The making of young Chanakya

Updated: Jul 04, 2018, 15:52 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Epic storyteller Ashok Banker is ready with the first in his trilogy on one of India's earliest strategic thinkers

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

What was the inspiration to work on this book?
I'm fascinated by origin stories. I always wanted to know how a legendary jurist and kingmaker like Kautilya developed his formidable knowledge and intellectual skills. It took a great deal of deep diving into the depths of history but eventually I emerged with a portrait of an extraordinary young boy genius. Chanakya: The Legend Begins is the story of the great man's earliest years as a seven-year-old and how, even at that tender age, he displayed signs of greatness.

Ashok Banker
Ashok Banker

You have used the word 'deep diving' to create this work.
Sadly, there is no single book that offers an in-depth, exhaustively researched biography of Chanakya, but the unabridged translations of his own works provide a wealth of detail. For instance, in his famous listings of 'dand' (punishments) for various crimes in his Arthashastra, he provides anecdotal examples to illustrate how motive (or the lack of it) can mitigate a crime. I had to wade through a small library of books to ferret out the tiniest nugget of information, but it was worth it in the end. The challenge then was to write a good novel drawing from that research without dumping it on the page.

And how did you go about with your research?
I collected the research materials over two decades, from bookstores specialising in non-fiction in Delhi, Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Kolkata to second-hand bookstores and even libraries in India as well as USA. I was able to access a few gems through online bookstores.

How does his life and legacy resonate with today's reader, especially the younger generation?
This book tells the story of a seven-year-old who is forced to face life's harshest realities and deal with them. I believe every young adult can relate to that struggle. It's an inspiring, rousing story of triumph against impossible odds, using only the power of the mind.

What's next for us from your writing desk?
Chanakya is a trilogy and two more books covering the extraordinary years of his childhood and young adulthood are already complete. Currently, I'm working on a series of standalone historical thrillers about nine warrior queens: Padmini, Razia Sultan, Begum Samru, Karnavati, Hazrat Mahal, Chandbibi, Rani Lakshmibai, Tarabai and Rudrama Devi.

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