02 June, 2017

#Interview with Rahul Mitra, #Author of The Boy From Pataliputra

About the Author:

Rahul Mitra grew up in Delhi and is currently working as an IT Marketing Professional with a multinational
company in Mumbai. Passionately interested in all things Indian, Rahul is vociferous in his opinions about India,
its people, and its culture. Like many others before him, he believes he can change the world and influence
people though his writing.

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An Interview:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer / a storyteller?
After having failed at everything else, I guess 😊. 

Well, honestly I have always been a voracious reader, so I guess the fantasy or the idea was always there at the back of my mind somewhere. However, it only became a concrete goal much later in life. I think the process actually started in 2009 December just after I joined IBM. I had taken up a new job and for the first couple of months I literally had nothing to do. It was during that time that somehow the first short story simply came to me and since I had a lot of time on my hands I started writing it down. This same story ‘The most honest man in Vasantgaon’ was later published by the Hindu BusinessLine.'

So I guess that was where it first started.

What inspires you to write?
A sense of dissatisfaction with everything else, very strong opinions on a variety of topics and the desire to communicate those ideas and opinions with others.

Tell us about ‘The boy from Pataliputra’, its conceptualization. How did you come up with the idea?
Basically, I got the idea for writing this novel from the India against corruption/Nirbhaya rape case/Jan Lokpal protests that took place in 2011. At that time, I was actively searching for ideas that I could turn into a novel and I remembered these protests and especially an incident in which DU students had been beaten or lathicharged, which had affected me quite a bit. 

During that time, things were looking quite bleak and it felt like the country was just going downhill. So I thought of finding a parallel from Indian history where things might have looked equally bad for our country but we bounced back soon and reached greater heights. And I found this parallel in Alexander’s invasion of India- another period where it might have seemed that all of India would soon fall into the invaders lap. Yet, fifteen to twenty years later we had the emergence of the first all-India empire and the Greeks were kicked out.

So I wrote this story of despair and renewal essentially to give myself and my readers some hope. And thinking of the way students were beaten I somehow got an image of students in Takshashila revolting which is said to have happened when Alexander invaded India. Everything took off from there basically. That’s when I decided that this is what I would write about and the rest of the details slowly fell into place. 

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
I don’t know. I think one of my favourite scenes is the horse races as I really like the way it is written. Another favourite scene would be the climax of the story which depicts ‘The Battle of the Hydaspes’ which is actually one of the most celebrated battles of the ancient world and reputedly, the hardest battle in Alexander’s entire campaign.

Apart from this, if you were to ask me the parts I really enjoyed writing, I will say without a doubt it was the parts which involved some of my favourite characters such as Tanku, Philotas and Charaka. All three of those are funny characters and I thoroughly enjoyed most of the scenes with them, particularly for Tanku the eccentric dhabawaala.

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
Oh yes, definitely. You know one of my pet theories is that when you read any book, you are actually in a very real sense reading the author. Literally, his or her worldview, experiences, people they have seen and lessons they have learnt- all of these things find their way into the book through some magic.

So Tanku is based on a real dhabawaala from Delhi and Charaka’s physical description is taken from a very shy, polite and nervous guy who used to come to a gym I used to go to in Bangalore, the twins Buddhaditya and Bodhisatwa are based on twins who actually used to be my friends back in school. And yes, my quirks are also there in some form through Ajeet’s love for wrestling/exercise, Philotas’ love for food and Rishabha’s ‘jump now, think later’ attitude.

What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it was to be turned into a movie.
Look, for a couple of my favourite characters, I can only see specific actors playing those roles. The others I am not sure at all, but for the following characters I’d love to see the actors I have mentioned:
Tanku: Nawazuddin Siddique or Raghubir Yadav 
Pandi: Randeep Hooda or Irfan Khan 
Radha: Kangana Ranawat

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Yes, there are a number of short stories in stock. Basically, it was only after I realized short stories were very hard to get published that I thought of writing a complete novel.

Tell us about your writing process.
Look there is no shortcut or secret process to writing. To write you must write- as simple and as idiotic as that!

