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Of myths and legends

Of myths and legends
Writing mythology is not easy and it is something that requires heavy understanding of the subject. What kind of research went into making this series?
It is absolutely correct that mythology is not something that you can figure out overnight; the understanding of it requires a sustained immersion in the stories and their social, psychological, philosophical and even historical relevance and resonances. Luckily for me, I grew up with a father who was not only an avid reader and a wonderful story-teller, but whose brilliant mind could grasp and analyse nuances, logics and analogies underlying mythological tales and make them real and relevant to me. This early appreciation of what goes into the making of a mythology – be it Indian, Greek, Mayan or Egyptian – led me later in life to explore the related, and absolutely fascinating, genre of speculative fiction. The hundreds of science fiction and fantasy books and stories I’ve devoured over the years, when combined with all the mythological tales I imbibed through my childhood and adolescence, added up to a lot of unplanned, long-term research! Of course, since the Kaal Trilogy is not based on any existing legend or myth, we – my husband Yuresh Sinha who has co-conceptualised Vikraal with me, and I – worked hard to put together, instead, some amazing concepts from Indian mystical traditions, including revelations by some great spiritual masters, secret practices from Tantric Buddhism and ideas taken from the Bhagwat Puranas and the Bhagwad Gita. These are what form the bedrock of the trilogy. Rather than lecturing to the reader from the pulpit, I have woven them into the story itself to transform it into a stunning new mythological epic which, like The Lord of the Rings, sets its own geographical, socio-cultural and spiritual parameters.

How much time did you take to complete it?
The first book of the trilogy took me almost six years, on and off, to write. This was partly because I had to build the world of Kaal from scratch and invent everything – from the characters to the geography, history, politics, socio-economic equations, religious beliefs et al – as I went along. Besides, the addition of Indian mysticism and the resultant 'magic' – if that's what you choose to call these manifestations of the realised human will – required additional reading and creative innovations. Also, as a working mother, I literally wrote most of Jaal in packets of 15-30 minutes when I could grab a breather! Vikraal, though, has been written over two years, since the world of Kaal was already in place.

In this series, how has Arihant, the main protagonist evolved?
The reader first met Arihant in Jaal as a 15-year old with tremendous promise garbed in adolescent uncertainty. The nascent abilities gifted to him by the cosmos – such as fabulous instincts and reflexes and the ability to transform anything, including the streams of time itself, into a weapon he can use– set him apart from everyone else, delineating him as the Devnaampriya, Beloved of the Gods, created as a Divine Weapon aimed at Aushij, the deluded Lord of Maya. By the end of Jaal, Arihant is 18 and, having undergone the metamorphosis of the Kayakalpa, which includes the acquisition of the eight primary Siddhis – which I call the adbhavas – has evolved into an amazing golden warrior who looks like a young God and fights like one, but who retains all the endearing human traits he was born with, inspiring tremendous love and loyalty. That’s how we see him when Vikraal opens – a super-hero who has apparently reached the peak of perfection, and is getting rather charmingly cocky about his incredible powers.

How was the experience of inhabiting the world you have created through your writing?
I have lived in the engrossing world of Kaal for a long time now, and it has been an exciting, absorbing experience – not to mention a challenging one. It’s a world that exists only in my own imagination – and, once it is put on paper, in the imagination of the reader. To remain real and interesting to me as well as to the reader, this imaginary world has to grow and change and evolve the way ours does, and yet must not lose its basic integrity. There has to be a method to the madness, so to say. I have truly enjoyed playing around with the dynamics, the power-equations, the different world-views and situations. In Vikraal, I have also explored the vision of the Dark God Aushij and the very convincing ‘justification’ he gives for why he chose the path that he did. The exercise was fascinating, to say the least.

Fantasy fiction is fast gaining credence in India? Do you agree?
Fantasy fiction has always had a fan-following in India, with its treasure-trove of mythology and folk-tales and its great oral traditions of story-telling and kissagoi. I have always regarded Devaki Nandan Khatri – the incredibly creative writer who gave us such breathtaking books as Chandrakanta, Chandrakanta Santati and Bhootnaath – as one of the greatest fantasy writers the world has ever produced. Even during the first six decades after Independence, when intellectuals and opinion-makers cast their votes almost exclusively in favour of so-called ‘socially relevant’ literature, Indian fantasy aficionados found food for their souls in the writings of such fantasy greats as David Eddings, Terry Pratchett and Naomi Novik. Now that the Indian readership is growing out of its socialistic mindset and becoming more willing to explore different genres and writing styles, fantasy fiction is beginning to win back its rightful place in the sun once again.

Have you already started working on your third one? When is it likely to get published?
The Pan MacMillan team anxiously asked me the same question a couple days ago! Yes I have, actually – the first 40 pages of Mahakaal are already done. I’m hoping to complete it over the next year or so. Realistically, it should be ready to go into print in 2017. 

Once the trilogy is done, what are you planning to work on? Will it too be on the lines of mythology?
I already have a lot of story ideas floating around in my head, ranging from a modern ghost-story based on an eerie family legend, to a couple of historical fantasies and a romance that spans several decades. There will be an element of fantasy involved in all of them, since I really enjoy allowing my imagination to roam free in that sense, but I’m not really thinking of another heroic fantasy – or created mythology, if you prefer to call it that – for the time being. Unless I decide to explore one of the major characters from Kaal – other than Arihant - and write a book centred around him or her. Or perhaps a prequel to the Trilogy, about the Cosmic War that set everything in motion.
Neha Jain Kale

Neha Jain Kale

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