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)

8 dead as landslide hits Nepal, sparking flood fears

  • AFP, Kathmandu
  • |
  • Updated: Aug 02, 2014 13:17 IST

A massive landslide in northeastern Nepal left at least eight people dead and dozens missing Saturday, burying a hydropower plant and putting several villages at risk of flash floods due to debris blocking a major river, officials said.

The landslide struck in the early hours, burying two dozen homes before dumping mud and stones into the Sunkoshi river, northeast of the capital Kathmandu, an official in the prime minister's office told AFP.

"We are trying to find a way to release the blocked water safely," said Prakash Adhikari, press adviser to the prime minister.

The debris has created a lake measuring at least three kilometres by 300 metres (about two miles by 300 yards) and already flooded a 2.6-megawatt hydropower plant on the river according to Himal Hydro, which built the project.

"We have shut down the Sunkoshi hydropower project due to flooding, another transmission tower has also been damaged," said Arun Rajoria, deputy general manager of Himal Hydro.

Officials scrambled to clear the river, fearing that two more power stations downstream could be damaged if the water level kept rising.

A police official at the scene of the disaster said electricity lines had snapped, leaving hundreds without power.

The government has declared the area a "flood crisis zone" and ordered the army to use explosives to try to clear the river.

Home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said police and army officials had retrieved eight bodies and airlifted 16 injured people to safety.

"Dozens more are still missing, we are trying to find them and also evacuating everyone living along the river in case of floods," Dhakal told AFP.

A portion of the Arniko Highway, which connects the Himalayan nation with Tibet, has been closed, with concern mounting over risks to the Koshi barrage near the India-Nepal border, Dhakal said.

"We are very worried, there is a high risk of flash floods," he said.

Scores of people die every year from flooding and landslides during the monsoon season in Nepal.

At least 75 people were killed in separate incidents last year, when floods triggered by heavy rains struck homes in the country's remote hilly region and southern plains.

According to a team of US and Nepalese scientists, flash flooding which swept away an entire village in May 2012 originated with a minor rockslide that dammed a gorge and created a reservoir over several weeks.

When an avalanche struck the reservoir, the dam burst, leading to a huge flood on the Seti river that left more than 70 people dead.

About 150 people were feared dead in neighbouring India after a landslide hit a village in the western state of Maharashtra last week.


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