10 August, 2020

#Interview with Surendra Nath, #Author of Kavach of Surya - @Surendra_Kloud9 #HistoricalFiction

About the Author:
Surendra Nath is a 62-year old retired naval officer, who was struck by the desire to write from his schooldays but could only realise the dream at the age of 54. In school, his primary aim was to join the defence forces. While in uniform, the demands of the service were of a different kind, and he could not pursue his passion of writing much, though he kept up his pastime of reading, a habit that would reflect on his writing skills later. While at sea, the crew were starved of news about the world ashore. Surendra Nath compiled a daily news bulletin (noted down from the radio) titled Ranvijay Flash, which in addition to the news carried articles of humour, interviews and other titbits. The crew looked forward to the paper eagerly every morning. Those were long before the days of the cell phone.

He retired from the Indian Navy in 2000 and took up a job in an international school in Dubai. There, Surendra Nath realised writing was his second calling and wrote many short stories and articles that were published in a few magazines. After a seven-year stint in Dubai, when he returned to India, he was already fifty. He joined KIIT International School as its Administrative Officer. It was here, he took to serious writing, quite late in life.

He has written two books - Karna’s Alter Ego and its sequel, Kavach of Surya. Going by the titles, they might appear mythological in genre, but they are not precisely so. They are stories set in the present-day with parallels drawn from the Mahabharata. Karna of Mahabharata somehow turns up in the 21st century to play an essential character in these novels.

In 2012, he pioneered and organised a National Level Children’s Literary Festival in KIIT, Bhubaneswar with the participation of school students from across the country. The festival continues to be popular and is into its eighth year now. In these literary festivals, he came in close association with renowned authors like Mr Ruskin Bond, Mr Manoj Das and Mr Chandrahas Choudhury, all of whom were great inspirations for him.

In early 2016, he chanced upon a social media post, that had gone viral, about a person clad in dhoti and vest, barefoot, receiving the Padma Shri award from the President of India. He got curious about this man and started following his works. Surendra understood that language was a barrier between Haldhar Nag’s rich literature and the rest of the world. He decided to translate HN’s poetry into English so that a wider audience may get to read it.

Thus, was born Kavyanjali Vol. 1 in October 2016. Most of HN’s works are lying with the poet unpublished. Surendra is working on a self-conceived project called Project Kavyanjali with the aim of translating all the works of Padma Shri Haldhar Nag into English and publishing them. So far, he has published three volumes of Kavyanjali, and the fourth volume is quite nearly ready to go to press.

Surendra Nath on the Web:
Blog * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * LinkedIn * Project Kavyanjali

An Interview with Surendra Nath

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?

If I look back, I can recall my schooldays when I took to scribbling short stories and poems because I felt good about it. I didn’t know it then, but now I can tell that I always had a creative urge in me. I haven’t retained any of those handwritten sheets; they may not have been of any standard, but I still remember many of those stories. I would show them to friends who I thought would appreciate my writings. And if someone disliked a story, I would be put off. He was no longer my friend.
My best piece, which I thought was a masterpiece, was a scathing satire on one of my classmates with whom I’d had a terrible argument. I showed it to my best friend and awaited his pat on my back. He read it and said something like, “Friend, this is simply wonderful. But are you going to fall out with your friend forever? Go, tear this into pieces and throw it in the dustbin.” 

What inspires you to write?

Incidents, circumstances and situations that I have experienced always prompted me to pen down stories. The occurrence worked only as a trigger to get me going. A fiction seldom follows true events to the end. I often steer my story on a path that should conclude on a high note.
Actual occurrences hardly ever make a fictional tale. For instance, one might observe a man swindled of all his money in a game of gambling. It happens all too often, and the unfortunate victim reconciles with regret. My story would move on: the man learns all the tricks of the trade, gets into a similar gambling situation again, is sure of making a killing this time, but then overcomes his sense of greed and reprisal, and withdraws from the game at the last minute.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?

Now, this novel, Kavach of Surya is the sequel to my earlier book, Karna’s Alter Ego. These are not strictly mythological stories, if we go by the definition of mythology. Both the novels are set in the present time, but situations faced by the protagonist are similar to those that Karna had suffered in the Mahabharata. Incidents parallel to those in the epic repeat in the life of Vasu, my protagonist. Even Karna turns up from the past to guide him through the pitfalls, but my hero, despite all his talents, is beset with debacles one after another.
Coming to the question, how did I come up with this idea. I have answered it partially in my reply to a previous question. I have drawn most of the sub-plots from my life, from the downsides I have faced. So, you could say, Vasu is a reflection of me. Now, please don’t ask me which parts of the novel are my personal experiences. I have camouflaged those parts by adding a mythological twist to every situation. The second novel is wholly fictional, where Vasu is on a hunt for an all-powerful object, Karna’s kavach-kundal, and mythological characters pop up to either assist or detract him.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?

This is interesting. If you mean, are there half-written stories or just plots and ideas lying forgotten, I must confess, there are more than I can keep track of. I do get the creative spark often and type in a plot and sometimes even start filling out pages. Then, somewhere along the line, I keep it for another day, and there it stays.
Indeed, I have completed two other novellas but lost the zeal to publish them because, overall, the stories stopped appealing to me. They are too run-of-the-mill.

