Aditya Iyengar is a corporate professional, and writes novels, screenplays and poetry. His previous books include the critically acclaimed The Thirteenth Day, Palace of Assassins, A Broken Sun and The Conqueror. He is known for delving into mythological fiction with his magnificent narratives, and offering in his works a contemporary take which gives the readers a fresh perspective about mythological characters. He has recently come out with the book “Bhumika: A Story of Sita”, which is a feminist re-imagining of the Ramayana based on a simple premise— ‘What could Sita have been without Rama?’ Through the protagonists Sita- who marries Rama, and Bhumika- who is Sita in an alternate life and who rules her kingdom as an independent queen; the book explores issues of feminism and choice- that whether one chooses to be a Sita or Bhumika, both choices are equally relevant and good. Chirdeep Malhotra connected with him for an exclusive interview, in which he talks about his latest book and also gives some amazing book recommendations for our esteemed readers.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve lived most of my life between Mumbai and Delhi. I have a day job with a corporate that takes up most of my time during the week and then I try to get as much sleep as possible on weekends. Between these two somewhat non-negotiable demands, I try writing books.
Can you tell us more about your book “Bhumika: The Story of Sita”?
“Bhumika” is a re-imagining of Sita’s life and what would have happened if she had never married Rama, and an examination of what constitutes ‘choice’ for women and men. It represents a different take on the lives of two enigmatic women, Sita and Bhumika, secure in their choices but not defined by them. This book has a lot of contemporary relevance, both for the modern woman and the society that judges her at each and every step, and also the world at large.
The book is being described as a “feminist retelling of the Ramayana”. What inspired you to write the book from a female perspective?
I’m a feminist myself. Proudly so. Somewhere, I always wanted to write a story that captured my thoughts on the same.
How did you research the narrative of the book?
The great thing about writing about the Ramayana and Mahabharata for me is the fact that most of my research was done in my childhood. I’ve read so much about the epics growing up, it’s mostly a matter of ensuring that the names and sequence of events are correct while I write.
For the character of Bhumika, were there any other inspirations from mythology or other sources?
A few years back, I read Volga’s wonderful feminist novel on Sita called ‘The Liberation of Sita’. It unlocked so many worlds for me and so many ideas. Bhumika essentially came from there.
Your oeuvre consists of books delving into retellings of mythology and history. How did you develop a liking for mythological fiction and historical fiction?
I’ve always been interested in history and mythology. I read a lot of books from both genres as a child. ‘The Krishnavatara series’ by K.M. Munshi and ‘The Ramses series’ by Christian Jacq were very early, powerful influences. Over the years, my fondness of both genres led me to want to create literature around the same.
Can you recommend some mythological or historical fiction books that you particularly cherish?
These include ‘Cuckold’ by Kiran Nagarkar, ‘The Liberation of Sita’ by Volga, ‘The Flashman Papers’ by George MacDonald Fraser, ‘Yuganta’ by Irawati Karve, ‘Prague Fatale’ by Philip Kerr, and any of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances.
Which book are you reading presently?
Currently, a set of essays called ‘The Great Empires of Asia’ that have been edited by Jim Masselos and Jonathan Fenby.
Do you have a reading schedule? We and our readers are always curious to know about what and how writers read. How much time do you normally take to finish a book?
I don’t really have a reading schedule. And these days, I find that the number of books I read have reduced. Instead, most of my reading seems to be articles online. Normally, the amount of time it takes to finish a book depends on how ‘heavy’ it is in terms of content. Well-written page turners, I’m able to read in a couple of days. Non-fiction and content with depth takes me longer. I recently spent nearly 10 days on a 50-page book of poetry called ‘The Dialogue of Two Snails’ by Federico García Lorca. The poems were so beautiful that I lingered on almost every line and so it took much longer than average.
Can you share with us a quote from a recent book you read that changed you, moved you or made you think?
I re-read T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ recently. The poem is incredibly powerful, but these two lines always stand out for me — “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender which an age of prudence can never retract. By this, and only this, we have existed.”
Finally, what message do you want readers to take from your book?
Honestly, I don’t like to presume what messages readers take from my books. But I think feminism is one of the most powerful forces for good in the world, and it’s not only about enabling women to live to their full potential, but also about making men more sensitive to the world at large.
‘Bhumika’ by Aditya Iyengar has been published by Hachette India Publishers. Read more about the book here and buy it here.