Ashwin Sanghi ranks among India’s highest selling English fiction authors. He has written several bestsellers (The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key) and a New York Times bestselling crime thriller with James Patterson. Included by Forbes India in their Celebrity 100 and winner of the Crossword Popular Choice, Ashwin has recently also penned a non-fiction title 13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck. Sialkot Saga, his latest thriller, is slated for release on Tue, 5 Apr 16.
Kulpreet Yadav: The YouTube promo of your latest novel Sialkot Saga suggests that like many of your earlier works it doesn’t follow a linear narrative. Tell us about the setting you have used for this novel and the conflict in the lives of the main characters.
Ashwin Sanghi: My first book, The Rozabal Line, was a theological mystery. The next, Chanakya’s Chant, was a political mystery. The third, The Krishna Key, was a mythological mystery. The Sialkot Saga is a business mystery. This book is about two men, Arbaaz and Arvind, who grow up in very different worlds. While Arvind grows up in Kolkata in Marwari aristocracy, Arbaaz fends for himself in the underworld of Dongri. They do not realize it but their lives are connected by an ancient secret. Their quest for that secret, unfortunately, will have repercussions for everyone else. The conflict between Arbaaz and Arvind constitutes the bulk of the story with periodic flashes into ancient India.
Kulpreet Yadav: Unlike the west, Indian filmmakers don’t actively seek stories spun by Indian novelists for movie adaptations. I have read many Indian novels which, if considered by Bollywood producers, can be converted into outstanding movies. Do you think this attitude is likely to change in the future?
Ashwin Sanghi: The problem thus far has been the fact that Bollywood has been focused on stars rather than scripts. Bollywood has usually woven scripts to suit specific stars rather than actively searching actors who would suit specific scripts. This is changing albeit gradually. I think that we will see rapid change in non-Bollywood storytelling, for example, television, video on demand services and streaming services. The success of specific titles in such formats will prompt Bollywood to take a cue.
Kulpreet Yadav: You have fictionalized history and mythology in your novels, even written a self-help book, but have stayed away from contemporary Indian politics, though it is the magic potion on which the whole media and entertainment industry is feasting. Why not writers like you? Is it because Indian fiction writing is all about escaping reality, maybe like Bollywood?
Ashwin Sanghi: I am surprised to hear that question. It was the Indian General Elections of 2009 that inspired me to write Chanakya’s Chant. The UPA had won the elections but cabinet formation was held up due to jockeying for posts by alliance members. I thought to myself: was politics always this messy? Chanakya’s Chant was simply the answer to that fundamental question. Politics and human nature have not changed down the ages. People, props and places change—politics and political ambitions remain constant. There are two parallel stories that are narrated in Chanakya’s Chant. The first is the story of Chanakya, 2300 years ago. It is a fictional retelling of the political machinations that brought Chandragupta Maurya to the throne. The second is a modern-day tale of a Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh, Gangasagar Mishra, who decides that a poor girl from a Kanpur slum is the ideal candidate to be made Prime Minister of India. The contemporary tale describes the strategies employed by Gangasagar to bring his dream to fruition. Thus, you will appreciate that I have not shied away from political stories.
Kulpreet Yadav: Mumbai or Delhi, which is the best place for a writer to live and why?
Ashwin Sanghi: That’s like asking which pond is best suited for a fish! There is no right answer because it depends on the species. My species prefers Mumbai because I grew up there but I could just as easily live in Delhi. Both cities provide adequate food for thought.
Kulpreet Yadav: Authors seeking to promote their books do all sorts of things. How, according to you, should they prioritize from these: attending literary festivals, multi-city book launches, and digital marketing?
Ashwin Sanghi: An author’s first priority must remain writing. Everything else is incidental. I club everything else into one broad category, “being seen and heard”. There are various alternatives to being seen or heard—social media, literary festivals, book launches, press interaction, lectures, mass marketing, columns, blogging—but there is no pecking order involved. I do not believe that one size fits all. Every author must find what works best for him or her.
- Pre-order Sialkot Saga from Amazon here.