“I don’t know Hindu symbology enough yet,” Dan Brown’s first exclusive interview in India is a breezy read | brunch$feature | Hindustan Times
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“I don’t know Hindu symbology enough yet,” Dan Brown’s first exclusive interview in India is a breezy read

The bestselling author underlines his love for India, but admits he is not yet qualified to write a story based on religious iconography from our culture

brunch Updated: Oct 23, 2017 12:42 IST
Priya Bala
Dan Brown has spent substantial amounts of time reading about Hinduism in the wake of his visit to India two years back
Dan Brown has spent substantial amounts of time reading about Hinduism in the wake of his visit to India two years back

Origin, the latest novel by Dan Brown and the fifth in the Robert Langdon series, opens with Edmond Kirsch, a 40-year-old tech magnate and futurologist, preparing to reveal an astonishing breakthrough that will challenge the fundamentals of human existence. He asks to meet Bishop Valdespino, Rabbi Yehuda Koves and Allamah Syed al-Fadl, who have just finished attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Catalonia. Sitting in an ancient repository of sacred texts in the famed library of Montserrat facing the Holy Trinity, as he describes them sardonically, Kirsch tells himself ‘It (the revelation) will not shake your foundations. It will shatter them.’

Juxtaposing the spiritual and the scientific is a theme that runs through the Robert Langdon series, which includes Angels & Demons and the bestselling The Da Vinci Code, and it is more pronounced in Origin. Dan Brown maintains that even as the two realms frequently clash there is a spiritual aspect to science. “I do believe that the deeper we delve into the impending new sciences, the more we will discover that the answers we discover are more spiritual in nature,” he tells us. That exploration assumes importance also because of the repercussions of the religion versus science divide in a country like India. Brown says India is not alone in its feeling that science and religion are at loggerheads. “The same is true in my country.”

“I do believe that the deeper we delve into the impending new sciences, the more we will discover that the answers we discover are more spiritual in nature.”

He says he enjoyed a deeply inspirational visit to India two years ago. “I have spent substantial amounts of time reading about Hinduism in the wake of that visit.” With the last four books set in the Vatican, Paris, Washington, DC, and Florence would he consider setting a novel in India, after all there is no dearth of the religious iconography that holds such appeal for Langdon here? “I still do not feel qualified to write a book about the religious iconography in India, but I am still learning,” Brown says.

In Origin, the author sets up a scenario in which Langdon has to solve a case after an event he is attending at the Guggenheim Museum, where Kirsch is to make his revelatory presentation, and it ends in catastrophe. As in the previous books of the series, he has to crack codes, this time connected to modern art and particularly Of Mice and Men. A reader mainly of non-fiction, Brown is partial though to the Steinbeck classic of 1937 and has said that he loves its descriptive power.

Brown’s own ability for graphic description – ‘all art, architecture, locations, science and religious organizations in this novel are real’ says one of the introductory pages to Origin – is backed by painstaking research. The writing process for Origin he has said was akin to launching a science experiment. With evolution, creationism and artificial intelligence being the central ideas explored in Origin, Brown read extensively on the subjects and formulated questions he had about these. He then spoke to artificial intelligence scientists, modern art curators and religious clerics for the answers, besides spending time in Spain where the novel is set. “It is not really until I get a lot of research done that I first begin to do an outline,” he has said.

“Robert Langdon is the man I wish I could be. Langdon is far braver than I am – and he also has a far more interesting life. Of course we share an intellectual curiosity for all things arcane.”

Brown’s writing regimen is rigorous, and explains his prolificity. “I work 7 days a week, 365 days a year, at 4am. For me this is the time of the day with least distractions and the time at which I feel most creative,” he tells us. Occasionally, he puts on a pair of gravity boots and hangs upside down to help him relax and concentrate. “Yes, I do still use gravity boots – although now it is more of an inversion table,” says the disciplined writer.

In comparison, his protagonist, Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor of religious iconology and symbology, would seem to have a terribly exciting life. In Origin, he has run-ins with artificial intelligence, is in a skirmish in the Sagrada Familia and goes hunting for codes that can crack a computer in the company of the ravishing director of the Guggenheim Museum. How much do Brown and Langdon have in common? “Robert Langdon is the man I wish I could be. Langdon is far braver than I am – and he also has a far more interesting life. Of course we share an intellectual curiosity for all things arcane,” says Brown.

Author bio: A senior writer based out of Bengaluru, the author specialises in food, travel and lifestyle writing

From HT Brunch, October 22, 2017

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