By choosing to tell Mohini’s story, I opted to go past the known narratives: Anuja Chandramouli

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September 22, 2020 2:44 PM

Best selling author Anuja Chandramouli’s latest book ‘Mohini’ has been published this year. Known for her mastery in retelling the finest nuances from mythological fiction, several of the protagonists she has deeply probed into are those who have braved the darkness of evil. This striking aspect of her storytelling makes it a pleasure for Indian […]

Anuja Chandramouli, fiction, author interview, mythological fiction, books, Mohini by Anuja Chandramouli, South Indian historyIn the author's own words, "Getting to know the Enchantress has been a journey of liberation and I invite people to open themselves up to Mohini and lose themselves in the spell of her enchantment."

Best selling author Anuja Chandramouli’s latest book ‘Mohini’ has been published this year. Known for her mastery in retelling the finest nuances from mythological fiction, several of the protagonists she has deeply probed into are those who have braved the darkness of evil. This striking aspect of her storytelling makes it a pleasure for Indian readers to dive into the mythological fiction that she brings to life through her books.

In this candid conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, the author shares insights about her latest book ‘Mohini’ and her writer’s journey so far.

In the author’s own words, “Getting to know the Enchantress has been a journey of liberation and I invite people to open themselves up to Mohini and lose themselves in the spell of her enchantment.”

Q1. The title of your new book ‘Mohini’ is sure to conjure a certain vision that instantly springs to mind for the Indian audience. In this context, what would you say to your readers about your latest book?

I would tell my readers to forget all about the overheated imagery conjured up at the mention of ‘Mohini’, since it is most likely to involve an indescribably exquisite creature clad in diaphanous garments, who has weaponized her devastating good looks, bewitching smile, beguiling gaze and body made for sin in order to screw over the males of the celestial variety. It is so limiting!

And I am heartily sick of a world where physical perfection, particularly in women is celebrated over and above all else.

By choosing to tell Mohini’s story, I opted to go past the known narratives and explore the myriad told as well as untold stories that delve deeply into the very essence of her being.

It was wonderful to surrender to the ebb and flow of the potent life-force of this elemental and ephemeral presence and to revel in the eddying currents of her free – flowing existence that defies the rigid laws that govern life in a so – called civilized society with its perverse predilection for labelling and pigeonholing individuals as well as its penchant for enforcing a gazillion laws about who ought to love whom and how, also when and where or why.

Q2. How do you bring in the element of ‘voice’ in your retelling?

Secondly, have there been any experiences from your childhood that resonate with your approach as a writer, when you delve into the lives and emotions of characters like ‘Mohini’?

The characters I choose to work with have very distinctive personalities and voices. Therefore, I strive to let them have their say in the manner they see fit without getting in the way and foisting my own personal fundas on them. The idea is to refrain from making them mouthpieces for my own agendas, politically correct or otherwise, as far as possible.

Unfortunately, nowadays, we seem to have gotten into the habit of seeking out echo – chambers, which is why it is important to listen to a voice that is one of a kind, a voice that is raw, refreshing and worth listening to.

Of course, I draw from personal experience and emotions as well as the infinite stories from Vedic lore, gathered over the years, but these elements are then blended together to create something that may have its genesis in the ancient world as well as my immediate past but is nevertheless, entirely unique and imbued with a life of its own.

READ: Tughlaq has taught me not to judge people harshly for the choices they have made: Anuja Chandramouli

Q3. What made you decide on ‘Mohini’ and can you explain how the concept of the book originated?

A lot of people have been asking me this and for the life of me, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to make the commitment to devote a book to Mohini.

Perhaps, she came to me in a dream, charmed me to within an inch of my life and I have been obsessed with her ever since! My publishers and I had another character in mind but Mohini traipsed her way into my imagination and I am not complaining.

As for the concept, it was my intention to navigate the tricky terrain of gender and sexuality which is ever – changing and fluid, subject to the whims and fancies of the different stages of human existence, by the side of Mohini and it has been eye – opening and very illuminating.

