Kamesh Ramakrishna Interview – The Last Kaurava Book

Kamesh Ramakrishna graduated from IIT/Kanpur in 1974 with a B.Tech. in Electrical Engineering – He was ranked in the top five of the entire graduating class. He then went to Carnegie-Mellon University and in 1982 He graduated with a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence in the School of Computer Science.He was assistant professor in the Computer Science department of The Ohio State University for a few years before leaving the industry.

He is currently working as a Software Consultant/Architect and work for hi personal consulting firm Kashi Software Architects, Inc. He has received three US (and International) patents for his work in Digital Equipment Corporation.

Kamesh Ramakrishna Interview


What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. My sister remembers an incident that I don’t recall at all – she came home from school to find me, just back from IIT, telling my mother the story of “Wait Until Dark”, action and all. When I drive home by myself from work, I imagine episodes and incidents with action and dialogue. If there are passengers in the car, I tell them stories if they seem receptive.

There is a vast gulf between telling stories to writing them down and I regret that I never wrote down the improvised stories that I’ve told. When I saw the movie version of Peter Brook’s mammoth play The Mahabharata, I was inspired to tell the stories in my own words and that made me think of realistic variations that would be driven solely by human concerns. I felt that if a non-Indian had the courage to tell his or her version of the epic, so could I.

There is an even greater gulf between writing stories and getting them published. That is another story…

What did you like to read when you were a boy?

My reading falls into two groups – before the age of fourteen and after. Before fourteen, I read all the popular stuff – Enid Blyton, superhero comic books, some science-fiction, anything to do with “science”. When I was fourteen I was introduced to Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell, Camus, Havelock-Ellis, and my reading became schizophrenic – the lowbrow stuff included science-fiction, Harold Robbins, science-fiction, James Hadley Chase, junk science-fiction, John Creasy, Mario Puzo, and, of course, more junk science-fiction; the highbrow stuff included Thomas Mann, William Golding, mathematics, science, and, serious science-fiction.

By taking the “science stream” for the Indian School Certificate (or “Senior Cambridge” as it was popularly called those days), I got no guidance from school on what to read or how to read, so I developed my own rules for reading – skip descriptions unless absolutely necessary, get to the sexy parts first, never use a dictionary but figure out meanings from context, read the comic book version of classics, etc. – basically a bunch of really terrible reading habits that I still struggle with.

What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?

I am such a terrible person to be giving this advice! But no matter … the greatest challenge for me is the step from imagining a story to writing down an outline. Unfortunately, that is not the end of great challenges – filling out that outline, developing characters, describing events, revising, reviewing, and so on, are all great challenges.

In fact, the greatest challenge in writing a story is the next step that must be taken! Not the final step or some future step, but the VERY NEXT step. Everything else, including the step immediately after the next step, is a distraction and can stop one, viz., me, from finishing.

How much research do you do before writing the book?

This is a very general question, so I will answer it with reference to The Last Kaurava.

For the longest time, I have been an avid student of history, anthropology, archaeology, myth & legends, science and philosophy. And the interconnection between these disciplines. My research began with J. A. B. van Buitenen’s translation of the critical edition of the Mahabharata. But that is merely one node in a highly interconnected network. I read some version of the Puranas – I had to read multiple versions so as to make up for my poor knowledge of Sanskrit; I read: many other versions of the Mahabharata; Kalhana’sRajatarangini; Ashokavadhan, the Buddhist history of Ashoka’s conversion; Kautilya’sArthashastra; many versions of the Ramayana; the Brihatkatha. I read A.K. Ramanujam’s collection of folk tales and took his advice and read folk tales from thirty or so ethnic groups from different parts of the world; I read the myths from other religions – Christian and Jewish mythology, Robert Graves’ Greek Myths, the myths of Egypt, Maya, etc.; the controversies surrounding Western academic analyses of Indian and Egyptian history; the paleogeography of India; the known prehistory of India from Paleolithic to Neolithic to Bronze Age and Iron Ages; the myths surrounding Alexander; cultural anthropology of the world, – the list is long.