Tell us about your writing process.

Most of it happens in my head. Like I told you, some incident triggers the beginning. I keep mulling over that idea for a long time trying to chart a way to the ending. I occasionally jot down a few points and research to find facts. Once I see some clarity in the storyline, as if by itself, pours onto the pages. Karna’s Alter Ego and Kavach of Surya, both, did the rounds simultaneously in my head for years, before I could get the feeling ‘Now I have got it’.
My stories have a mythological background but played out in the modern era. So, I create my settings in an actual historical location. That needs a lot of research. Kavach of Surya stands out as a well-researched narrative. The timelines, names of kings and notable people, organisations and places mentioned are for real. I have visited all the locations where the story is set. I visited the Konark Temple (where the finale of the novel is played out) four times and talked to the guides, the workers and the curator of the museum there.
All these offer an authentic feel.

What is your favourite scene in the book? Why?

I would love to talk about this. I worked so hard to pack a punch into the final scene. Here goes: Vasu and Sahar (my lady protagonist) have found a secret path into the Konark Temple. They are about to discover the ultimate treasure. Karna is also present in his ethereal form, which means only Vasu can see and hear him, but not Sahar. Karna and Sahar start questioning Vasu on unconnected issues, and Vasu responds to both their queries with a single reply. It goes on for three pages with the questioner feeling that there is no third person in the room, and Vasu is replying to him or her alone. I don’t want to disclose more about the ending, except that it ends with a magical feel.

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?

I would like to believe that Vasu is me. He has all my traits, including those that I would like to possess but unfortunately don’t. Then there is Chhetri, whom you could call the antagonist. He too possesses some of my quirks. He follows Vasu throughout the country like a spy but leaves no evidence of his involvement.

What is your most interesting writing quirk?

If I am midway into writing a book, my mind continually churns the scenes, characters and what next etc. I don’t mind getting out of bed at midnight, turning on the laptop and writing down a single sentence that had suddenly clicked to me.
And if I have taken a break, even in the middle of a novel, it takes me months to get back to writing.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?

In my schooldays, it was Enid Blyton. I grew out of her books when friends taunted me in the senior classes for being stuck to childish stories. I and a friend (the same best friend I mentioned earlier) even formed a duo of detectives to solve mysteries. But Charles Dickens has been an all-time favourite with me. I used to read his abridged books from my school library and later read up many of his books. I think it limits a person if they stick to one author as their favourite. So many authors have impressed me. Among classics, there is Emily Bronte, Jules Verne, Cervantes. Among modern authors, I have enjoyed the works of Margaret Atwood, John Le Carre, Jodi Picoult, Alex Haley, Khaled Hosseini, Robert Galbraith and Mohsin Hamid. Coming to Indian authors, I have great respect for Ruskin Bond, Manoj Das, Chitra Divakaruni, Chandrahas Choudhury, Kavita Kane, Cyrus Mistry, Arundhati Roy.

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?

“You will be able to write well.” I could never be sure if it was a compliment or a backhanded one.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?

DEAR, Drop Everything and Read.

What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it was to be turned into a movie?

Well, as I wrote, I did dream of it getting adapted into a movie. I modelled Sahar’s looks and get-up on Priyanka Chopra. Here are two lines from the book when Vasu sees Sahar for the first time: Vasu was somewhat shy to meet the eyes of the young girl. On first look, he was reminded of an actress in the movies. An underwater star with long legs, he thought.
If someone gives me an opportunity, I would like to play the role of Chhetri, the dubious person. Otherwise, I would leave it to Nawazuddin Siddiqui. For Karna, Pankaj Dheer would do fine. To play the character of the all-talented Vasu, I would need to call for a nation-wide audition.

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?

Paper, pen and a dictionary; please permit me lots of ink too. I assume there is no electricity there but I can find enough food to survive.

What do you have in store next for your readers?

I am now into translations. Padma Shri Haldhar Nag is a literary genius who writes in Kosali, a language not so well-known even in his home state of Odisha. I am translating his works into English, so that they can reach all corners of the world. I have completed three volumes of translation, titled Kavyanjali Volume 1, 2 and 3. The fourth volume is ready and should get published in the next few months. My own writing has taken a backseat, for the moment.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?

In continuation of my previous reply, I would appeal to my readers to google Padma Shri Haldhar Nag. If you are impressed, please lend a helping hand to Project Kavyanjali.

About the Book:
Karna could never have lost the final battle to Arjuna had he not given away his Kavach (armour) and Kundal (earrings) that were a gift from his father, Surya. The armour rendered Karna invincible against any foe.

We are in the 21st century. What if someone can find that armour today?

Vasu, a resolute man, sets out to retrieve the Kavach-Kundal. To guide him Karna himself turns up from the past. The hunt takes them to the Himalayas in the North, Dwarka in the West, Rameshwaram in the South and Konark in the East. And at each leg, they have to surmount hurdles of catastrophic proportions.

And Vasu is not the only one interested in this quest. A dubious character gets on Vasu’s trail and casts traps on his path. The young and charming Sahar, a marine archaeologist, joins Vasu to help him in the race.

Join Vasu and Sahar in this thrilling adventure to know why the armour was all that potent, and if it still exists.

Buy Link:
Goodreads * Amazon