called Rise of Kali.

Ajaya Cover

1. What does AJAY signify in the title of the book?

Ajaya means unconquearable. The Kauravas were never conquered, they were decimated to the last man. Ajaya is also a play of words to show what is not Jaya, the original name of Mahabharata. Though Ajaya does not mean what is not Jaya, it is to imply that this is Mahabharata from the other side

2. After all your writing and research, what is your final opinion on Duryodhana as a man and a leader?

Suyodhana was a man far ahead of times. He had his flaws, he trusted his friends too much and took unneccessary risks, was more sincere to Karna than Karna was to him and was passionate to the core. He believed in certain ideals, was sometimes naive and sometimes arrogant, but he never tried to justify his deed behind the cloak of dharma. He was a rebel, far ahead of his times and he paid the price.

3. Did the Kurukshetra war have any winners? What did it achieve? Can it be justified?

I think sage Vyasa gave the named his epic, “Jaya” to bring out the irony. There were no winners for the war. If the war was the victory of good for evil, after the war the evil age should not have started. This reasoning that it was fought for restoration of dharma fails, when we see that it is the age of Adharma that had risen after the war. So what was the purpose of war, as Balarama asks?

4. Was Draupadi perhaps the greatest victim in the Mahabharata?

Draupadi, like many other women and children, was also a victim of the war. All the women of Mahabharata are victims, trampled by a masculine world. Gandhari who lost all her sons, Kunti who lost all her grandsons and a son, Draupadi who lost all her sons, the Nishada woman who lost her life and all her sons, Hidumbi who lost her son, Uthara who lost her husband, Bhanumathi who lost both her husband and son- the list is endless. There is no justification in singling out Draupadi.

5. How do you explain Gandhari’s 100 sons and 1 daughter?

The ratio is perplexing. The entire Kuru race has 106 sons (including the Yuyutsu, the Vysya son of Dhritarashtra) and 1 daughter and may be Lakshmana is the only another woman in the household. Or may be all the 100s are not sons of Gandhari, but perhaps sons of Dhritarashtra (there are many other sons mentioned in some texts) and the daughters are not mentiones with the same importance as Dushala (Sushala) since they are not from the Royal womb of Gandhari. We do not know and we can only speculate. As I said, it was a man’s world, not much different from now, where only lip service is given to the divinity of women.

Anand 1

6. Did any Kaurava survive the war?

Dhritarashtra, the real Kaurava was the ultimate victor

7. Do you feel a sense of catharsis having finished the book?

Writing any book is hard work, it is doubly so when the subject is the most complicated and biggest epic in the world

Rise of Kali

8. What are you working on now?

I am working as an episodic story writer for Star TV’s upcoming serial Siya ke Ram. I am working on a fantasy thriller based on Mythology, tentatively titled Devayani. I have also signed up for a Hindi/Telugu bilingual and discussions are on for Asura to be made as Hindi/Tamil/Telugu trilingual film

9.What do you think made Leadstart take your book when other Publishers had not?

Leadstart took the book when not many were willing to publish mythology books. They saw the potential in Asura when others did not. Asura was an unusual book in the sense that it went against the conventional way of writing mythology. It is a disturbing book, not offensive, but something that would challenge the long held belief and give voice to the sceptic inside the reader. Not many publishers would take that risk.

10. How did you think of this concept? What got you inspired?

This was something that I have grown up with and I write about things that disturbs me most. The other side, hidden in the shadows, is always exciting to explore.

11. What do you think about writing as a profession in India?

Writing as a profession is yet to come of age in India. Except a few authors who have made it really big, it is difficult to earn a living out of writing. Despite spectacular success of Asura and Ajaya, I am yet to resign my job. There are many like me with a string of best sellers who still work for a living or are businessmen. Except Chetan Bhagat, Amish or one or two others, if we take the top 10 writers of the country, most of us are either businessmen or employees. There is a long way to go for us to see Indian writers owning private jets and mansions like what they do in the west. But apart from money, writing gives a lot of satisfaction which no other profession can. Writing in India, can be a rewarding hobby, at best and not a profession.

