He has lent his own inimitable take to Indian mythology, infusing it with imagination, romance, adventure and passion, making ancient tales relatable in a very modern world. In the process, Ashok Banker has struck gold. Interestingly, he was turned down by publishing giant David Davidar, who summarily relegated Banker's draft of Ramayana "to the dustbin". It's another story that the eight-book series went on to become a success; published in 56 countries and translated into seven languages. With his dream project, Epic India Library, Banker now aims to retell all the major myths associated with the Indian subcontinent in an interlinked cycle of over 100 volumes. This prolific writer's oeuvre extends beyond mythology, though, spanning the genres of fantasy, fiction and crime thrillers. He tells Srirekha Pillai more about his work, and life, in an exclusive interview.
You have spawned a new genre of fictionalised mythology, which is popular with Indian writers in English. How do you feel about the resurgence of Indian mythology in publishing?
Frankly, I have mixed feelings. In a way, the larger boom in mythology publishing is still a perpetration of traditional Brahminical patriarchal retellings. Brahmin males are putting their own contemporary spin on their ancient epics. These kinds of retellings have always been around, the only difference is that they're now being written in English and are bestsellers. I keep waiting for a new voice that will attempt something boldly different, path-breaking, but it's all just more of the same dross. I wonder how many authors and publishers are simply manufacturing them to catch the trend. It's easy to jump on a bandwagon, but it's much more important to build a new road that leads to new destinations.
The Ramayana Series, Krishna Coriolis Series and Mahabharata Series all have powerfully etched characters. If you were to single out one character that has captured your imagination like no other, who would it be? And why?
Krishna, of course. She is often denied her own name and dismissed as Draupadi, daughter of Drupad. She is at the heart of the ocean of stories that is the Mahabharata. She is the only one who is true to herself, to dharma, to a value and belief system. She is the only moral character in a sea of immorality. She is a strong, independent, defiant woman, not afraid to speak out against injustice when even powerful men sit silent. She is the only unarmed one ready to confront the most brutal armed yoddha who can cut her down without hesitation. She is not afraid to embrace her sexuality and embody the Indian sanskriti of womanhood. She is the true epitome of Indian woman, able to handle five husbands-five, when even one Indian husband is a chore!-and manage them all beautifully without ever playing off one against the other, or permitting petty sexual jealousies or rivalries to erupt. Imagine her power and potency in the bedroom-in all five bedrooms! Even the entire Kaurava army couldn't defeat the five Pandavas. Krishna Draupadi did it single-handed, and naked to boot! The other Krishna is God Incarnate, yet it is Krishna Draupadi who is truly the powerful one and the defender of dharma and justice. More than Bhishma Pitamaha or anyone else, it is she who represents dharma and Indian sanskriti in our epics. She should be held up as the model for Indian womanhood, not Sita or Sati or anyone else.