Q4. How long did ‘Mohini’ take to reach completion?

I tend not to focus on things like time, word count, technique and tedious things like that when it comes to storytelling. As far as I am concerned, every story has its own needs, demands and I submit to that.

The writing process may take months or years but it always feels like I have experienced several lifetimes during the course of the narrative, journeyed across fabled landscapes filled with myth and magic, braved the depths of the sea to witness the marvels therein, flown across not just the heavens but the furthest reaches of the cosmos on gossamer wings, met and forged beautiful relationships with a host of memorable characters who have come to mean the world to me and are Gods, Goddesses, heroes, villains and the billion things in between.

Q5. What aspects challenged and stretched your creative boundaries in writing ‘Mohini’?

The challenge was to do away with the traditionally gauzy trappings particularly the ethereal beauty and seductive wiles that have come to characterize Mohini, to unearth what lies beneath.

I was not at all surprised to find hidden depths which revealed a will of steel, the dauntless courage of the true adventurer who dares not only to dream but to live the dream, the implacable passion of one who loved and was loved by many, and the boundless imagination of one who chose to disappear into the age old sagas that alone are immortal of all things in existence.

Q6. Taking a look at all your books so far, which is that one protagonist who has challenged you like none of the others and what have been the key takeaways for you in terms of your craft?

They were all challenging and may just be responsible for the smattering of silver in my hair with Shakti: The Divine Feminine deserving special mention for putting me through the wringer at every imaginable level.

But jokes aside, each of my books helped me grow as a person and artist.

They have taught me that even when I am feeling utterly lost and hopelessly trapped in a dark place, it is necessary to keep plugging away in order to find my way back to a safe place and successfully complete the endeavours I have undertaken.

Q7. What do you want readers to take away from their reading of your latest book ‘Mohini’?

An open mind.

A willingness to look past the obvious as well as surface appearances.

A taste for beautiful stories.

A fresh understanding for those who don’t share our viewpoints or don’t feel compelled to do what we think is right. A desire to dream. And finally, a little place in the heart for Mohini to inhabit forever.

Q8. Taking a cue from Catherine Lacey’s novel ‘Pew’, a key question emerges in the book – “Is forgiveness possible when the harm that has been done is so encompassing? What about when harmful actions simply continue?”

While acknowledging that there are several societal fault lines emerging, the author also makes it clear that religion often misses the point on the complexity of issues at stake for humanity. That’s her view in ‘Pew’.

Given the amazing range of characters that you have covered across several books – which character from any of your novels – would you apply this question to and find yourself rethinking the narrative again?

Well, I have made a career out of rethinking the narrative where obscure, marginalized characters are concerned and I definitely believe that we can change the world, one story at a time.

It was while working on Shakti that I came to the comforting realization that nobody is exempt from forgiveness or redemption no matter the magnitude or gravity of their crimes.

Salvation cannot and should not be out of the reach of anybody who searches for it. This is a recurring theme in my novels be it Ganga, Kartikeya or Mohini.

And I need to believe this, so I do. We need to allow people to make amends for the wrongs they have done without condemning them to hell on earth or for an eternity as far as possible and if it is in our hands. Punishment without allowing opportunities for reformation and rehabilitation is just cruel and inhuman.

I am not particularly religious, but religion alone cannot be held responsible for the ills of this world. While it is true that a lot of harm has been and is being done, there is still goodness, kind and love in the world.

These things balance each other out and we need to believe in the best humanity has to offer while simultaneously grappling with the worst.

Q9. What are you creating next – any thoughts, ideas that you would like to share with our readers?

I have a couple of ideas. There are a few characters in the mythological as well as historical fiction genres, I would like to explore more fully.

South Indian history definitely deserves its place in the collective consciousness and I hope to work on something or someone related to this fascinating subject.

Hopefully, I can get my head out of the aforementioned Nutella jar in addition to getting my rear in gear and do some solid work, sooner rather than later.

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