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)

Ahead of Modi's visit, army chief visits Siachen

Army chief General Dalbir Singh visited the Siachen glacier two-day ahead of the proposed visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Jammu. The army chief in his first visit to this border region, bordering China and Pakistan, arrived on a three-day visit, which is quite significant.

Defence spokesperson in a statement said the army chief will receive Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is scheduled to visit Leh and Kargil on August 12. The Prime minister is also scheduled to visit the Siachen Glaciers. The visit of the army chief almost confirms Modi’s visit to Siachen. The army chief had an interaction with the army commander Northern Command and General Officer Commanding 14 Corps based in Leh on the security environment. The army chief applauded the efforts of the soldiers stationed in Siachen.

The army chief is likely to brief Modi about the ground situation along the borders on his arrival in Leh. The army chief will also visit forward posts in eastern Ladakh and will review the defence preparedness there.

The BJP government is likely to give more focus on the infrastructure development in this border region with a broader aim of building more logistics for speedy movement of troops to catch up with its neighbour.

It has already been announced to speed up work on the Zojila tunnel and construction of the Zanskar-Leh road, which was first announced by the then Vajpayee government but not much headway was made during the successive governments led by the Congress at the Centre.


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