Usha Narayanan: The challenge was mythology with a contemporary flavor
Who doesn’t love tales of mythology? As children, we would be enthralled by captivating stories of Indian mythologies narrated in books and by our parents. Yet, in our innocent minds, we dream of heroes having super power and didn’t realize that they could be made as humane as possible, with flaws. Today, the blog features Usha Narayanan whose book, Pradyumna-Son of Krishna, a tale about mythological characters with human face, has already climbed the chart of best seller. A gold medallist in English from University of Madras and double Masters, Usha Narayanan has been a creative director in ad agencies and Radio City 91.1 FM, managed corporate communications and CSR in Scope International and Standard Chartered Bank.
Having lived most of her life in Chennai and did a writing course in Honolulu, Usha is surrounded by her ‘Opinionated Cats’ and her first book, ‘The Madras Magler’ a suspense thriller received rave reviews. The epic fantasy ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ is on the market and her third one, a rom-com’, ‘Love, Lies and Lay Offs’ will hit the market in October.
Her next is ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs,’ a romcom published by Harlequin-Harper Collins in October 2015.
Today, the face of Indian mythology is changing with authors giving characters a human face. Is this how you depicted and saw Pradyumna?
The beauty of our ancient mythology is that the lessons they teach and the philosophy they embody are relevant to modern life as well. Our gods are portrayed as having the same emotions we do ― envy, greed, lust, fear and anger ― which are sometimes personified as Lobha, Kama, Bhaya, etc. Perhaps, our ancestors wished to make their teachings more palatable by couching them in colourful tales that captured the imagination.
My challenge was to recreate mythology with a contemporary flavour, to attract and hold attention with a tale unheard of till now. And going by the bestseller status of ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’, I think I have succeeded to some extent. Readers view Pradyumna as a human being much like themselves, struggling with his fears and weaknesses, striving to make his impact on a world that seems to be ruled by the wicked. This makes my story relevant to every reader.
Your first book ‘The Madras Mangler’ was a thriller; ‘Pradyumna’ is based on mythology and the next one, ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ is a rom-com. How challenging it is to change genre?
Each genre has its own grammar and you must learn the rules in order to be able to pull it off smoothly. A thriller, for instance, relies heavily on the external landscape: action, location, clues, red herrings and so on. There’s not much space to dwell on inner thoughts or feelings. A romance on the other hand is all about emotions, the love and hate that whirls a man and a woman into a fast tango that ends in a warm embrace.
‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ has all the action of a thriller, plus the emotional turmoil of someone tormented by demons from his own past. Then, there is the inspirational dimension of a man who must fight demigods and demons before he can attain his goal, if at all he does. Hence, this epic fantasy which is half myth and half imagined ― was definitely the most challenging to write.
Whatever the genre I choose, I ensure that there are some elements that I regard as essential: a strong plot, intriguing characters, suspense and sizzling dialogue.
Classic question: How did the idea of Pradyumna cropped up and what can readers expect from the book?
Usually in epic tales, we see the brave, upright hero winning his battle against the armies of darkness. So it is in the Mahabharata, we see that the Kurus are annihilated by the Pandavas with Krishna’s protection. This Great War and the story of Krishna himself have been told and retold in numerous ways, but the story of what happens when he leaves the earth is lost in time. When he returns to Vaikunta at the end of his avatar, Kali Yuga sets in and evil pervades men’s lives. Who is the redeemer who can save the world now from sin? The natural successor to Krishna is his son Pradyumna, but what do we know about him?
This was the paradox that drew me to this great warrior, passionate lover, caring father and son that made him the central figure in my book. Where does he come from and where does his destiny take him? Can he overcome his karma that has made him a destroyer many times? Book 1 of this two-part series answers these questions in part, with a bigger struggle awaiting him in the sequel.
To sum up, I will say that ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ brings you action, adventure, romance, divinity and inspiration in a perfect blend!
During the writing and research conducted on Pradyumna, what struck you the most? How different is Pradyumna from Krishna and how he became your perfect hero? Was the sequel planned or did it spring from your fascination with the character?
What struck me most during my research was that there was so much that I did not know. I studied in a convent school and read Enid Blyton, not Valmiki or Kamban. My parents were too busy to narrate stories from our epics. So when I started delving into our myths, I was astonished by many facts I came across. For instance, did you know that the Gita was not first spoken to Arjuna? Krishna bequeathed it on the sun god, who passed it on to Manu, the father of mankind, who then conveyed it to Ikshvaku, the head of Rama’s solar dynasty. But then men forgot the lord’s message and he had to be born again to expound the eternal truths.
Coming to the difference between father and son, Krishna is clearly a god come down to earth, but Pradyumna is a mere mortal who struggles to find himself. He is the mystery figure who appears out of nowhere, not really heroic to start with, but one who must fight to advance every step. The sheer numbers of those opposing him is stupefying. But still he fights on. Is he a fool, an idealist, or both? In our hearts, we too long to be that hero, that inspiring figure who lives up to the loftiest notions of what an individual can be. We wish to shake off our inertia, take on the world and win. We root for him, indirectly rooting for ourselves. No wonder that Pradyumna appeals to readers across age groups!
As for the sequel, his story turned out to be much greater in scope and depth than I could fit into one book. So now we have Pradyumna straddling two books with his majestic presence!
You also wrote stories, ‘My Little Spitfire’ and ‘One Crazy Day in the life of a Teenager.’ How different is the process of writing shorts and novels?
A short story captures a slice of life or emotion, the story of an hour or even a moment! A sudden impulse, a momentary passion, a spark of an idea ― and you can plunge directly into a short story. My two short stories were written in a few hours each, for I was carried along by a spontaneous flow of thought. But, a novel is humongous in comparison. You need a plot and structure, a theme, great characters, conflicts, scenes, and so much more. Louisa May Alcott declared, ‘I want to do something splendid. Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I am dead.’ She was talking of writing novels! Therefore, I would say that a novel is not something you can get into in a half-hearted manner.
Being a former creative director in advertising and corporate communications, how did the writing bug hit you or would you say it was bound to happen after being in the creative field?
Who doesn’t dream of doing something that doesn’t require dealing with a long commute, a nasty boss or office politics? But the compulsions of making a living, building a career and dealing with other mundane concerns bog you down. I had honed my writing skills over many years. Marketing skills were part and parcel of my life as an advertising professional. And once I wrote the first short story, the creative bug seduced me into letting go of practical concerns and soaring unfettered into the skies. The amazing reviews I got for my first book ‘The Madras Mangler’ emboldened me to continue as an author. My second, ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ is steadily expanding its footprint. Now in my third book, coming out in October 2015, I attempt a rom-com. ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ is set amidst the frenzy and fever of a bustling media empire in Mumbai. It’s a fun look at contemporary office life, with lashings of humor and power play, romance and heartbreak.