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)

Sandlords take a dig at the law in UP

  • HT correspondent, Hindustan Times, Lucknow
  • |
  • Updated: Jul 30, 2013 11:35 IST

The mafia is minting money from sand across Uttar Pradesh, thanks to their alleged nexus with politicians, policemen and bureaucrats.

And the officials who do not fall in line have to face the music, apparently like Gautam Buddha Nagar sub-divisional magistrate Durga Shakti Nagpal (who was suspended for ordering the demolition of a wall at a religious place), or get threats.

This is because these mining lords have strong political links—irrespective of which party is in power — and go on to become politicians themselves sooner or later.

Indeed, the sand mafia has deep roots in Vindhyachal, Bundelkhand, Purvanchal and the Ganga-Yamuna plains.

Almost all the rivers are mined, be it the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Chambal, the Ken, the Betwa, the Rapti, or the Gomti.

“It is a business that virtually has no regulation,” says Ashish Sagar, an activist who has been taking on the sand mining business in Banda and the rest of the state. He sums up the business thus: “You sell something that you haven’t grown or produced. You buy nothing, but sell it well because of high demand.”

When the business is so lucrative, the earnings are high and the rise of those involved in the trade can be meteoric.

Take the case of a small-time worker of the ruling Samajwadi Party in Banda.

He entered the sand mining business six months ago and now moves in an SUV.

Besides, he has attained a position in the party’s local unit.

Nothing explains the scenario better than the case of jailed former BSP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha who ruled the mining syndicate in Banda and went on to become the minister in charge of the mining department.

Tindwari Congress MLA Daljeet Singh too is in the sand mining business according to a reply to an application filed under the Right to Information Act.

When the stakes are high, even some officials are not averse to playing along with their political masters.

For instance, Ram Baudh Maurya, who was the director of the minerals and mining department of UP, in 2008 wrote a letter to all the district magistrates to mark out the mining mafia in their respective districts.

This was an eyewash. Now, he is in jail as Kushwaha’s alleged accomplice in another case.

“Technically, all sand mining in the state is illegal even if the government has given pattas. As per court orders, no mining can be done without an environmental clearance. No miner has environment clearance,” says an activist from Allahabad. Powerful as they are, the illegal miners brook no resistance.

A handful of miners attacked the checking team on May 26 in Agra.

The musclemen tried to mow down the tehsildar with a truck that was being stopped. The tehsildar was injured, while the SDM escaped unhurt.

Given the illegal nature of the business, mining takes place at night, a fact that Baghpat DM Amrit Tripathi confirms.

And though no machines are supposed to be used, the miners brazenly use heavy earthmovers.

“According to the environment laws, a river cannot be obstructed, but it has become a common practice to create a sand ramp through the river to facilitate movement of heavy earthmovers and then transport sand out on trucks,” says Ashish Sagar.

Recently, when the Allahabad administration seized 40,000 tractor-loads of silica sand and four giant earthmovers.

Banda alone has 940 hectares of riverside land under a mining lease.

The scale of the business is so large there that over 2500 sand laden trucks go out of the Banda segment of National Highway 76 daily.


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