12. Any message you would want to give to your readers?

Read the book with an open mind. Read good books not to get answers but to simulate more questions in your mind

Looking forward to Rise of Kali! I am sure it will be a great read.

Interview Courtesy: Booksense

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There’s something about you by Yashodhara Lal

Cover Artwork Title: There’s Something About You
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9789351771999
Genre: Romance, Fiction
Pages: 268
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Fiction is definitely more interesting when you have someone to relate to in the book. Reading Yashodhara Lal’s “There’s something about you” reminded me of the fact that I could still relate to some characters while reading a book. In this case, it was the protagonist Trish, though my life is not as bad, but most aspects I could get. I will get to the story later, but don’t you think of characters time and again after you are done with a book? Don’t they stay with you? When that happens I feel so weird and yet it feels like I have reached home. Now to the book.

“There’s something about you” by Yashodhara Lal is about Trish. She is a twenty-eight year old woman. She is overweight, snarky and single. She is also now jobless. Sahil on the other hand is your almost perfect, thirty-five year old geek who wants her. Trish does not want anyone in her life. Sahil will not give up that easy. That’s when the fun begins and the rollercoaster ride called life has just begun for Trish. Okay so this is the story. It may seem this simple, however it is not. Also, let me add at this point that I enjoyed this book a lot.

The book is a light read. At the same time it speaks of modern relationships and love so accurately that you can almost read your life as you turn the pages or at least some incidents from it. The story is fast-paced and what I liked is that the secondary characters have as much a big role to play as Trish and Sahil.

I normally do not read breezy or so called chick-lit fiction but trust me this book is not that. If anything, then to me it falls in the genre of literary romance and that is a great relief from what gets churned out these days. I would recommend this book to you for a lazy monsoon read and before you know it you would be done with the read and a very satisfying one at that.

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg

Modern Romance Title: Modern Romance
Author: Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594206276
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sociology
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

From the moment this book reached me, I knew I would enjoy it. Just the title was enough for me to make that decision and of course I had read something about it online, but I guess the entire concept of modern romance and dating and how we all get today when it comes to love and relationships was enough for me to get hooked on to this one. Teaming up with Eric Klinenberg, Aziz Ansari provides us the much needed perspective on what relationships are like today and what it takes to actually find the one “true love” in today’s age and time, with several dating apps and people literally at the beck and call of a swipe and click.

“Modern Romance” looks at data, a lot of data, given that Ansari and Klinenberg also conducted surveys in different cities of the world to subreddits whose responses were recorded and analyzed to getting privy to their texts (of course after their permission) to learn as much as they could about modern dating. The book has a lot of information on the psychology of dating and romance over the years and how we view it today, given the onslaught of apps and sites, catering to every single need and whim of what one expects in a partner.

What I found most interesting about the book is the way we use technology and how it has changed the way we think and perceive love and relationships. For instance, Ansari speaks of texting and how that has changed the way our patience levels have transformed and how we want things instantly. In many such examples and anecdotes, keeping the humour intact, Ansari explores the do’s and don’ts of dating. It is not a self-help book at all. Don’t be taken in by the way it sounds or seems. It is in fact a funny take on technology and also mentioning its advantages, so as readers are not disillusioned by it.

I wish there was more on the LGBT dating scene, but as the author mentions at the beginning that there would need to be a different book written for that and I couldn’t agree more. At times I would also see myself in all those stories, given that somewhere down the line we have all gone through the same old emotions as others when we search for anything meaningful online – from fear of rejection to boredom to thinking that more choices and options are good for us to sometimes just wanting that one single person.

“Modern Romance” is a funny and insightful book on how to navigate the terrain of love in the digital space. For instance, all the time Ansari emphasizes on humour and good it is to break the ice at most times. Aziz with his insights will make you reconsider and think of online dating differently for sure and at the same time make you see how investing, both in terms of time and effort might actually lead to something amazing between two people.

