Interview: Ashwin Sanghi on the nightmare that led to Keepers of the Kalachakra
Drawing parallels between what quantum physics teaches us about the universe and what ancient mythology holds to be true is bestselling author Ashwin Sanghi’s latest offering in his Bharat series, Keepers of the Kalachakra.
Interestingly, it was a nightmare that prompted Sanghi to pen this novel. “I wondered aloud to my wife that the dream had felt very real. Then I began wondering if it were possible that my dream state was actually another life. And what if my regular life were the dream?”
That was how the idea for the book, which fuses science with theology and politics, came about, says the Mumbai-based author. Sanghi chats with Indulge about the research required to pen a novel steeped in science and spirituality, his own journey as a writer and authors he is inspired by.
What was the research like for Keepers of the Kalachakra?
This has been the most difficult book to write in the Bharat Series. As you know, there are many
connections that I draw between the world of quantum physics and Eastern spirituality. I have never been a science student, and I had to teach myself the fundamentals of quantum theory before I could get started. This was followed by many months of reading up on Tibetan Buddhism and Kalachakra meditation. The reading and research continued for a little over eighteen months. Almost a third of the material was left out, because I believed it would overwhelm the reader.
In the fictional worlds you create, how much of our contemporary society and its issues are reflected?
Fiction is always influenced by fact, and sometimes vice-versa. Current affairs, politics and social, cultural or economic upheavals always find place in my fiction. Storytellers do not live in a vacuum. We are a part of the wider universe, and it is impossible not to be influenced by it. I simply try to make sense of the world and provide possible solutions through the medium of fiction.
As a writer, how long does it take from the conception of an idea to its completion?
I usually take around two years to write a book in the Bharat Series. Around six to twelve months are spent on research; the next three months are devoted to building the plot outline; the following six months are used for the actual writing of the story; and the final three months for editing and polishing. I usually write in the mornings between 5 am and 9 am.
Tell us about your journey as an author.
My granduncle was a voracious reader and would gift me a book each week to read. This tradition started when I was just 13. At the end of the week, I had to send him a letter outlining what I liked or disliked about it, with reasons. By the time I was in my twenties, reading was an integral part of my life. I didn’t know it then, but probably that process built a foundation for my future writing.
Almost ten years after joining business, I visited Srinagar. The town has a tomb in the old quarter dating back to 112 AD, and folklore holds that it is the final resting place of Christ. I became obsessed with the story and spent the next eighteen months reading everything about the subject that I could lay my hands on. Even while I was reading, I had no idea that it would evolve into a book. At the end of this hectic research period, I had mountains of information swimming inside my head, and my wife suggested that I pen it down.I didn’t know it then, but my journey into the world of writing had begun.
You must have had your share of unfavourable reviews. How do you deal with criticism?
Any creative endeavour will always attract a wide range of opinions. As the proverb goes, one man’s food is another’s poison. If I had taken the initial negative reviews for my first book to heart, I’d never have written more in the decade that followed. As writers, we should view ourselves as works-in-progress. All that we can hope for is to be slightly better each time, nothing more, nothing less.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring writer?
It boils down to perseverance. There are countless would-be bestsellers that never happened simply because of a lack of the author’s perseverance.
Could you name a few authors who inspire your work?
Some of the books that I read over the past year are Origin by Dan Brown; Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson; Into the Water by Paula Hawkins; Sita—Warrior of Mithila by Amish Tripathi; and Tell Tale by Jeffrey Archer.
Some of my all-time favourite books are Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and Auto-biography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Who are the authors that I was inspired by? There are too many to name here, but they include Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Ayn Rand, Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King… the list is very long!
With the advent of social media, how do you feel writing and book marketing is changing?
Social media is one of the elements that has changed in the marketing mix. Unfortunately, too many new authors think it is the only element. Word-of-mouth marketing, book distribution and visibility, advertising, cover design, online and offline promotion, book tours and many other elements must necessarily be part of your marketing mix.The big change that has happened is the fact that writers are a lot more accessible to their readers these days. I see that as a positive development, but I know that opinion is divided.
What are you working on next?
I will start work on my next book in the Bharat Series in a couple of months. In the meantime, there are three manuscripts in my non-fiction self-help 13 Steps Series that still require my attention. I hope to have these completed before embarking on the next big project.