But research has to congeal into concrete form and that took even longer. I can say without hesitation that this novel, a work of fiction using characters from the Mahabharata, is based on a plot that crystallized about three years ago – I can probably pinpoint the first version to the week, if not the day, of 2013 that it came to me.

Kamesh Ramakrishna Interview


What motivated you to write the book “The Last Kaurava a Novel”?

The Mahabharata has been a “peoples’ epic” for many centuries, with regional Mahabharata variants from all over India as well as Southeast Asia. Story tellers both new and traditional, performance artists, and even grandmothers everywhere, have been creating an enormous number of sub-plots and variations.

My book is a work of fiction that is very different from the Mahabharata – yes, I use several characters from the Epic. I also mostly follow the story-line. It requires that the reader to be flexible and open-minded enough to let my story play out. To be clear, I am not retelling the Mahabharata; this is a new novel.

Two original ideas precipitated this novel – a) my realisation that the Mahabharata mentions that the Sarasvati was drying up, and, b) my realisation that it was quite possible that Indian civilization was a highly functional, prosperous, and advanced culture that was mostly likely non-literate.

Paleo geographers and archaeologists have been able to identify the events that led to the Sarasvati’s disappearance and that specifies the approximate date of 2000 B.C.E. for some of the events in the Mahabharata. This date conflicts with other dates that people have proposed for the world described by the Mahabharata – these other dates are generally based on astronomical observations that, unfortunately, don’t seem to yield a single answer.

If the Sarasvati was drying up, the 2000-plus settlements on its shores were being abandoned. Over a million people were on the move – the war should have been a result of the stresses caused by this migration. But there is no sign of this migration in the Mahabharata (maybe, the twelve years of exile is the metaphor for being refugees). That, I felt, was worth exploring via story.

The second observation is amazing in its own right, almost unbelievable. Writing does not seem to have taken off in South Asia till after Chandragupta Maurya around 300 B.C.E. But from the earliest recorded times, South Asia has been seen by its contemporaries to the West (in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, etc.), as a richer, more sophisticated, and more highly evolved culture. From our modern perspective in which literacy is a core requirement, it appears amazing that the culture of South Asia was non-literate at a time when those contemporary cultures were writing stories and maintaining written records. There is evidence from contemporary visitors, like Megasthenes, that among themselves South Asian merchants made oral contracts, that being non-literate was not a handicap.

There are some indications that abiguda scripts like Brahmi (the script seen in the first stone inscriptions from 300 B.C.E. found in India) were first invented between 900 B.C.E. and 600 B.C.E. That period is also when linguists believe that many ancient South Asian books were written down. I thought that this was worth exploring in a story.

Can you tell us more about your latest book “The Last Kaurava a Novel”?

The Last Kaurava is a novel set against the background of a crisis circa 2000 BCE caused by the drying up of the Sarasvati. Devavrat Bhishma is dying, wounded in a battle that made him a prisoner of his grand-nephew Yudhishthira. Devavrat tells Yudhishthira the story of how the Kuru family, the Kauravas, came to establish Hastinapur as a trading post on the frontier of Panchnad. Yudhishthira asks how Devavrat had addressed the crisis – cities in Panchnad had been abandoned and immigrants poured into tiny Hastinapur looking for safety and support. The success of Kaurava policy comes at a cost to Devavrat’s personal life and this is part of Devavrat’s story. That narration becomes part of the epic poetic archive of the city. These archives are memorized as oral history by the Kavi Sangha, the guild of poets, bards, and memory-keepers.

