Retelling Mahabharata or even its part requires a great story teller. It is a greater epic than any ever written in Human history. Therefore when Rajesh M. Iyer took a bold step into writing about the year in hiding, of the exile phase of Pandavas, post the game of dice I was intrigued about the whole process he went through for very little is written about this. I wanted to know the person and his thoughts behind selecting a challenging yet interesting chapter and successfully completing it. Here is the conversation that took place.
A: It’s a pretty long one. Started twenty five years ago when I was in college and stood at a crossroad. When everyone was choosing to take up management roles, I decided I needed to write and tell stories.
2. What does writing mean to you?
A: Different meanings at different times. From escapism during distress (yes, most writers might not concede but it’s a fact) to catharsis while on a spiritual journey, writing dons many hats: friend, philosopher and guide. In short, it is life in itself. In one of the forthcoming books I’ve posed this Zen-like kuan: do stories imitate life or is it the other way round?
3. Why did you choose to write about a very challenging Mahabharata story?
A: Fascination for what is undoubtedly ‘the greatest story ever told’. I have been researching the Mahabharata and reading many retelling for many years. When I joined Amar Chitra Katha as Creative Head, the thirst to knowintensified. Secondly, every time you read the Mahabharata, you find something new. That fascinated me more. Wondered if I can find something hidden which others hadn’t. That’s when I stumbled upon the story of Pandavs’ exile and it got me thinking.
4. How much of the story is fact and how much fiction did you add to it?
A: The backdrop is real; taken from the original narrative by Veda Vyasa. Most of the characters are real. The back stories are real; either taken from the source or from regional retelling. Some new characters have been added to fictionalize the spy thriller part.
5. What is the research you undertook for this book?
A: Read multiple retelling as also scholarly interpretations of the original by Veda Vyasa. Since I read them more out of love than as part of a research process, the many years just dissolved. Technically speaking, it’s many years of research, but frankly it doesn’t matter.
6. What was the most challenging part of writing?
A: Maintaining the sanctity of the set-up and the characters. That’s a huge challenge since I consider it to be the greatest story ever told. So, when you are overawed by something as great as The Mahabharata, you tread carefully, full of trepidation at every step.
7. Have you ever experienced a writer’s block?
A: Happens many times. But, if you’ve been in the media for two decades, you learn to overcome them, because writer’s block is an indulgence no company can afford. So you learn from it.Youeventually adapt when it comes to your personal writing.
8. Are you a methodical or a moody writer?
A: A mix of both, though I must concede a certain amount of discipline is important to churn out anything of importance.
A: The core of both is the book you love. But, the second role is more than just a publisher since Kriscendo Media LLP, which published this book, is a storytelling hub, wherein we take a story and using it as a hub, create multiple spokes like novel, TV series, film, web series, game, etc. It’s mind-numbing at times with multiple negotiations, but then at the end of it all, all the exhaustion is worth it. While on the subject, readers might soon see a TV or web series based on the book.
10. Your favourite writers?
A: Harper Lee and R K Narayanan for being so profound despite simple language.Gabriel Garcia Marquez for sucking you into a new world, despite his complex storytelling.Saadat Hasan Manto for his stark portrayals.Shivaji Sawant for his deep insight into characters.
11. Your favourite books?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Mrityunjay (Shivaji Sawant), Tintin comics, Amar Chitra Katha comics.
12. Your favourite lines from a book of all times?
A: The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Stopping by Woods on a Lonely Evening byRobert Frost)
Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
13. How do you describe yourself as a person?
A: Affable yet moody, friendly yet a loner.In short, I am a bundle of paradox.
14. Your hobbies include?
A: Reading books (all kinds) and listening to music (eclectic taste ranging from rock to Hindustani classical).
15. Your idea of leisure is?
16. What do you do when you are sad?
A: Write. Great antidote.
18. One thing you would like to change about yourself.
A: Habit of procrastination. Though must accept that I have made some progress over the years.
19. Wise advice for budding writers…
A: Keep writing. Keep dreaming. It might be a long winding road (mine definitely is one) yet it leads to what you aspire.
20. A few words for The Readers Cosmos
A: A wonderful platform for both writers and readers.It’s great to connect them. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your time Rajesh and wish you good luck.