Of Mystery, Magic and Mythology

After a successful career in advertising, media and the corporate world, Usha Narayanan became a full-time author, with her bestsellers cutting across genres. She has written two romances (HarperCollins and Juggernaut) and a thriller (Leadstart). Her mythological novels, published by Penguin, have been praised as Indian mythology at its fiercest and finest. These include: Pradyumna: Son of KrishnaThe Secret of God’s SonPrem Purana, and the latest, Kartikeya and His Battle with the Soul Stealer. Her eighth book, Awaken the Durga Within: From Glum to Glam, Caged to Carefree, (Rupa), is a unique combination of self-help and mythology to empower women at home and work. It inspires women to invoke their inner shakti through little-known and exciting stories of our goddesses. The Hindu lauds it as a ‘go-to-guide for women of all ages’ while Daily Thanthi Next labels it as  ‘a book to inspire modern Indian women.’

We have a short conversation and enriching with Usha. She is our Author Of The Month!

What made you write?

‘Only a good reader can be a writer,’ says Ruskin Bond. I was a voracious reader, devouring a book a day from my school library. From there it was a natural progression to a Master’s degree in English Literature, followed by a career as a copywriter and creative director in Advertising and Media. After many years writing for clients, I discovered the joy of writing for myself! Then I began a giddy caper through several genres – thriller, mythological fiction, romance and finally, a unique blend of self-help and mythology. 

How is writing mythological fiction different from other genres? Why did you pick this?    

Who can resist the magic and the mystery of timeless tales that give a glimpse of the divine? Our epics and puranas have kept alive an ancient faith that is still vibrant and relevant. There’s no truth you cannot discover in our colourful tales featuring gods and goddesses, demons and kings, heroic men and women. You can give full rein to your imagination, though you must keep in mind that even fantasy has its own rules of logic and language. Mythology is the mystic gateway through which I usher in readers into a world where anything is possible and the mundane can be transformed into the miraculous! 

Tell us about your books.

First came a thriller set in the streets of my own city: The Madras Mangler. Then came a romance, ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ (Harlequin) and my first mythological tale with Penguin: ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna.’ Krishna’s son demanded a sequel: ‘The Secret of God’s Son’. Then came another romance, this one with Juggernaut:  ‘Doctor, Stalker, Spy.’ The lure of mythology and romance gave rise to a composite: ‘Prem Purana,’ three delightful love stories woven around Ganesha, Ravana and Nala. I had written about Vishnu’s son, so the natural follow-up was to write of Shiva’s son: ‘Kartikeya and His Battle with the Soul Stealer’ was again with Penguin. My passion for women’s rights led me to combine motivation with mythology in ‘Awaken the Durga Within,’ published by Rupa. More ideas are churning in my head and will hopefully reach readers soon.

How does culture play a part in the writing and reception of a book?

We are all products of our culture, and our tales reflect our societal mores and values. The challenge is to make our stories rooted in our ethos and yet remain universal in appeal. However, keep in mind that emotions that motivate people are the same across the globe – whether it is love, hate, envy, greed or anger. Our bards wove ballads featuring gods fighting over kingdoms and princesses, and sang of bold heroes and heroines who ventured into perilous lands and seas to accomplish their mission. Writers like me attempt to do the same, and to keep readers enthralled until the story is done. 

What makes a good story?

I aspire to write stories that I would like to read myself. And for that, I need a strong theme and plot, a powerful protagonist or two that I can root for, a smattering of humour to raise a smile and a rip-roaring climax that is not easily forgotten. I need to retain a positive tone and deliver a message of hope, promising readers that there is a glorious light awaiting us at the end of the dark tunnel.    

What is the most frustrating and exciting part about writing?

The most frustrating part is when you are stuck in the middle of the story and confused about how to take it forward to a satisfying climax. Sometimes this means a complete rewrite; at other times, you just need to stop, think and listen to your inner voice. 

The most exciting part is to see your book in print; to see the words you polished and perfected jump out at you from the printed page! To quote from Wordsworth’s verse on the French Revolution: Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! 

Recommend some books for us

Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss

Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson

Poems of Love and War translated by AK Ramanujan

Fun questions

A time period you want to live in

How amazing would it be to live in the times of Lord Krishna! Evil stalked the earth, much like it does today. And then a magnificent figure took centre stage…Krishna was born in a prison and carried away to safety in the dead of night, with a giant serpent guarding  him. He battled demons and deadly foes, and helmed a momentous war to establish dharma on earth. He gifted humankind the sublime Bhagavad Gita to guide them through Kali Yuga, and then returned to Vaikunta. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to participate or even witness this stunning drama?

A mythological villain you want to battle with

Kamsa, Krishna’s uncle and the tyrannical ruler of the Vrishni clan. What can be more black-hearted than to kill babies, beginning with those born to his own sister? When Kamsa discovered that the child born to kill him had somehow escaped his vigil, he ordered all the newborns in his kingdom to be slaughtered. This dark villain is first on my list to kill!

If you take part in a fancy dress competition, who will you be and what will you say?

A ghost, maybe? No costume needed as I’ll be invisible anyway! I could frighten the wits out of the audience by preying on their darkest fears!

Whose biography would you want to write? 

Rani Tarabai, the warrior queen of the Marathas. Married off at the tender age of eight to the second son of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Tarabai succeeded her husband as ruler at the age of 25, when he died in battle. The massive army of Aurangzeb looked at her with scorn, but she proved them wrong — again and again. She turned the tables on her enemies who dismissed her as a ‘mere woman.’ 

If you had the power, is there an episode in world history you would want to change? Why and how?

I would like to see India’s past rewritten. If the valorous Rajputs had been united under a powerful leadership with a coherent strategy, we could have escaped both the onslaught of the Mughals and our slavery under the British. 

Thank you SFTP for this opportunity to connect to readers through your forum! I’d love to hear from them through my website: www.ushanarayanan.com, facebook.com/writerusha or on Twitter and Instagram (@writerusha).

About Usha Narayanan

Find her at www.ushanarayanan.comwww.facebook.com/writerushawww.twitter.com/writerushahttps://www.instagram.com/writerusha/ and www.youtube.com/writerusha

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