Over a thousand years later, a frame story, set in 850 BCE (over a thousand years after the Great War) reimagines the meta-episode in the epic of how the god Ganesha agreed to be Vyaasa’s scribe, subject to unusual conditions. I connect what might be a metaphor to known events from a time when the city of Hastinapur (literally, The Elephant City, or perhaps,Ganesha’s city), was destroyed in a flood. Its oral archives including an epic poem about the Great War, held in human memory by the guild of bards was threatened with extinction as almost all the bards of Hastinapur had died. The solution was to write it down. But how?

imagined a highly evolved, non-literate and orally based culture in 850 BCE, utterly unlike its “literate” Western (i.e., Persian, Assyrian, Greek, etc.) contemporaries. The decision to write down the memorised archives was not just a break with tradition. The kavis/bards did not know any script, they could neither read nor write and needed help – just like Vyaasa needed Ganesha’s help in the original. Vyaasa had called upon Ganesha to be the scribe – the bards asked the Elephant City to provide the scribes who would write down as they recited. This was an expensive proposition that the city was unhappy with and every delay or slowdown would provoke demands to end the project – just like Ganesha’s demand for non-stop recitation of the poem by Vyaasa. The Kavi Sangha, the guild of bards cooperated with the guild of traders and merchants to solve problems that arose. The solution? It’s in this novel.

I followed some ground rules. Nothing fantastic – no gods, goddesses, or demons; no magic; no magical weapons; no miraculous conceptions; no karmic explanations. Situating the Great War in 2000 B.C.E. limited the technologies available – for instance, no nuclear weapons, but more to the point, no horses or iron or million-man armies. Iron was scarce or unknown; armies were small; horse-drawn war chariots would not exist for another two hundred years; transportation was by carts drawn by oxen or onagers (the “Asian wild ass”). The people were not all that different from us – they loved, they hated, they were kind, they got angry, they acted without thinking, they plotted, they lied, they demanded the truth, etc. Not better than us, and not worse either. They were just like us.

How did you come up with the idea of writing mythological fiction genre book?

I want to get away from the word “mythology”. I am not writing mythology, I’m writing “pre-history”. Mythology contains gods and goddesses who play a part in human life, uses magic and miracles to drive the arc of story, and freely posits anachronistic knowledge and technology. Pre-history stays away from that. Prehistory is realistic fiction that may be derived from stories rooted in myth, but is not myth. It is fiction.

Fiction, pre-historic or historic, can bring in anthropology, archaeology, geography, economics, psychology, and even politics. It brings in living stories, not dead theories. I’ve always been interested in stories with complex characters and complex narrative. The Mahabharata is surely made that way!

In addition, myth often hides reality behind a screen of metaphor and analogy. Extracting realistic story from behind that screen is exhilarating and intellectually interesting.

Who are your favourite authors?

I get excited by specific books – some of the books that encouraged my writing were Gore Vidal’s Creation and Julian, Robert Graves’ books I, Claudius and King Jesus, Aubrey Menon’sRamayana, Iravati Karve’s Yuganta, A. K. Ramanujam’s Folk Tales from India, Herodotus’History, among others.

If I look at books other than those that contributed to my own writing, I find an eclectic mix of authors and books. Science fiction used to be a big chunk, but ever since it degenerated to repetitive fantasy derived from Tolkien (who is an amazing creator of mythology), I’ve avoided it.

In short, I can’t claim a favourite author, but I can claim many favourite works.

How much time do you dedicate to writing on a daily basis?

I don’t keep track because I might get depressed if I did. That is not so good. Dedicating time is a very good idea and if you can do it, go for it. You will be very productive! I will admire you for it!

What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?

I am amazed that I complete anything. That’s the absolute truth in a world where there are no absolute truths. I have no advice for anybody else. If it hurts when you don’t write, don’t wait for a muse, just write. When you sit down to relax, do you do nothing or do you construct stories in your head? If you can, get them out of your head and write them down, because it might mean, maybe, just maybe, that you want to be a writer.

And, on the other hand, maybe not.

