We meet at the Indian Oil Corporation’s headquarters in Bandra. The ID card slung around his neck and the crisp formals tell you that 41-year-old Anand Neelakantan is an executive at a corporate giant. However, what sets this unassuming man apart is his highly successful career as an author of mythological fiction. Neelakantan’s bestselling debut novel, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished (2012), turned Ramayana on its head. Was the 10-headed demon, Ravana, really evil as we’re led to believe? Was Lord Rama divine? In his book, Neelakantan questions our age-old notions and depicts Ravana as an ambitious person oppressed by the system. Then, in Roll of the Dice (2013), part one of the Ajaya series, he re-tells the events leading up to the Mahabharata war, from the Kauravas’ point of view. Now, in the second and final part, Rise of Kali, he takes the story ahead from Duryodhana's perspective.

    You’ve said you were fascinated by mythology while growing up. How did epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana shape your childhood?
    Bards would often visit my village, Thripunithura (near Cochin, Kerala). We looked forward to their oral retellings of all the Puranas. It was a major source of entertainment.

    You’re drawn to anti-heroes. Why do you choose to write their side of the story?
    They appear more human. It was easy to identify with Ravana because, like most people, he has a lot of flaws. Rama is an ideal. One is a god, the other is a man. This is the case with Yudhisthira and Duryodhana too. 

    In Rise of Kali, you voiced some of your own misgivings about the Bhagvad Gita.
    I’ve expressed some of my doubts through Arjuna’s and Balrama’s. For instance, Balrama asks Krishna, “If Duryodhan is evil, why not kill only him? Why create a war?” Krishna doesn’t have a convincing answer to that.

    How do you go about researching for your novels?
    I speak to people from back home who keep the oral tradition alive. They have different takes on some of the smaller aspects in the same story. Then, I refer to a Puranic encyclopedia written a hundred years ago in Malayalam. It has a whole list of characters, in alphabetical order, and their stories. It’s quite phenomenal.

    How do you re-imagine a scene that’s been written about endlessly and read with reverence?
    When I sit down to write, I get into the skin of the characters. It’s like an actor playing his part. That kind of schizophrenia is required for a writer. For instance, I might have prayed half an hour ago, but Krishna is not a god when I start writing.

    What’s next?
    I am working on a young adult book series about the age old story of Kacha-Devayani (story of how Kacha, from the Deva clan and Devayani, daughter of Asura guru Shukracharya, fall in love). My daughter, who is nearly 13, is a big fan of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. She finds Indian mythology boring, which is very offensive to me (laughs). So, I'm writing this fantasy love story for her.

    Rise of Kali by Anand Neelakantan is out now.
    Price: Rs 399 (Leadstart Publishing)

Army payoffs row: Shinde asks VK Singh for names

Former army chief VK Singh’s claim that the army paid J&K ministers ‘to do certain jobs’  has triggered a political storm with demands that his allegations be probed.

Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde launched the first counter-attack and egged Singh to go public with the names. “VK Singh should name the politicians. If details are given, we can investigate,” Shinde said in Delhi.

Worried about the impact of the charges on its credibility, the National Conference, which leads the coalition government in J&K, has threatened legal action unless the former chief names the ministers who he alleged were on the army’s payroll.

Moderate Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq jumped at the revelations that had “undermined the legitimacy of successive representative governments in the state since 1947”.

In the midst of attacks on Singh, BJP leader Arun Jaitely advised the former army chief and the Centre to back out and put an end to disclosures that could severely hurt India’s security interests.

In an article, the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha wondered if the army chief should have admitted to the payments even if pushed to a corner. And then hit out at the UPA for abandoning state-craft and hurting national interest as long as it could score points.

The former army chief had told TV channels yesterday that the army pays money to all ministers in J&K to perform “particular jobs” for maintaining peace in the state, a practice that he insisted was followed since Independence.

Facing fire over his remarks, VK Singh today sought to do damage control by saying it was not a bribe and that the ministers spent the money for designated purposes.

But in Kashmir, that is bad enough.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi waded into the controversy, saying if he discloses Singh’s advice to him years ago on counter-insurgency operations as the then chief of Eastern Army Command, it would be a “big embarrassment” to everyone.

In Delhi, Congress spokesperson PC Chacko said Gen Singh was getting into “more and more trouble” as he is “again and again creating controversy”.
“His statements are unbecoming of a person of his stature... Let him name the people. Reputation of Indian Army is being denigrated by irresponsible statements,” he said.
Jaitley, however, was unsparing on the two sides for the turn of events.
“Prime Ministers, Home Ministers, Defence Ministers, Chief of the Army staff, heads of IB and R&AW and several others in the government are privy to information which must necessarily die with them.  It even cannot become a part of their memoirs.”


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Omar to take up with Centre VK Singh’s allegations

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