The queue that began at the mouth of gate number 1 of the Siri Fort auditorium snaked its way into shadows cast by the cluster of trees in the Asian Games Village complex. At the tail end, men and women, young and old, slowly inched their way towards the light. The scene — Dan Brown (pictured) would be pleased to know — was almost biblical. If he’d written about the over 1,000 people who attended the Penguin Annual Lecture 2014 , the bestselling author of The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and Inferno, would surely have italicised his description.
Brown, 50, first visited India as a 19-year-old but this long-due return has overwhelmed him. “I feel like I’ve come home,” he says, to a packed house. Although he does not speak in public often, Brown has chosen a format that is every bit dramatic as his novels. After a PowerPoint presentation presented bio notes and other trivia about him, the American author walks onstage, acknowledges the standing ovation and talks about his first book. “I was five years old, I dictated it to my mother who wrote it down, bound it with yarn and we had a print run of one copy. It was called ‘The Giraffe, The Pig and the Pants’ on Fire. It was a thriller, obviously,” he says, at which the audience bursts into laugher. Brown goes on to talk about the ways in which his childhood influenced his body of work.
Born to a religious mother who ran the church choir and a maths teacher and textbook writer, Brown says that he grew up watching religion and science live in the same house, attend the same church and share the same garage — he brought out his parents’ licence plates along to prove it: his mother’s spelt out “Kyrie”, Greek for Lord and his father’s said “Metric”. “At 13, I realised that both science and scripture posed plenty of contradictions. I wondered, which story is true,” he says. He soon began to understand science and religion as “two languages trying to tell the same story: science focuses on the answers while religion savours the questions.”
Even though Brown has written and published only six novels so far, he has sold over 200 million copies in 52 languages around the world. “My first three books didn’t do so well. I remember, when I finished writing Angels and Demons, I thought to myself, I like this book, I would like to read this book. But it didn’t sell as much. Later, when The Da Vinci Code became successful, people began reading my older books,” he says. The Da Vinci Code (2003) is Brown’s most popular as well as his most controversial book till date. “I was shocked at the backlash after it was published. But it has sparked a dialogue and that is my duty as an author. A priest came up to me in Boston and said, ‘I didn’t like your book one bit. But when we said we’d discuss it at the Bible Study class, 400 people showed up’,” says Brown. The novel also set the Hollywood ball rolling, it was the first of his books to be adapted for the big screen and a screenplay for The Lost Symbol is in progress.
Brown is not quite sure if Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor of Symbology in his books, will visit India on a quest. “I need to know much more about the country and the customs and traditions here before I can presume to write about it,” he says.
Brown will speak in Mumbai on November 12 at the National Centre of Performing Arts