The Aryavarta Chronicles: Reconciling legend with logic

Krishna Udayasankar is a Singapore-based Indian writer and Govinda, Book 1 of the Aryavarta Chronicles (a trilogy) is her first published novel. According to her blog, The Aryavarta Chronicles are a series of fast-paced novels; tales of adventure, conspiracy and politics, that delve beyond familiar Epic India lore.

Born in Bangalore, India, and educated in India and Singapore, Krishna currently teaches strategic management at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

In this interview with Kitaab, she talks about her novel, her writing process and what writing means to her.

‘Govinda’ is your first novel and part of a trilogy. Did you have to struggle as a first time writer?

Actually, the Aryavarta Chronicles is a series that extends beyond three books. Each novel, though set in the empire of Aryavarta, has its own story arc and plotlines. The process had its own challenges, though it was made easy, even enjoyable, because I have loved what I was doing!

In my not-very-humble opinion, I think the biggest struggle a first-time writer faces is to reach a point of no-return, a point where you are committed to writing, come what may. Not that the struggles end after that, but then they are not very different from what every other writer faces, first-timer or otherwise. At the end of the day, the stories we tell are bigger than us and faith in those tales is never faith misplaced.

At a more pragmatic level, there is a whole world of events that have to take place between writing a book and getting it published. However, I’ve been extremely fortunate, having had a whole host of people from wonderful agents to friends, mentors, my publishers and above all, my family, to support me. So it felt a whole lot easier than it probably was.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What does writing mean to you?

I have been writing since childhood, and in retrospect I can see that even as an adult I kept moving towards careers – law and then academia – that brought together my passion for words with the socio-economic and philosophical ideas that I like to write about.

To me, writing is to imagine, to create a world that readers can enter and be part of. I firmly believe that writing is only half the creative process – the other half happens when people read what is written and recreate it in their heads. Also, word-smithy – the craft of writing – is as important and enjoyable to me as the logical consistency of the plot and the appeal of the story I tell. Maybe that’s why I enjoy the very act of writing, even if it’s something as mundane as a letter for a change of address!

Why did you decide to start your writing career with a historical/mythological subject with so many characters and plot twists? What was the most challenging aspect of undertaking such a project?

Understanding the history behind what has subsequently been aggrandized into mythology and used to legitimize or justify today’s social structures and norms was, to me, an essential way of understanding the world we live in. Consequently, I wanted to explore the scriptures and the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history and not some improbable fantasy-tale that defied all logic and science. The more I tried to find these explanations, the more I caught on to the idea of the epic ages as a time of socio-political revolution, and my story as one of change in the status quo.

The challenge was the research, the many months of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across India and other parts of Asia too. At a more personal level though, writing this book has involved questioning some of my basic views on religion, rationalism and philosophy.

You have cited a lot of material as research for your novel. Was reading the material enough? Did you also travel to the geographical locations and museums to inspire yourself?

Reading the material was certainly a huge learning experience in itself, given the extent and depth of content available. I have also been fortunate enough to travel to many locales that ended up inspiring my writing, particularly as scenes and descriptions that have found their way into the book. For example, a trip I made to Tibet a couple of years ago subsequently gave rise to one of my favourite action scenes in ‘Govinda’! A less adventurous, but equally exciting trip (to me) was a visit to the Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangralaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai, which actually had a wonderful section of Krishna-alia. I hope to explore many more of the historical sites I refer to in the Aryavarta Chronicles, in the near future.

Will you be exploring other genres in future?

Yes, I certainly hope to. In fact, I have just finished putting together a collection titled ‘Objects of Affection’ which is a series of prose-poems that describes human relationships from the point of view of inanimate objects. Poetry is something I love – The Aryavarta Chronicles first began as a satirical poem, over four years ago, before it evolved into its current form as a series of novels!

What is your advice to other first-time writers?

Write. I know that sounds rather corny, but writing is a discipline, it is a meditation. If we save it for those moments when we are feeling particularly inspired, then it becomes difficult to grow into the craft of it.

The second piece of advice I want to share is as follows: Ignore all advice, including this. Writing is possibly one of the most private things we will do, though it may seem otherwise from the outside. To reach a depth of honesty that infuses one’s writing is going to be emotionally demanding, so conserve energy. If necessary, ignore everything but the most honest voice inside – that’s where our best writing will come from.