I am your writer next-door: Sudha Murthy
Award winning author and Padma Shri, Sudha Murthy’s latest book, The Upside Down King, is a collection of stories of Ram and Krishna — two most popular avatars of Vishnu. This is the third book in her series of books that focus on the untold stories in Indian mythology, the other two being — The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata and The Man from the Egg: Unusual Tales about the Trinity. In an interaction, the prolific writer, who launched her book at the Crossword Bookstores in Mumbai, who is also a philanthropist (she is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation that supports education, healthcare, rural development, etc) spoke about mythology as a genre, writing for children and why she aspired to be a film journalist. Excerpts:
This is your third book in the series of mythological stories for children. Do you have a special connect with this genre? Does it come easy to you?
I wouldn’t have written so many of them, had it not been easy (laughs). You have to train your mind to think like a child’s to be able to write that. It’s lovely to write for the youngsters because through your story, you can teach them the lessons of life. I was brought up in an era where there was, fortunately, no television and no electronic gadgets. The only way to entertain yourself was with books. 60 years back, there were lots of books that spoke about mythology so unknowingly. I learnt a lot about mythology, and it deepened my interest in the subject. Later, I read about mythology from different countries and different Ramayanas from our own country. So I had many versions in my mind. That’s when it struck me that these kind of stories should be written for young adults. In fact, it’s great for mothers too. Because a lot of stories are passed on to children by their mothers.
Since mythology is closely connected to religion and culture, would you call yourself a religious person?
Honestly, I don’t know. I believe in God. I am not ritualistic but I do pray every day. Mythology is not just prayers. Some of these stories have a lovely lesson and when you face any difficulties, they really help you by giving simple solutions. We consider Rama and Krishna as Gods. They were exceptionally good people, and later, came to be known as Gods. But even they had to undergo separation from their loved ones and other difficulties. This indicates that, ups and downs are a part of life, and that this too shall pass. Every festival that’s celebrated in India has a great story behind it.
Over the past couple of years, you have tilted towards writing non-fiction. Do you feel like fiction limits your scope as a writer?
That’s a very good question. I used to write a lot of fiction but over a period of time, when I started working with Infosys Foundation, I saw so many incidents happening around me. I realised that fiction limits of your imagination. Whereas with non-fiction, it’s all real and so much of it is happening right in front of you. Now, I feel like it’s better to write non-fiction because it’s much more enchanting, real and meaningful. I prefer to read non-fiction.
In one of your previous interviews, you had said that you could have been a film journalist because you are an absolute movie buff…
In my last book, Here, There And Everywhere, a chapter dealt with how I would watch all kinds of films in different languages. I would bunk lectures to watch movies. And every time I got bad grades, it was all attributed to Rajesh Khanna. But for me, it’s not just about movies. I am a creative person and watching a movie is like writing a story. So when I see a movie, I also see the editing, the music, the camera angles, etc. Watching a movie is like appearing for an exam. I absolutely enjoy it.
Some of your stories have also been adapted into movies. Would your process of writing be any different if you knew that your story was being adapted into a film?
No. I write because I enjoy writing. I will never keep Kareena Kapoor Khan or any other actor in mind and write a story. I don’t even think if my books will be adapted into films. I don’t even think if people will like it or not. I write it because I like to write, and this character stayed with me. Fortunately, my books are simple and people have liked it. The language is extremely simple and you don’t require a dictionary to decipher it. Everything I write is mostly relatable to everyone and since everyone cannot write, they feel like Sudha Murthy is writing their story. I am your writer next-door.
You have written a lot of books but you started writing pretty late in life…
I used to write in school and college, but I wrote in Kannada. So obviously, the market was limited. For 10 years in between, I didn’t write because I was studying engineering and then I was busy with the foundation. With every novel, I first write in Kannada and then, I translate it into English. Until 2000, when I turned 50, I wrote only in Kannada. And after that, when I started writing in English, I was initially very apprehensive because my English wasn’t great. Then I realised that it wasn’t like people who could only write Victorian English could write. Now, English as a language is no longer for just the elites. In 2002, I wrote my first English book, Wise and Otherwise and I realised that the kind of experience that I have, very few people had. It has been completely different since 2002 and now I write in English and then translate it into Kannada. Ultimately, you will survive if you are good. Books cannot be sold because I am Narayan Murthy’s wife.