Source :-   http://www.writerstory.com/kamesh-ramakrishna-interview-the-last-kaurava-book/

Kamesh Ramakrishna Aiyer was raised in Mumbai.  He is a lifelong reader of almost anything. As a child, he wanted to be many things – a scientist, a mathematician, a biologist, a writer, and so on. Science and engineering took first priority, so he studied at IIT/Kanpur, then obtained a Ph.D. in Computer Science, and has worked as a scientist and engineer for over 30 years. He still wanted to write, but the inspiration only came when he thought of re-imagining the Mahabharata.  This brought into play the extensive reading he had done, but also required further extensive research and study of original sources. The new perspective was grounded in research on the ecological underpinnings of the epic and has been published in two scholarly journals – The Trumpeter (Canadian) and The Indian Journal of Eco-Criticism .  Now Amazon’s Kindle has provided the opportunity to publish short excerpts of his writing. “The Making of Bhishma” is the first one, and more will be published in the coming months. The book is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007FGWOR4

Kamesh is married to Geeta Aiyer, founder of Boston Common Asset Management which specializes in sustainable investing.  They have two children and live in Cambridge. He talked to Lokvani about his new book – The Mahabharata Re-Imagined.

Could you tell us a little about your professional background?

Basically, I am a computer guy, a scientist, and an engineer. I did my bachelor’s in IIT/Kanpur, then Ph.D. at Carnegie-Mellon University in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science. I have been a professor, worked at Digital Equipment Corporation.  I have patents for some AI-related language features from those days.  Then, through the last two decades, I played a variety of technical roles – some highlights include: I was software architect with Open Software Foundation for Motif 2.0, the leading edge user interface standard; I worked in some tech startups, including as CTO; was a systems management standards guru at EMC; and, have done some software consulting.

What motivated you to write the Re-imagined Mahabharata?

I have always been a voracious reader.  All through my life I have read books about all kinds of subjects even if it had nothing to do with my schoolwork or job. I have read about religions, all kinds of mythology, fiction of all kinds, dance, drama, Japan, Samoa, … you name it.
In 1980 or so, I read an intriguing rationalist theory from the somewhat controversial anthropologist Marvin Harris that matched Mahatma Gandhi’s views about the role of the cow in Indian culture. Then in 1991, I saw Peter Brooks’ movie version of the Mahabharata, which I thought was very compelling but scenes from it made me go back and re-read Rajagopalachari’s popular version.  That then led me to read many different translations and re-tellings of the Mahabharata.  I realized that all these writings focused on the foreground story but that there were common elements in the cultural backdrop of the Mahabharata that could be related to the origins of cow worship, wars, status of women, the origins of caste, etc..

What did I see in the background? There was an unacknowledged environmental disaster in the background (Balarama says so in the Mahabharata, while the Harivamsa says so in a prologue); there is more than one massacre of forest dwellers by city-dwellers; there is massive de-forestation by fire; there is perhaps even an energy crisis caused by building a great new city in the middle of arid land; there is the beginnings of the jaati/caste system. The story of Krishna the cowherd shows a society going from worshipping Indra as the storm-god to worshipping the cow as the supreme giver! The story of Balarama is the story of somebody who gave up cow-herding and became a farmer whose implement is the plough.  Even that has a deeper significance, which I get into in my version.

What value do you see in using names of characters from the Mahabharata and twisting the story away from the original to suit your point of view?

In the beginning I was worried that I was doing something illegitimate.  Then I discovered ancient Indian literature.
I talked with the great scholar and poet A. K. Ramanujam briefly before he passed away. He had edited a book “300 Ramayanas”. But he also said that if there are 300 Ramayanas, there are 3000 Mahabharatas, or more! I did not know this when I started my project. The research has been eye-opening.  The different Mahabharatas go all over the place.  The Jatakas have the story of the “Ten Slave-brothers”.  The names of these brothers are fascinating — the first two match  Krishna and Balarama, the last five match the names of the Pandavas!  Their mother is a variation of Devaki. Then there is the Bhil Mahabharat, which has all kinds of detail you don’t find anywhere else.

I realized that others had preceded in proposing re-imagined versions.  Irawati Karve wrote a collection of essays (Yuganta) analyzing each of the major characters — she suggests that Karna was Durvasa’s son and that Yudhishthira may have been Vidura’s son. The list of writers who have made other modifications to the story is also long.  I felt that I did not need to be reticent about changing the story.
So, first, there is no harm in re-imagining it.  I am not the first. I am maybe the 33,334th person to re-tell the story.
So what is my point-of-view?

