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‘Ashoka was one of the greatest rulers of our subcontinent’

Life&More November 6, 2019
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Saurabh Tankha

Author Shreyas Bhave recently released the third and final volume of his epic trilogy Nemesis of Kalinga: The Asoka Trilogy based on ancient text, folklores and rock edicts from the iron age of India. Bhave retells the story of one of the most important figures of our national history and his dynasty whose symbol flies proudly on our national flag but for whom we have the sketchiest of details available. The history of India, as well as that of Buddhism, could have been very different had the outcome of this crucial war, been other than what it was.
Excerpts on an email interview with Bhave, one of the country’s youngest experts on railway electrification…

How and when did one of the country’s youngest experts on railway electrification decide to write a book and how did he go about it?
As it goes, I was an author before I was one of the youngest experts on railway electrification. I wrote my first novel at the time when I was in the third year of my engineering degree. I was visiting a mountain pilgrimage called Girnar in Junagarh district few years back. It boasts of a vast Jain temple and also the highest point of Gujarat state. When I enquired who had built the Jain temple, the answer I received was it was built by Chandragupta Maurya. The question which came to my mind is why a king from Patliputra which was faraway, was building temples at the edge of his empire? Afterwards I visited an underground network of Buddhist caves nearby. I was impressed by its architecture. “Who built these caves?” I asked and the answer that came was “Samrat Ashoka.” This was the incident that drove me to find out more about this great grandfather-grandson duo and the outcome is the Asoka trilogy.

You are into song writing, composing music, sketching and watercolour painting. You play the guitar too. Were all these interests there from childhood days or did you develop it later?
Most of these were developed later when I was exposed to these art forms while in school and then college.

If these existed since your growing up years, was becoming an expert on railway electrification out of family pressure or did you have an interest in the same too and it turned into your profession?
After my degree in electrical engineering, I wanted to be in a career that would let me see the tangible benefits of my work to the people around me. Through working for railway electrification, I feel contended in doing my part in development of infrastructure in our country and see how the people get benefitted on completion of the electrification projects.

How much time did it take you to finish planning, reading ancient texts, conceptualising the trilogy and writing it all?
It happens parallely. Over the entire course of writing, you are continuously reading ancient texts and changing the story as it progresses. It is much like agile project management.

While The Prince of Patliputra, Storm of Taxila and Nemesis of Kalinga are related with the life of Ashoka, Prisoner of Yakutsk is about Subhas Chandra Bose. Why choose Bose?
Because of the drama in his mysterious death in the plane crash.

Any plans to write about other freedom fighters of the era who haven’t been talked or written about much?
Whenever I find a good story in Indian freedom struggle which I feel passionate about, I shall write about the same.

Your honest view on Ashoka.
He was one of the greatest rulers from history of our subcontinent.

Your ideas germinate from…
Somewhere from the deep chasms of my mind.

How different are you from other authors?
I try not to stick to any proven formula and try to do something different with each new book. Over the course of my life, I shall write many different books which if you put side by side, it would be very hard to accept that they have all been written by one single author.

What if your creative work doesn’t get good reviews (honest confession)?
I hear and read many times when famous authors talk about how initially they used to get many one star reviews when they were just starting out. It makes me recoil in horror that as I have not got a single one star review till date for any of my books, would it mean that I would never become a successful author!

In your opinion, what is that one thing which is the most important part of a book?
It is different things for different people. The readers with a focus on thinking tend to appreciate the plot more. Those with stress on their feelings appreciate the characters and their interplay more.

Is writing energising or exhausting?
It is tremendously exhausting. I like to compare writing with creating a Horcrux. Every book you write tears away a part of your soul.

The word “creative” to you is…
Magic. It is something inexplicable and which cannot be the outcome of any earmarked process.

Are authors friends with other authors or are they competitors?
They are indeed friends because books are very different than normal consumer products. Authors do not have to compete for market capture. An avid reader may buy only one brand cell-phone at a time, but he will buy as many books as he can.  In this way, authors are not competitors but partners.

How much time do you write in a day?
I measure writing not by time taken but by words written. On a good day, I will easily cross 4k words in a day. On a bad day, I would struggle to reach even 500.

Do you believe in a writer’s block?
I believe that writer’s block only means that you are afraid of something. Whether you are afraid that your plot is not strong enough, or you may be afraid that you don’t yet fully know about the subject you are writing about or you may think that your writing won’t be good enough. Once you figure out what it is you are afraid of, you need to attack it and then the writer’s block will disappear.

What do you do when you are not writing?
I am reading!  Or watching videos or listening to podcasts or just thinking.

Any book that inspired you to take up writing?
Whenever I read a good book, it inspires me to go and attempt to write something better than it.

What does it take to be good storyteller?
It takes the ability to be able to hear your own stories as a third person and improve upon them.

Do you write at home or travel to a destination for writing?
While writing, the exposition and dialogues are created in the deep chasms of the mind. The surroundings do not matter. I can write equally well in a crowded train or in a serene hilltop cottage.

Did any of your creative works get rejected by a publisher?
Yes, many works are rejected which do not have commercial mileage. Like no-one is reading fantasy in India now-a-days. So whatever I write in this genre will be rejected. I just publish such stories on my Wattapad.

Do book covers matter as much as the content?
Yes, people do judge a book by its cover and by its blurb so they matter just as much for the initial sales. Once you reach the tipping point and word of mouth sets in, then covers stop mattering as much.

Fiction or non-fiction…
Personally, I read very less fiction for my own pleasure now a days. I only read fiction as an arduous student of the art of writing the same to improve my craft. For my own pleasure, Now I stick to reading nonfiction.

You are, at present, reading… 
The Autobiography of Indian Entrepreneur Pramod Chaudhari of Praj Industries.

Something about your family…
My father is an industrialist and mother a gynaecologist. My late grandfather was a very avid reader and thinker and I think he is the one I draw most of my personality from. I am an only child.

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