Author speak: Shatrujeet Nath on The Guardians of the Halahala
- Ambica Gulati
When business journalism and myth mixed, it should have been broth. But The Guardians of the Halahala is a blend of emotions, plots, romance, passion, unfulfilled desires and as always an ambitious quest for power and control. There is a lot of drama, something akin to the TV series based on history and mythology such as Ashoka, Chandragupta Maurya,
Devon ke Dev
Mahadev. It’s little wonder that the Indian way of life is woven with so
many mystical elements. Also, the eternal quest for more and more is an
unending game, be it between humans, animals or the heavens and hells of this
universe. This is what you will find in this book. The characters are all we
have heard about, we have seen them portrayed in many serials, places of
worship, read about them in books.
What’s interesting is the ability of someone living in the 21st century
trying to see the power trail as an adventure. The author Shatrujeet Nath
worked with The Economic Times as a business journalist, has sold ice-creams,
peddled computer training courses, written ad copies and finally settled down
to penning books. His first book, The
Karachi Deception, was published in 2013. The Guardians of the Halahala is part of the The Vikramaditya
Trilogy series. Scotland.
Currently based in Mumbai, he responded to an email as to how the book
What inspired this book?
Two things. The first was the legendary king Vikramaditya, whose tales of valour and
wisdom I had grown up reading and listening to. I had always viewed Vikramaditya as an
equivalent of the legendary English hero King Arthur, so when I turned to writing fiction,
I decided that I would explore a story with Vikramaditya as its protagonist, a story along
the lines of the Arthurian legend. I find it amazing that no Indian author has written a story around Vikramaditya so far – he is a ready-made Indian hero who lends himself very will to the historical/fantasy genre.
The second thing that acted as an inspiration for The Guardians of the Halahala and the
other two books that are to come in the series is the myth of the halahala. Most Indians
know about the samudramanthan episode in our ancient texts, where the devas and the asuras churned the
to find the amrit (nectar) that
would give them Ocean of Milk
immortality. One of the things that emerged during the churning was the halahala, a
venomous substance that started destroying the universe. The devas and the asuras
took the halahala to Lord Shiva, who saved the universe by drinking the poison. Myths
have always appealed to me, and this one, in particular, was amazing because here was a
substance that was so deadly that it could potentially have destroyed the universe. In many ways, it is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.
One day it occurred to me that there was a story waiting to be told in the halahala myth – a story where we discover that Shiva did not destroy all the halahala, and that a small portion of it still remains. If this poison falls into the wrong hands, the universe will again teeter on the brink of chaos. I married this premise with the Vikramaditya story I had in mind, and the result is The Guardians of the Halahala. In many ways, this series is the perfect synthesis of two critical elements of storytelling – a great character and a great premise.
Do you feel Indian myths and folktales are like fairytales?
Irrespective of their origins, myths share certain fantastical elements with fairytales. Both tell stories where a degree of suspension of disbelief is expected from readers, where improbable events occur in impossible ways. At the same time, both myths and fairytales have universal themes at their core – things like love, loyalty, greed, treachery, sacrifice, redemption and the triumph of good over evil. This is true of almost all stories, actually.
Perhaps what myths and fairytales do, though, is that they underscore the triumph of good
over evil more forcefully than other narrative styles do. The other way of looking at it is
that myths are essentially what remain, once the history of an event has been forgotten or
lost to time. Myths are like the memory of one’s first crush; the pain and longing one felt at that time is forgotten, but the warmth and sweetness of romance lives on, probably even magnified, larger in the imagination than it was in reality.
What is about myths that you find the most thrilling?
Myths work for me at two levels. What I love about myths is that they give creativity
a free rein. Nothing is impossible in myths, and most things aren’t bound by the laws of
science and logic. What can be more liberating for writers?
At a deeper level, though, myths contain the wisdom and vision of entire civilizations, even of all mankind. Myths are full of metaphors hidden in fantastic events and situations. So, for example, when we are told that Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna slept for six months and awoke only to eat for six months and then go back to sleep, what it essentially means is that Kumbhakarna was someone who let his conscience go to sleep. He knew his brother had erred in kidnapping Sita, but rather than stand up against what he knew was wrong, Kumbhakarna chose to ignore his conscience. Myths are full of such cautionary tales disguised as fantasy.
Do you feel Indian authors are now experimenting more with different genres? Does it
give them the same leverage as the western counterparts?
Yes, Indian authors are indeed experimenting more with different genres, though I
think credit for this must also go to publishers who are willing to back these genres, and
readers who are responding favourably to such attempts. There was a time when the only
that happened was what is now called “literary fiction” – I have no idea why it
took us so long to open up to genres like crime, spy fiction, horror and
fantasies when books written by western authors in these genres sold so well in
Mind you, when I say we didn’t have these genres being written and published in
I am talking about books written in English. The regional languages had a lot
of books across these genres back then, many of them of excellent quality. My
suspicion is that in the minds of publishers who published Indian writing in
English, these genres were associated with “pulp fiction”, and thus too lowbrow
and unworthy of their attention.
I do think, however, that our western counterparts still have a slight edge over us. I am not saying this in context to the relative quality of stories or the writing – I think some of the stories and writing we have here in the new genres is definitely at par with what writers in the west have to offer. Where we are at a minor disadvantage is the absence of an “Indian tradition” in some of these genres. Because a lot of our writing in these genres is recent, we continue to use western books and movies as our frames of reference. We have grown up reading Stephen King and Alistair MacLean and Wilbur Smith and Sidney Sheldon, so their work influences us. There are no Indian authors to influence us in these genres. Of course, this will change – the generation that grows up on Ravi Subramanian, Amish and Ashok Banker will use their work as reference points.
Which is your favourite character in the book?
This is very hard to say as every character in a book is the author’s creation, which
means there a bit of him in every character. Yet, if pushed, I would say my deepest
sympathies at this moment lie with Shanku, one of the councilors in Vikramaditya’s court.
She is tough, spunky, resourceful and has a sensible head. She also has a past that is quite
tragic, and a future that... wait, wait, wait. I am not going to reveal anything right now. Let the sequel speak for itself.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Coming up next is The Conspiracy at Meru, which is Book 2 of the trilogy. I am writing
this right now, and we’re hoping to have it out by the end of the year. After that comes
the third and concluding volume of the series. This one should be published in end 2017.
After that, my guess is either a historical action adventure or another fantasy based on
About the book
The Guardians of the Halahala (The Vikramaditya Trilogy: Book One)
Publisher: Jaico Books
Price: Rs 350
The deadly halahala – the all-devouring poison churned from the depths of the
by the devas and
asuras – was swallowed by Shiva to save the universe from extinction. But was
the halahala truly destroyed? A small portion of the poison still remains – a
weapon powerful enough to guarantee victory to whoever possesses it. And both
asuras and devas, locked in battle for supremacy, will stop at nothing to claim
As the forces of Devaloka and Patala, led by Indra and Shukracharya, plot to possess the
Halahala, Shiva turns to mankind to guard it from their murderous clutches. It is now up to Samrat Vikramaditya and his Council of Nine to quell the supernatural hordes – and prevent the universe from tumbling into chaos!
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