The Mahabharata is a story of conflict over which social policies to follow in response to an environmental disaster. The social policies espoused by the winners (the Pandavas) become core practices of “Hinduism”, or Indo-Gangetic culture.  These include: cow worship, caste/jaati, sharing the forest as commons with some respect for the rights of forest-dwellers, a limited definition of empire to the watershed of the Ganga, the use of the bullock-drawn iron-clad plough.  Some practices such as forced migration died out as less land was available for settlement.  Some practices may have been tried but abandoned such as infanticide and polyandry.  It is likely that some of the conflict was caused by a transition from matriarchy to patriarchy (or at least from matrilineal to patrilineal inheritance).

What is the value of this point-of-view?

Scholars like Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) discuss cultures that faced disaster and failed to respond effectively. He could find no examples of a cultural response that worked over thousands of years.  I claim that the Indo-Gangetic culture is the only one in history that faced disaster and responded so as to survive long-term! The economy and culture had its successful aspects, but we also know that it was not robust enough in the face of extractive European colonialism. This point alone would be worth our understanding.

Our world is in the middle of an environmental crisis – maybe it is already a disaster or at least heading that way.  What is the value of understanding what has succeeded or failed in the past? How about understanding things that worked in the short-term but failed in the long-term, like the Indo-Gangetic culture.

Would it not be better to write a historical fiction different from the Mahabharata to suit your point of view?

“Better” in what way?  People who are going to be upset by the changes I make should probably read the 30,000 Mahabharatas out there and get really upset!

Do you feel that the contemporary ideas of life and morals work well when super-imposed on a time scale that is so far removed from us and hardly understood?

Ah-ha!  This is exactly the grand tradition that I boldly seek to follow.
The Mahabharata itself says that it was originally 8000 verses. then 24000 verses then 96000 verses. There is internal evidence of interpolation, re-interpretation, misunderstandings, and so on. For instance, the Bhagavad Gita is almost certainly less than 2000 years old, whereas the Mahabharata is believed to have been written down between 400 B.C.E and 400 A.C.E. (but was orally transmitted before).  The extremely long “Instructions of Bhishma” may precede the Bhagavad Gita but is almost certainly post-Ashoka, i.e., more recent than 250 B.C.E.

Some of this expansion was done by people who had no conception of what was going on and unfortunately it shows. The story that Draupadi married all five Pandavas because of what Kunti said sounds like a confused story-teller trying to come up with a reason for something he/she did not understand! Almost everything that happens in the war was written by a bunch of poets who had never seen a battle.  The reader will see only a few episodes that ring true.  Among these are: the killing of Abhimanyu (the last scenes when he defends himself with a chariot-wheel and then is killed by Duhshasana’s son as he lies wounded on the ground), the killing of Karna as he tried to free his chariot, the shocking manner in which Aswatthama kills  Drishtadyumna and the children of the Pandavas.  But much of the rest of the war narrative is weak.

That is to say, I am not doing anything that hasn’t already been done.  The Mahabharata is an enduring tale because of our interest in what happens to its characters.  I do not want to lose that.  I have kept the basic story intact by retaining major turning points.  I try to shine a bright light on anomalies, especially ones that have the potential to engage the reader.  For instance, in the just published “The Making of Bhishma”, I have Devavrat being attracted to Satyavati.  She is beautiful and more or less the same age as Devavrat.  All the standard re-tellings ignore the possibility that they could be attracted to each other. Why would they not be attracted to each other?   Such attraction has ramifications – he is a headstrong young man who says things without thinking and I use that to explain his behavior. On the other hand, Satyavati thinks too much, tries to be clever, and is trapped into marriage to Devavrat’s father. I develop the consequences of this otherwise unexplored mutual attraction.

