Bookaholicanonymous is thrilled to bits to bring you this interview with Anuja Chandramouli, a bestselling Indian author and new age Indian classicist widely regarded as one of the finest writers in mythology, historical fiction and fantasy.
Had met Anuja when she had come to attend the Bhopal Literature Festival (BLF) in 2019. I remember this young and friendly author, don’t know if she does though.
About Anuja Chandramouli: An accomplished TEDx speaker and storyteller, Anuja Chandramouli, regularly conducts workshops on creative writing, mythology and empowerment in schools and colleges across the country. She is a trained classical dancer. This mother of two little girls lives in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu. Her articles, short stories and book reviews appear in various publications like The New Indian Express, The Hindu, Scroll.in and Femina.
Let’s begin from the beginning. Why have you chosen to retell the epics/classics/mythologies?
I tend not to analyse my actions in this space too much. For me, writing on mythology, history and fantasy is a romp that is both fun and fulfilling. And of course, retelling and reinterpreting beloved stories in keeping with relevant, contemporary themes is a great way to keep them alive and kicking. The way I see it, dipping into the past in the present is a great way to negotiate the uncertain terrain of the future.
Tell us about your research process for your characters? What are your sources?
I make it a point to do extensive research on all my characters so that there is a solid foundation upon which I can build their stories while providing a fresh perspective. Plus, I enjoy the research projects which entail poring over books, documents, listening to songs composed in honour of these characters, and taking detailed handwritten notes. It never ceases to amaze me, that there is so much to be discovered even in a subject that one is well - versed in. Hence, I never rush the research process and sometimes, I carry on with it even during the writing.
You have written 11 books so far, how do you choose your heroes/characters for your books? All of them are not the regular characters that writers choose to write on.
I simply write about characters I care deeply about. It is not like I devote a lot of time and effort towards zeroing in on a particular character. An idea may pop into my head suddenly and I toy with it a bit. Sometimes, the end result is a book. It is nice to write about unusual characters from history and mythology.
Your latest book is on Mohini. What fascinated you about her? What interesting unknown fact did you discover about her?
Mohini has been a part of my memories since childhood when I heard the famous tale of the Devas quest for the nectar of immortality and joint endeavour with the asuras to churn the ocean of milk. As everybody knows, Mohini plays a pivotal role and I have always been fascinated by this particular avatar of Vishnu's. It is really cool that Mohini is one of the most prominent transgender characters in Indian mythology. In light of the recent controversy surrounding the Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala, I got to thinking about her a lot as Shastha/Ayyappan was born from the union of Shiva and Mohini. I was tempted to begin research and devote an entire book to her and I guess I did just that.
Let’s get back to your first book – Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, it was a bestseller. Why Arjuna and why not Karna?
Arjuna is the love of my life. It’s that simple.
Kamadeva: The God of Desire is one of the lesser known gods in the Hindu pantheon but has an intriguing story attached to him. Tell us about him and Rati.
Kamadeva is the gentle God of Desire and I felt he deserved to have his story told. The common perception of him is that he could incite love and lust with his flower tipped arrows and was burned to ash when Shiva opened his third eye and incinerated him, but I figured there is so much more to him than what is known and I was right. There is a lot of depth to his character and his loving relationship with Rati that transcends limitations of the spirit, flesh and even reality is most touching. #couplegoals
In Shakti: The Divine Feminine you have written about the mother Goddess. What do these goddesses teach a modern Indian woman?
The feminine side of Shakti has been the predominant focal point of this book and it has a very contemporary resonance. I think women will be able to empathize with her power struggles in a male – dominated pantheon whereas the men will find they can get a fresh insight into the essence of femininity without feeling unduly judged since there is no male – bashing or bra – burning. The approach to gender is a balanced one, I think and challenges age – old constructs and stereotypes of the masculine and feminine.
You have written the book Kartikeya: The Destroyer's Son. Why do you think Kartikeya is so special? What was his relationship with Ganesha, his more popular sibling?
Kartikeya is beloved to a lot of us hailing from Tamil Nadu. We grew up listening to beautiful devotional songs composed in his honour that was so much more fun than regular Carnatic music which takes a little getting used to because they are so peppy, energetic and made you feel amazing. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I got down to writing his story. It has been a wonderful journey and I am sure my readers will love getting to know this mysterious yet charming God.
Kartikeya and Ganesha have a beautiful bond and I don't think either would care about winning a popularity contest.
Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen is one of your books based on a queen. She was famous for her beauty and for the jauhar that she committed. Do you think it was the right step? Tell us from her point of view.
Padmavati is a timeless tale of love and valour. I am glad I had the opportunity to narrate it in a manner that does not seek to glorify the sordid act of women being burned while men played at war with their egos and notion of honour needing constant gratification and appeasement. Jauhar and Sati were evil customs and I am glad we no longer follow them but at the same time, many brave women opted to commit these acts and I will not deride their personal choices. But many were forced into blazing pyres after being drugged and this I cannot condone.
Very few writers have written on Yama, you have written two. Yama’s Lieutenant and Yama’s Lieutenant and the Stone Witch, what can we expect in this?
I thought long and hard before deciding on books 4 and 5. A reader suggested I write a book on Yama and the idea intrigued me but I wanted to do something different and challenging. As a fan of the fantasy genre, I decided to set the plot against a fantastical backdrop and incorporate mythic elements as well as horror. The rest fell into place and Yama’s Lieutenant as well as the sequel happened.
Yama's lieutenant, Agni Prakash is entirely fictional and one of the most memorable characters I have managed to create.
One of our favourite stories from history is about Prithviraj Chauhan and Samyukta. What more can we expect from your book Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts and Prithviraj Chauhan in particular?
I have had a bit of a soft spot for Prithviraj Chauhan ever since I read his story in grade III. It has been an enormous pleasure to research and write this book based on his remarkable life and achievements. Modern Indians will be able to relive and relish this recaptured slice of history as well as experience the dazzling romance and chivalry of a bygone age.
In your book on the river goddess Ganga – why are you calling her ‘The Constant Goddess’?
I think Ganga is a constant in the life of every Indian and we all revere and love her to pieces including those who don't have a religious bent of mind. I cannot imagine a world without her in it. It was a pleasure and privilege to allow myself to be swept away on the currents of this quintessentially Indian adoration of her in order to tell her story.
So was Tughlaq a hero or a villain according to you in your book Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: Tale of a Tyrant?
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was both a hero and a villain. All of us like success stories. We are charmed by those who have larger than life, charismatic personalities who give the impression of success even if that may not necessarily be the case. On the other hand, we are harder on those who fail. With Tughlaq, I think it is unfortunate that the likes of Barani, Battuta and Isami dwelt so scathingly on his failures without bothering to even attempt a balanced perspective. In my opinion, Tughlaq was deserving of their ire with regard to his track record for savagery as well as his reckless eagerness to implement grandiose schemes without bothering with careful execution, but he also did much that was commendable, which deserves to be remembered.
Do you think writing about or on mythology has become commonplace now or you think you have your loyal niche readers?
I don't think too much about these things but the competition has heated up. Ultimately, I just want to tell the stories that have captured my fancy and do justice to the characters who are an integral part of my life. Grateful for all my loyal readers. They make it entirely worthwhile.
What can we expect from you next?
I have absolutely no clue but I do have a couple of vague ideas floating around in my head. It remains to be seen which one will materialise.
Thank you Anuja for taking out time for us…carry on doing what you do best…ie retelling our epics/mythologies/history and their fascinating characters for us! Looking forward to your next.
Latest Author's Interview