Monday, October 17, 2016

Message from a Reader!

It is just too bloody awesome when a reader finishes your book, takes time out of his life to hunt you down on Facebook and  reach out with a long, beautifully worded, delightfully complimentary message. That gooey feeling you get at moments like this is absolutely priceless! Have produced it below with permission:

Hello Mrs Anuja,
This is Rama – I have had the brilliant opportunity of reading your recent book: Yama’s Lieutenant. I was really enthralled by the writing and the tale itself, and thought of writing my appreciation to you directly. I have kept up with all your works, and I have noticed that you have a tendency to take tales of mythology which are hitherto little known in detail, and to spin a beautiful tale around it. I personally enjoyed your Kamadeva book a lot for this reason, for it not only spun an engrossing tale, but rather informed me of many aspects of Kamadeva which I otherwise might not have been able to unearth myself. Coming to Yama’s Lieutenant though, this by far is your best work and one of the finest books I have read. I am a huge mythology fan, and I have always noticed that authors usually tend to succeed when they write stories which are either grounded completely in mythology or in the contemporary, but falter significantly when it comes to combining both worlds. This is your truest success – this is the first and only book I have read as part of the Indian Mythology Pantheon that has made me forget that it is a combination of both contexts, and entirely drew me into the tale. The story itself is very unique and is a brilliant adaptation of the little known fact that Yama had a twin, and intelligently taps on the point of confusion that some consider Yami to be Yama’s wife, while others consider her to be his twin sister. By the time I was done with the book (in 2 days), I was very proud to have read such engaging writing with a very creative spin put on the story. You are one of the finest authors of India I daresay, and I wish you all success in all of your future endeavours, literary and otherwise. Do kindly keep writing, as I foresee that your books might stand as authority for certain little known aspects of Indian mythology in the future, such as the points on Yama and Kama. Finally, assuming that you are Tamil, it makes me extra proud that an author of my own beloved mother tongue has proceeded to writing such fascinating tales that captures the interests of the entire nation. All the best and thank you for your works!

 Really touched and have been grinning from ear to ear ever since I read it.  Aren't my readers the absolute best? I think so :)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


All Indians are proud of their country and treat its citizens as brothers and sisters, their cultural and religious differences notwithstanding (at least in theory). But as long as anybody can remember the North and South Indians have regarded each other as curiosities to be viewed askance through the glass wall that is the Vindhyas. Down South, stereotypical versions of the Northerners include images of Punjabis going ‘balle balle’ and gorging on Tandoori chicken or evil ‘Sethjis’who chew paan and make Shylock seem like the very epitome of compassion. Thanks to Bollywood, it is assumed that South Indians live on noodles flavoured with curd when not stuffing their faces with idly and sambar, smearing their foreheads with liberal amounts of sacred ash and forever running around fluttering their hands to the steady accompaniment of ‘Aiyayo’ or ‘Aiyo’ for short.  
            The same South Indians who took umbrage for this less than accurate or flattering portrayal of their charming quirks are now doing a victory dance (or its Bharathanatyam equivalent to the accompaniment of the Mrithangam) thanks to Oxford Dictionary which has included the term ‘Aiyo’ as a new addition to its venerable lexicon. This newly minted, bona fide English phrase is an exclamation according to the revered Guardian of the world of English words, in Southern India and Sri Lanka, expressing distress, regret, or grief; ‘Oh no!’, ‘Oh dear!’.
            Those from traditional Southern households would tell you that the family elders tend to frown on the casual usage of the term ‘Aiyo’ by callow youngsters (‘Aiyo! I look fat in this selfie!’) because it is essentially a lament and they believe that it could serve as an invitation for calamity to strike. Rather like the much maligned boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ and was grievously and gruesomely punished with temporary accommodation in the belly of the predator for his lapse in judgement. But even those stern, bastions of tradition would no doubt approve of the recognition given this term which conveys pithy emotion so succinctly and will no doubt be less inclined to rap the knuckles of those who use it indiscriminately now that the said term has the blessing of Oxford Dictionary.
            In other good news for South Indians, ‘Ayya’ has also been accommodated by the definitive authorities of the English Language. For the uninformed, ‘Ayya’ is no relative of ‘Aiyo’. It is now defined as a noun, in Sri Lanka: an older brother. Or more generally: any older male relative or acquaintance. Frequently used as a form of address, having its origins in Tamil aiyan, ayyā father, also used to modify the word for ‘brother’ to convey the sense ‘elder’, and as a respectful form of address to male superiors more generally, ultimately from Sanskrit ārya.