When I get to it, I plan to have Bhishma kill Sikhandin.  Why?  You will have to read it to find out

Would you consider yourself a religious Hindu?  Are you spiritual?

I am an atheist and a scientist. I was raised in a Hindu family and have read various Hindu scriptures as well as other religious texts extensively. My bookshelf at home not only contains the RigVeda, the Upanishads, and the Puranas, but also the Ashokaavadhana, the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran; it contains the Brihathkatha-saritasagara and Vikramaditya’s Vetaal stories along with collected folk-tales from a large number of countries and ethnic groups.  I have freely read of philosophy, scriptures, mythology, and so on.

My scholarly papers on the Mahabharata have explored the cultural background but the Mahabharata is more than a dry history. The story holds you captive.  As B.R.Chopra’s Indian TV program showed, it can hold its own against any other form of entertainment.

You and your wife work actively to protect the environment. Could you describe some of the important actions that you have taken?

We are active supporters of activist and non-profit groups in the environmental, artistic, and social justice arenas. We try to support organizations that seek to protect the environment.  Geeta is on the board of WorldWatch Institute, and has been on the board of Boston-based CERES. Geeta also works in sustainable investing and her company, Boston Common Asset Management, actively engages global corporations on the subject.

Sustainable living is an important quest in our lives. Like Charity, Right Action begins at home.  We’ve replaced almost all our incandescent bulbs with CFL or LEDs, we’ve insulated our house, we moved to a smaller home in Cambridge close to public transportation and have cut our carbon footprint by more than half.

How has your deep interest in environmental issues influenced your writing?

We are a generation that has lived with one global environmental threat after another.  Every decade since 1950 has seen a global environmental crisis (see below).
Almost the first idea I had when I started writing this re-imagined Mahabharata was that the burning of Khandavaprastha and the construction of the great city of Indraprastha would have necessitated wide-spread damage to the environment!  Even when a city grows slowly and organically, it damages its surroundings – Indraprastha was a city built overnight by an Asura.  How much damage would it have inflicted on its environment?  Why was there no mention of this damage in the story?
With only slight exaggeration, I could argue that much of our thinking in the last sixty years has been influenced by environmental crises. The global environmental issue has been the source of my inspiration to write.

• Deforestation and hill-side erosion in India (and in the world) created trouble in the 1960s;
• the indiscriminate use of DDT in the 1950s and 60s caused small animal populations to crash all over the world in the 1970s;
• the hole in the ozone layer that opened in 1979 threatened every creature on earth and was solved by international action to limit CFCs;
• the Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island disasters of the 1980s awoke us to the global catastrophe inherent in the nuclear power path we were following;
• the global energy crises of the 1970s and the 1980s that worsened the cold war before the Soviet Union broke up;
• the inability of the world’s powers to take action despite the realization that man-made climate change had accelerated in the 1990s and the 2000s;
• the continuing inability to solve this problem as a unified world despite the scale of the problem.
The list seems endless.
How can environmental issues not be at the forefront of our thinking?

Any special message for our readers ?

The bottom line is: We are living in a world that we must maintain.  Possibly, Hindu “dharma” sustained its world through a crisis.  This book is about how that came about, where it succeeded, where it failed, and how it failed. I hope what I write helps us think about our problem.
That is a very dry way to put it. I have created a pseudo-historical narrative that tries to make that story come alive. I hope you like it.

Source :-  http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/article.php?article_id=8134

  • WORDSMITHSoftware architect Kamesh Ramakrishna has turned author with his debut novel, (right) The Last Kaurava

    WORDSMITHSoftware architect Kamesh Ramakrishna has turned author with his debut novel, (right) The Last Kaurava

Kamesh Ramakrishna talks about his first novel, The Last Kaurava

Kamesh Ramakrishna, a consulting software architect in Massachusetts, United States, combined his fascination for history, archaeology, science and philosophy to write his first novel, The Last Kaurava , which interprets the Mahabharata through events that encompasses environmental and sociological issues among other topics that are relevant to the present-day world. Kamesh, who hails from the city, is a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology – Kanpur. Following his doctorate in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he worked as a professor and a software engineer.