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SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki Title: SuperMutant Magic Academy
Author: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770461987
Genre: Comics, Graphic Novel
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love graphic novels. The genre makes me smile all the time. Well, mostly all the time. There are times when I go all morose as well, but that’s only because of the plot and nothing more than that. So when I received a copy of Jillian Tamaki’s new graphic novel, “SuperMutant Magic Academy” by the publisher, I was overjoyed.

Supermutant Magic Academy - Image 1

What is the book about?

It is true to its title. It is about Mutants, who are in an academy, and of course who are magical. That being said, they are almost like any other teenager – bursting with puberty, adolescence making them think otherwise and going through the same old pangs of growing up and deciding whether to love or not and how does one then become popular.

Supermutant Magic Academy - Image 2

Why should you read this book?

There is humour in the book, loads of it and also sprinkled with a whole lot of irreverence and not to forget their paranormal abilities that are juxtaposed brilliantly against the everyday teen concerns. The world is but surely familiar and yet it is the abilities that come along in the book, that take you by surprise and sometimes shock.

Supermutant Magic Academy - Image 3

I cannot talk about individual characters because there are so many of them, but needless to say that you might just fall in love with each of them and their little quirks. It is a mash-up of Hogwarts and Gossip Girl (I know some of you might be cringing but that’s what it is and it is a delightful read at that).

Supermutant Magic Academy - Image 4

Tamaki’s illustrations are almost perfect and invite you to a world like none other. Her characterization is sharp and full of detailing, page after page and that is what also will appeal to the serious reader in some of you. Tamaki has a knack to understand the psyche of her characters and to bring each nuance to life through her illustrations and story-telling capacity. There are just right enough doses of angst, hopelessness and so much hope at times that you will wonder where that came from in the book.

Supermutant Magic Academy - Image 5

“SuperMutant Magic Academy” will take you through vignettes of every single character and their kinks – from Trixie, a dinosaur girl to Everlasting Boy who is immortal, to Wendy who has cat ears and also you will meet Marsha, the grumpy friend who carries a secret torch for Wendy and many more, equally weird and strange. The thing though is that you will fall in love with each and every one of them and hope that the book doesn’t end. I could not stop thinking about them long after I had finished the book and I am almost certain that I will go back to it. This is also the kind of book that can be enjoyed by anyone – from teenagers to the middle-aged readers. I wish there is a sequel in line for this one.

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SuperMutant Magic Academy

Judge This by Chip Kidd

Judge This by Chip Kidd Title: Judge This
Author: Chip Kidd
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, TED Talks
ISBN: 9781471138928
Genre: Motivation, Inspiration, Design, TED Talks
Pages: 134
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

I have always loved and admired book covers designed by Chip Kidd. He is one designer who keeps things minimalist and yet does not make it vague for the reader. Vague in the sense that the reader can get a certain idea of the book by looking at the cover and that’s how we do it anyway, don’t we? We judge the book by the cover and sometimes it is the only thing to do when more information about the book is just not given or when the eye just lands on the cover the very first thing (but of course).

Judge This - Image 1

“Judge This” by Chip Kidd is about judging or about the way we judge. It is also about how we look at daily objects and what purpose or role they play in our lives. Kidd takes all relevant instances from his life as a book cover designer (what a cool, cool job to have) and analyzes the way we see objects.

Judge This - Image 2

(This image for the cover of Oliver Sack’s book for instance came from a regular eye-testing chart)

Kidd creates a continuum, a horizontal line that goes from clarity to mystery, rating various elements of daily life according to how much effort it takes to understand them. He measures images in the book from extreme clarity to mysteriousness and how that is detrimental in so many ways.