            Those who have formerly been pulled up by Anglophiles and stern English teachers who speak pukka English and insist on the same, can relax and feel free to spice up the language with colourful epithets rich in vernacular flavour in the hope that someday even something as provocative as ‘Poda panni!’ (Get lost Pig! in Tamil) will someday win respectability. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express

Monday, October 03, 2016

How much Mythology is too much Mythology?

In recent times, the tidal wave of interest in mythology has become something of a publishing phenomenon. Thanks to the extraordinary success of the likes of Ashwin Sanghi, Anand Neelakantan, Devdutt Pattnaik and Amish Tripathi among others, the supposedly 33 crore deities from the Hindu pantheon have been retrieved from the musty passageways of memory and legend, dusted off, polished, retrofitted and propelled into the collective consciousness with gleaming, often  glamourous avatars. And the reading populace can’t get enough, it seems. Mythology appears to have become a safe bet as far as the publishers are concerned and hence, an endless stream of myth – based fiction is making its way to the marketplace. But is this surfeit of a good thing really a good thing? 
            On the one hand, one wishes that aspiring authors would quit it with the mythology obsession which if it continues at the present rate is surely going to make the taste of the flavour of the season cloying in the extreme and effectively kill the market. It is the hope that the scribblers write about something else or take up another career if it means making the field less competitive. But that would be indicative of selfish self – interest as this writer has a finger in the mythology pie and it would behove her to look at this question from an objective angle.
            While those with a religious frame of mind or an appreciation for our glorious culture and heritage are no doubt thrilled that youngsters have taken to Puranic lore in such a big way the more conservative among the populace are frothing at the mouth with some of the artistic liberties taken with the sacrosanct material that most first heard, while seated on the laps of their grandmothers who told the edifying stories just so, the way they heard it while sitting cross – legged on the earthen floor from their elders. In this brave new world though, the Gods are no longer all powerful entities who leave the pious quaking with love, awe or fear but they have been brought to the level of the mortals where one may get up close and personal with them and I daresay find a wart or two and even grey hairs, sorry, shades.
            This brand new relationship that has been forged with the supreme consciousness, appalling as it may be to some is nevertheless a wonderful thing. And before extremists grab their weapons of sweeping condemnation and moral outrage, allow me to elaborate. Indian culture with its grandiose, sweeping range and a major chunk of traditions, religious and otherwise that have been handed down over the millennia has survived despite repeated attacks by invaders who made short work of entire civilizations. And no, it is not a fluke.
The powerful Gods from Roman and Greek mythology rule only in the pages of charming fiction but are otherwise forgotten and certainly not worshipped. Youngsters hardly know the Norse Gods, excepting Thor and Loki, the mighty God of Thunder and his nemesis, who many believe to be the work of Stan Lee at his most creative. Have the Egyptian Gods or the way of life that came into being with the magnificent Nile – valley civilization retained their relevance?  What about the Incans, Maya or Aztecs? What spared India from a similar fate? 
While it has not been worked down to a science, the general consensus is that Indians have always had the ability to assimilate the best from other religions, cultures and traditions even if it belongs to a hated conqueror in order to incorporate the best others have to offer with the vastness of the precious knowledge that was no doubt accumulated in the same way and make it their own. It is through this remarkably symbiotic process that the gifts of our predecessors in the fields of art, science, philosophy etc. have been preserved and we ensure that the presents of the past survives the merciless sands of time. If that is not a beautiful thing I don’t know what is!
Likewise, if the modern era demands that we re-examine the way we choose to connect with our Gods and Goddesses, treating them as friends, adversaries or intriguing puzzles that need to be scrutinized every which way, surely there is nothing wrong with it? Because for the most part, readers pick up these new – fangled books not merely because they are a fad or an amusing curiosity but out of an underlying sense of love and deep respect for a culture and heritage that is exclusively our own and one we can take rightful pride in.
This abiding affinity for all things Indian be it myth, pickles or item numbers allows us to stay connected to our roots and feel the sanctuary of a grandmother’s lap even as we find ourselves barrelling across the highway of life, heading for strange shores to make our homes, embracing cutting – edge technology and contributing to it or wrapping our heads around ideas and notions that are entirely foreign but have been accepted as the norm. Why then should we disparage authors for taking the mythology that is common to all of us and doing with it what they will if it means that our children and their children will keep the treasure trove of the best of our ancient beliefs close to their hearts and value it forever? 

Hopefully future generations will take the old stories, add a little something new in keeping with their times and infuse it with a delicious irreverence that will make the most sacrilegious and contentious authors of the present day puke blood or roll in their graves. That would be fine too, because ultimately we cannot have too much of a good thing when it is our good thing.   

An edited version of this piece was published in Creative India