Ashok K. Banker needs no introduction. He is an acclaimed author of mixed race and mixedcultural background. His writing spans crime thrillers, essays, literary criticism, fiction and mythological retellings. Epic India Library is his brain child and through this, he plans to retell all the major myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian subcontinent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. The Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis, the Mahabharata series, the contemporary Kali Rising thriller series and some other works are part of this library. In the social media-savvy world, he prefers devoting all his time working on his books or with his family.
An author par excellence, here is a peek into his personality through this interview.
What/who inspired you to write?
I began reading at a very young age and by the age of 9, I knew that I wanted to be an author. The rest of my life was spent studying, researching and preparing myself for the task.
What is the Epic India Library that you have begun?
The bookshelves of the world are filled with countless retellings, editions, popular as well as scholarly works on the mythology, culture, history and folklore of other nations and continents. Yet the great epics of the subcontinent, which are undoubtedly among the greatest stories in world literature, are almost completely absent from those bookshelves. By the time I was in my 30s, I had read literally thousands of books without ever finding any good retellings of our epics that appealed to me. What began as a writing experiment turned into the Epic India Library.
In the times when an individual's popularity is gauged by the followers on social media sites, why and how did you decide to stay away from the same?
Iím not interested in being a celebrity or being talked-about or in promoting myself as a "brand". I love to write and love my family and whatever numbers my books sell are entirely due to readers wanting to read them and taking the time and effort to find them.
How do you strike a balance between the various themes that you write on ó mythology, crime thrillers, essays and other forms of writing?
I donít strike a balance. Thatís the beauty of it. I serve the storyís needs. Ashok Banker is irrelevant. My point of view is irrelevant. I am merely a tool of the story. I serve its needs, adapting my style, my idiom, my vocabulary, my syntax, even the structure of language to suit that particular kind of story and content. Thatís why a novel like Vertigo is completely different from the Ramayana Series, which in turn is different from my Mahabharata Series, or Gods of War, or Blood Red Sari, and so on. I am only the means by which these stories come to the page.
What inspires you the most in mythology?
Itís not about me. I donít seek anything except to serve the story and all the joy and pleasure I feel is in achieving that to some small extent.
In your retelling of the epics, the mythological heroes are depicted as ordinary humans doing extraordinary actions. Was it difficult to think beyond the aura that gets ingrained in our minds related to these heroes?
I have the advantage of not being Hindu, not being religious, not having these ideas or perceptions ingrained in my mind from childhood. I read the epics and adapt them as they demand. I have no preconceptions or agenda in mind. Therefore I also donít have the hang-ups and issues that most Hindus have about their own gods and epics. To me, they are just great epics.
Why do you think more and more authors are going back to mythology to derive stories from?
The tradition of Brahmins retelling mythological tales is a part of Hindu India. These retellings are all very well but I hope they lead to more modern and open-minded books.
What all research do you do before starting to pen down your stories?
I donít believe in researching a specific book for a few months. I believe in devoting oneís entire life to studying that body of literature, mythology, itihasa, history. The process of research is lifelong and continuous. Retelling mythology requires a lifestyle change and a completely new way of thinking and living.
Thank you for your questions.
Thank you for reading.