So for me the process is simple- it’s just a matter of time and space. I need to put in a certain number of hours every day and I need a good space ie: a table and a chair to do it. When I write, the main thing is I need to completely shut off from the world, so no TV (I anyway don’t have a TV), no Internet, nothing. Usually, even in an empty house, I will lock the outside door and then lock the door to the study, that’s how much I need to shut myself off and then write. And I at least spend two to three hours at one sitting. 

That’s it- sit at your desk, don’t allow yourself to get distracted and keep banging your head against the table till you fill up that page. That’s it, there’s no other secret formula.

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
As I said, I think it’s odd that even in a completely empty house, I need to shut the door to my study.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
My favourite authors are: Ernest Hemingway, Saadat Hassan Manto, Satyajit Ray, Pula Deshpande, Ismat Chughtai, Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, George Orwell, GRR Martin, Salman Rushdie, Bishuti Bhushan Bandopadhyay, Ryszard Kapuscinski, William Saroyan, Alexandre Dumas, John Irving, Roald Dahl, bonophool, Ruskin Bond and many more. I say many more as I am sure, I must have forgotten a few names.

I am not sure how they have influenced me but I am sure you can see some reflection of their writing style or favourite themes in my books. A number of my friends told me that a few of my short stories were like Manto’s while others said my writing style reminded them of Ruskin Bond so not sure. However, one thing is for sure- my style of writing is like the classics- slower, more descriptive and dealing with deeper issues than some of the thrillers popular today.

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
I think the most sensible piece of writing advice I have received is actually a quote a I read somewhere. Unfortunately, I can’t find that quote again but it went something like this- ‘Writing is a job like any other, like making shoes’. 

I think it was said by some German author or philosopher but I think the quote is brilliant. Yes, writing is like making shoes or cleaning toilets- it’s a job and a hard job so don’t glamourize it. Don’t imagine that you will be lying in a field of lilies and inspiration will come floating down to you and you will rush off to write it down in a frenzy of activity, Nothing like that, it’s hard work and its craft and all it requires is for you to sit in front of a laptop and keep trying over and over and over again till you write something that is worth it.

Moreover, unlike the artists Ranbir Kapoor plays in his movies, don’t think you need a quiet hill-station or a sunlit Greek island with lovely views, long walks, a wonderfully well-stocked library etc. to write. No, if you want to write you will write in the midst of living in a polluted Indian city, while worrying about how to pay your bills or juggling your day job, fighting with your significant other, arguing with your bai or running about over some mundane paperwork. Basically, what I am trying to say is that it’s work, just as mundane and unglamorous as any other work and if you really want to write you will find yourself a table and chair, sit down and write. 

If on the other hand, you just want to roam about with a book in your hand and sit in trendy cafes and exclaim how much you Loooove Haruki Murakami or how much the movie La La Land just spoke to your soul, then forget it, don’t kid yourself, you don’t want to write you just want the image.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Write, don’t talk.

And secondly, don’t be a perfectionist. Get the first draft out; begin putting words on paper even if they sound horrible. Don’t worry, I’ll bet even Hemingway’s first drafts were utter crap. Get it out and just trust yourself to go back to it later and edit and re-write the stuff till it shines. Basically, writing is the process of turning shit into gold.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
Haha, like Ajeet I find that going to the gym regularly keeps me in a good mood and it kind of underpins my entire day.

The other favourite place is of course, my bed with a book in hand. 

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
Don’t know really but I’d like to make a lot of money and reach a lot of readers with my writing. I basically want to be able to influence people with my opinions about India, our politics and society etc.  

What do you have in store next for your readers?
The Boy from Pataliputra is just the first book in a trilogy so there are two more books coming up.

About the Book:
The year is 330 BC.
And the world as it was has fragmented further.
There is no sole superpower who can stand between Alexander
and his dream of conquering the entire known world.
Or is there…?

Aditya Vikram is your regular fun-loving, naughty, irrepressible young boy who just happens to be born
into the aristocracy of Magadha, the strongest Janapada in all of Bharat. With an indulgent elder brother,
Ajeet, young Aditya has never had to worry about a single thing . . . until that fateful moment which takes
him away from all this and thrusts him deep into the heart of dissent and revolt.
Homeless and without friends, Aditya is smuggled into a merchant caravan and unknowingly sets off on
a hair-raising journey which brings him face to face with Alexander the great.

Will the young boy from Pataliputra be able to hold his own?

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