Judge This - Image 3

There are images on almost every page, accompanied by a narrative of how Kidd sees it and how he used it later for his books. This is also a part of the TED Series and I am sure that the TED video would be just as great. Kidd’s writing is simple, direct and clear. That is the major reason why the book works on so many levels.

“Judge This” will make you look at design, logo and brand imagery more carefully. It will also make you look at book covers in a unique manner. A read that I would for sure highly recommend.

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Here is the video of the TED Talk:

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill, Penguin
ISBN: 978-1595148032
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Teens
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am not a fan of fantasy fiction for young adults. I honestly try and avoid that genre and with good reason. I have never been enticed and intrigued by it as I read and read some more. I finally decided to not pursue that genre, till “An Ember in the Ashes” piqued my interest and something told me that I must read it and boy oh boy did I love it.

“An Ember in the Ashes” is a stunning debut. It has everything that you would expect from a first-timer or just may not. Sabaa Tahir’s writing is sharp, precise and there are more than enough cliff-hanging moments to keep the reader hooked.

What is the book all about?

It is about two individuals who want to chart their own courses of life and not be stuck with the ones panned out for them. The book is set in a totalitarian society inspired by ancient Rome, where the Empire’s word is the last word. It is the only word. When there is totalitarianism there is also a revolution. This book is a fantastic addition to the world of YA fantasy fiction. It is the kind of book which can be enjoyed by adults as well without it being felt that they are reading a book written for teenagers.

There are war-like rulers and then there are the Scholars, who are forced into slavery and poverty. Their libraries are destroyed. They aren’t allowed to read. Nothing is what it was. The Martials took over the Scholars Empire five hundred years ago and things have not changed since. There is a warrior school known as Blackcliff which is run by the current Empire. They train the Martial children to become Masks, elite assassins. I know it sounds kind of complex till now but it isn’t.

There are of course two teenagers at the heart of this story. One from the Scholar’s side and one from the Martial’s side. Laia, a young Scholar lives in the city. One night she witnesses her brother Darin being arrested by the Mask and decides to set him free. However, for this she needs the help of the Resistance, the rebellion formed against the Empire. Laia must serve as a spy and endure if she has to set her brother free.

On the other hand there is Elias, who at the opening of the book is about to graduate to becoming a Mask. He doesn’t want to be a Mask. All he wants to do is run away and almost does the night before the graduation, till things take a different turn and he stays.

This is where the story begins. Laia enters the Empire and her interactions with Elias begin. It may seem to be a predictable tale but it is so not. You must read it to believe what is different and how. It is also not like The Hunger Games or any other dystopian YA novel.

I would most certainly recommend this book to one and all. The supporting characters are so carefully etched and play a major role in the book. Elias and Laia make you want to turn the pages as fast as possible. The writing is playful and extremely careful, making you believe in this world like none other. The detailing is perfect. I bet you will not stop while reading this one. Go for it!

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I Like Cats by Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and Various Artists

I Like Cats by Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and Various Artists Title: I Like Cats
Author: Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and Various Artists
Publisher: Tara Books
ISBN: 978-8190675611
Genre: Children’s Book, Picture Book
Pages: 48
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never an animal lover till I fell in love with dogs. Till about 2009, I did not even like cats and then I fell in love with them and things weren’t the same since then. I began to take a great fondness to them and to fall in love with them was as easy as learning the alphabet.

Bad Cats

It is therefore no wonder that I picked up this beautifully designed and made by Tara Books aptly titled “I Like Cats” by Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and other various tribal artists. The cat drawings are superbly done. The illustrations and the texture of the hand-made paper is something else when it comes in contact with your eyes and touch.

Greedy Cats

What I admire the most about Tara Books is that they are always driven for a cause and that is what makes them this unique. Even though they are expensive, you’d still want to own them because of how they look and feel.

Hurried Cats

The cats and their representation in this book are simply adorable. There are times when the feline form is most abstract, but then too it is quite recognizable. I would say that this book is a treat for both adults and children and with the limited edition printing, it is only found in physical stores.