Project Epic

Willow has her muzzle stuck out of the window. The afternoon wind is balmy and she is restless for her daily quota of fresh air.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Published: December 29, 2010 11:24 pm

The author sets the stage for a Kamsa-Krishna showdown with the first part of his Slayer of Kamsa

Willow has her muzzle stuck out of the window. The afternoon wind is balmy and she is restless for her daily quota of fresh air. Ashok K Banker — who introduces himself as “care-giver to Willow” on his website — happily complies by taking her out on a walk. After all,even though the author refrains from stepping out frequently,he does enjoy these outings with Willow.

The nip in the Mumbai air notwithstanding,Banker is in the mood to relax. His latest Krishna Coriolis — the first part of his new series Slayer of Kamsa — has just hit the book stands. The book marks the progress of Banker’s ambitious project. In the mid-1990s,he nursed the ambition of creating “an epic India library”. This library,the author envisioned,would retell all the Indian mythological and historical tales. “I decided to go about it chronologically. So I started with the Ramayana,which was written before the Mahabharata,” recalls the author of the 10-part Ramayana series.

True to his personal tradition,Banker has already written the whole Slayer of Kamsa series by now. “I always complete a series before submitting it to a publisher,” he says. Right now,HarperCollins has the first four parts. The publishing house will release the second and third parts of this series in 2011. According to Banker,the series is part of his larger ‘Mba’ (Mahabharata) retelling. A year later,his retelling of the Mahabharat will be published in a separate10-part series by Penguin. The line-up of his works emphasises his belief that there remains a market for mythology in the Indian publishing market. A striking example of this is the sales figure of the Ramayana series,which keeps growing annually. Interestingly,more than 70 per cent of the buyers happen to be Indians.

“The epic tales of India rivals any Western fantasy. They are written in the richest and most exuberant style possible,” the author says,adding that while Indian mythology might be fantastical,it’s not fantasy. He singles out Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa’s version of Mahabharata for its richness in detail and description. “The writing is very rich — almost operatic,” he says. However,not all Indian scriptures or epics adopt that kind of tone. “Valmiki’s Ramayana is very concise and dry,apart from being devotional.” It posed several challenges to the author while he was retelling it. “I had to adopt a very non-traditional approach with the Ramayana,” says the author,who not only dramatised it but also steered the attention towards Lord Ram’s abs. Similar contemporary touches has probably made the author’s retellings so popular.

Though Indian mythology offers rich content for retellings,it also imposes certain limitations. “There are certain limits to what I can say. I don’t invent the world or characters mentioned in the epics. I may dramatise the action of a rakshasa,but I’m not creating the concept of rakshasa,” he says.

Though his retellings are more widely read,the 46-year-old author loves to dabble in thrillers. One of his upcoming books is The Blood-Red Sari. He calls it “a feminist thriller,for want of a better expression”. The book is the first offering of his Kali quartet for which he is yet to strike a deal with any publisher. Elaborating on the inspiration for the book,he says,“My grandmother and mother have been strong influences in my life. I always wanted to tell a story from their point of view.” The quartet will also bring him out of the world of yore,in which he has been dwelling for some years now.

In case he needs any more reasons to come back to the real world,there is always Willow. We come across one of Willow’s admirers,Veer. He tries hard to draw Willow’s attention — barking loudly and snuggling. Acting coquettish,she rushes ahead,with her “care-giver” promptly following her.

Treasured tomes
* The Glassblower’s Breath by Sunetra Gupta
* Listening Now by Anjana Appachana
* Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates
* That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande
* Speedboat by Renata Adler

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