“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles William Elliot.
My love affair with books started when I was in class 3. I consider them to be truly best friends who teach me, inspire me, enthral me and never ever make me feel lonely.
I had introduced “The Avatari” and it’s author Raghu Srinivasan in this blog a few months ago. I had briefly interacted with Raghu, thanks to a common friend, Sandeep Malik. When I requested Raghu for an interview, I did so with a little reservation…not knowing how that conversation would go. Imagine my surprise when Raghu agreed and said he will run it through Hachette India, his publishers and once they approve, I could have it published on my blog.
All I can say is thank you Raghu and Hachette India for making my dream come true!
Great writers have always fascinated their readers. We want to know how they create the characters we love or hate, the imaginative settings, and the plots & story lines that have us reading late into the night, wanting to know what happens next.Talking to an author give us an insight into his mind, what motivated him, how does he sustain his writing while there are distractions galore, researching relevant topics and most of all, understanding him as an individual. Ladies & gentlemen, in the words of the man himself…read on!
In conversation with Raghu Srinivasan, author of The Avatari.
Q1. How did The Avatari happen in your life?At the cost of sounding extremely clichéd, who and what inspired Avatari? How did the combination of a British army officer, a Gurkha, a mathematician interested in history and an archaeologist happen?
Ans. ‘The Avatari’ owes its origins to a drink I had with an old timer huddled over a stove, in an arctic tent in the shadow of the Karakorum ranges. The old timer had been a mountaineer before he had had a bad fall and had tramped all over the Karakorums, spending much of his time with local porters and guides. It was from them that he who had picked up a story of a group of Germans who had formed an expedition to search for Shambhala, and were never heard of again.
Q2. This is your first book. What other kind of writing have you done earlier?
Ans. From as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a story teller. I started off early by the age of eight; telling my younger brother intricate, fantastic fairy tales which would never end, a la ‘The Arabian Nights’. In high school, I was the editor of the school rag, and as is wont in such cases, wrote almost all of the articles – some under a pseudonym. This ‘occasional’ writing continued in the form of short, humorous articles contributed to Army magazines and journals. I first tried my hand at writing a short story in 1992 when I was twenty seven; I remember it being very dark and cryptic. The few people who read it were kind enough to say that ‘it had had promise’ while in the same breath wondering aloud what it was all about. That was also a time when I read everything that ‘Papa’ Hemingway had written; and I later realized that your first attempt at writing should not imitate the minimalist ‘Men Without Women’. When I was thirty nine I was posted to the Indian Military Advisory Team for two years. Since it was a teaching assignment, I had time to indulge myself in reading everything their library had to offer and dabble in writing again. I wrote three short stories, which received much acclaim from my wife and mother. My aim was to write at least fifteen, so that I could publish a book of my short stories. I began ‘The Avatari’ as my fourth short story in 2005; it was a story which was metamorphose into a rather long novel, evolve from a spiritual journey to an action-adventure theme and occupy my thoughts for the next eight years.
Q3. What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Ans. I am a voracious reader and like just about every genre; but stick to reading stories written in the ‘classical mode’ – so something by let’s say James Joyce or Arundhati Roy is not on my list. Frederick Forsyth, Hemingway, Mitchener, Maugham and Wodehouse would be the authors I like best. My all-time favourite book is ‘ A Farewell to Arms’.
Q4. I have read the book and reviews online. The common thread is that your writing style is racy enough to keep the readers enthralled and the book has enough substance to keep us all engaged. How did you manage this balance?
Ans. I think I received a lot of help on this score from my wife, Sumita and my editor from Hachette, Poulomi Chatterjee, who did some great editting. Left to my own devices I should have probably rambled on and ‘The Avatari’ would have gone on for another hundred pages. I tried to make action sequences and descriptive sequencesas ‘believable’ as possible. I am glad it worked out!
Q5. Please share with us how much of research you had to do to weave in the details of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo and South & East Asian history.
Ans. As I said before, I am an avid reader, and the one thing I promised myself while writing ‘The Avatari’ was that I should attempt to make no factual errors. I remember reading ‘San Andreas’ by Alistair Maclean’; where one of the characters is a Pakistani, but the story is set during World War II – when there could have been no Pakistanis. So starting with reading the ‘BardoThodol’ (The Tibetan Book of the Dead) and everything that has ever been written about the Shambhala myth, to events as they chronologically happened in history in 1296, 1956, 1963 and 1986 has been researched. I had to do a fair bit of reading on Kublai Khan and Marco Polo as also the Afghan War. These included Kublai Khan’s biography and ‘The Bear Trap’ by Brig Mohd Yusuf, probably the best book written on the Afghan war. Likewise I needed to read up on travelogues of people who had visited the enchanting places which Henry Ashton and his team visit in the book.
Q6. Ashton, Susan, Peter & Duggy are all larger than life characters in the book. As a reader I’m curious to know if you want to continue using the same protagonists in your next book also…like a Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy novels or the famous Jason Bourne in Robert Ludlum novels.
Q7. I’m sure all your fans out there want to know when the next book is being published. I’m definitely waiting eagerly
Ans. It’s too early to say. I am presently working on a book set in China. I am a slow writer – but I hope I can write something faster than ‘The Avatari’ which took seven years!
Q8. Would you experiment with other genre of writing, besides thrillers?
Ans. Yes, I would love to be able to write something like ‘Love Story’.
Q9. A novel such as The Avatari can be made into a great movie. Has anyone approached you for scripting or even offers of making a movie?
Ans. You’re right – I think the book has a definite cinematographic appeal! The problem is, that given the exotic locales and the swathes of history the novel covers- It would have to be a very big budget! Keeping my fingers crossed!