Q&A with author Mahendra Jakhar

Author Mahendra Jakhar impresses with his debut crime thriller, The Butcher of Benares. the guide caught up with him at the 2nd Pune International Literature Festival

Q. The name The Butcher of Benares, makes the book sound like it is more of a historical piece and not crime fiction. What was the thought behind it?
A. I was writing a film script with the same title and approached a lot of film producers, but none showed any interest. So, I started writing this book. The story changed totally from what I had in the film script. And I am a big history lover, so somewhere I have put that into the book. This story is something that is unknown to the common man. So, I turned it into a thriller with historical undertones.

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Q. In the book, crime fiction meets religion and mythology. Was that a deliberate step?
A. It was well-thought of and planned. We have many books on mythology and crime fiction, but none that bring them together in a contemporary setting. So, the setting of Benares, the land of gods and mysticism brings it all together. Some critics have compared me to Dan Brown, I take it as a compliment that I could stand up to that level in my first book.

The Butcher of Benares
The Butcher of Benares, Mahendra Jakhar, Westland, Rs 350. Available at leading bookstores.

Q. How did you research for the book?
A. I made three trips to Benares and met with sadhus, aghoris, and Naga sadhus. I roamed around the ghats and spoke to pundits and touts. It was there that I found some interesting characters. I also met with a senior astrology scholar who enlightened me on Vedic astrology and its connection to astronomy. I read a lot of background material on the royal family of Benares and made sure that I didn’t hurt their sentiments.

Q. What draws you to crime fiction?
A. I have been a crime reporter and thrillers come naturally to me. I have also written episodes for TV shows, which served as a school for crime writing. Crime writing is an art that combines craft and keeps the story thrilling. It provides me a platform to understand what is going on in society, and what is wrong with it. In my own way, I try to understand it, look for solutions see where we, as a society, and where we are heading.

Q. What are the challenges to crime fiction writing?
A. The greatest challenge is that so much has already been done worldwide. It’s difficult to come up with something that has not been done before. And to make a crime fiction work shine on a global platform, is a big challenge. Apart from being a murder mystery, The Butcher of Benares combines the mysticism of Benares, the mysteries of Vedic astrology and astronomy, the varied religious sects, the history of Benares, the royal family, the many historic sites and temples and how it all connects to the 1857 revolt.

Q. What’s next on your list?
A. My next book will soon go for editing. The book is an international intrigue: a murder mystery with religious symbols, history and loads of action and thrills.

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