Edited excerpts from an e-mail interview with the author who is now in India for the promotion of his book.

The Mahabharatha has been rewritten and reinterpreted many times and in many languages. What is it about the epic that inspired you to come up with a new interpretation?

The Mahabharata is a microcosm – a reflection of the macrocosm that is the world we live in. It is one of the few texts that seem to grow in complexity as one grows older – the version of a page I read as a child no longer exists when I read the same page as a young adult. Then you have a family and the meaning of a page changes again.

I had almost forgotten about the Mahabharata, mislaid it in my mind, when I saw an abridged-for-film version of Peter Brook’s mammoth nine-hour play. Its depiction of life in the forest at that early age in human history was more authentic than the equivalents in the 19th century paintings of Raja Ravi Varma or the caricatured blood-and-gore of popular picture books.

Shorn of myths, miracles and divine avatars, your book reads like it has been seen through the prism of modern-day events with several references to refugees, Draconian family planning measures, environmental concerns and so on. Was that an effort to make the book relevant to the modern world or were you trying to indicate that such problems have always been part of mankind’s journey on earth?

At one level of analysis, expulsion, followed by immigration, growth, environmental concerns, Draconian measures including ones for family planning, followed by social breakdown IS the basic cycle of growth of ALL human societies. I do not have to put these into an epic-al story to order to make it credible – instead, such problems are the warp and the weft of any epic of human history. Even an epic with magical and/or divine imprimatur only becomes credible if it conforms to this cyclic narration of history. In short, I am not deliberately doing this, but it happens of its own accord.

Is The Last Kaurava a warning to modern day readers about the consequences of ignoring the environment and trying to go against the laws of nature?

At every step of the development of our society, we can ask ourselves ‘why’? Not all the answers will cast blame on the humans involved or on their human nature. If humans were not responsible for at least one of these answers, there is no story.

What I have written is a novel, a work of fiction. Our modern era faces an environmental crisis of unprecedented magnitude and it is probably inevitable that anything I’ve written touches on or reflects this crisis (or anybody else for that matter).

How long did it take for the research and writing?

For the longest time, I have been an avid student of history, anthropology, archaeology, myth and legends, science and philosophy. And the interconnection between these disciplines. I love story-telling!

I can say without hesitation that this novel, a work of fiction using characters from the Mahabharata, is based on a plot that crystallised about two-and-a-half years ago – I can probably pinpoint the first version to the week, if not the day, of 2013 that it came to me.

Your book hinges on the story of an all too human Bhishma, with human failings and strengths. Is he your favourite character in the epic?

I am drawn to the characters who are important, but whose personal narrative and emotions are not well developed. Bhishma, Satyavati, Drona, Kunti, Pandu, Dhritarashtra, … the list of interesting characters is long. But “interesting” is not the same as “favourite”!

Why was Bhishma at the head of this list? He is the only character who spans the entire period of time, from the relationship between Shantanu and Ganga, Devavrat’s mother, to the days after the war when a dying Bhishma lectures Yudhishthira about the duties of a king.

Is there another book in the pipeline?

This is such a difficult question. The Last Kaurava is my first novel. In the long years of doing research, of discovering that I had to re-learn the writing of fiction, I must have written four of five unfinished versions of Mahabharata. I attended writing workshops and found that the Mahabharata was not suitable fodder if I wanted feedback on my writing style, so I have unfinished novels in other genres – horror, science fiction/fantasy, murder mystery, “ethnic”, even a thriller based on another Mahabharata character. I tried short vignettes – these I put up for sale on Kindle and got some positive feedback that kept me going.

One online support group that was an enormous aid was the ‘Mahabharata study-group’, a Yahoo-based group whose members have a wide range of expertise, a wide range of beliefs, and a wide range of approaches to the epic. I have found it to be an inexhaustible source of knowledge and insight into the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is a microcosm – a reflection of the macrocosm that is the world we live in