“Chanakya’s Chant is not about educating my reader; it’s entirely about entertaining my reader.”

– Shana Susan Ninan

Ashwin Sanghi “talks” to Indian Book Reviews in an email interview. He’s the bestselling author of The Rozabal Line and the recently-released Chanakya’s Chant. And, he’s in the process of giving us a third thriller! Here goes…

IBR – You’ve said that you enjoy writing about complex characters, Chanakya for one. How do you go about making a complex character understood by your readers?

AS – There are many who believe that character is supreme. At the risk of being labeled a Philistine for my views, I must say that I respectfully disagree. I hold the view that the plot drives character, particularly for my genre of writing. What makes a reader want to turn the page? Beautiful and sensitive character development or an unexpected twist in the story? I believe it’s the latter, not the former. I’m a commercial paperback fiction writer with no lofty claims to literary merit.There’s the old adage that “actions speak louder than words” right? In the world of thriller-writing, what the adage means is that if you make your characters do and say the right (or wrong!) things, character development happens automatically without any specific intent on the author’s part. This allows the writer to define the characters by their actions and words rather than by injecting the author’s voice into the mix.

IBR – Who do you write for? Yourself or the reader?

AS – I would like to say “for myself” but that would be a lie. The job of a commercial fiction writer is to spin an interesting tale for the reader. The primary objective has to be to entertain and captivate one’s readers. What’s the point if the author liked his work but his readers didn’t?

Your first book created quite a controversy. Chanakya’s Chant maybe a little different on that note, but still eyeball grabbing. Do you enjoy writing about themes that other authors might be wary to step on?

I don’t really go searching for controversial themes… I simply identify a topic that I think will keep me interested for 18 months or more. Given that my novels have history, theology or mythology in them, I usually need to immerse myself in researching the topic for at least 6 months before I get down to actually writing the first word. Also, given that I work a full day in my business, the time taken by me to complete a novel is usually a year or more. I try not to take up any theme that I suspect may cease to hold my interest while I’m in the midst of the project. By default, I tend to gravitate towards topics that have zest in them.

Both your books are majorly based on characters and historical
events from over 2,000 years ago. Plus, the protagonists of both are super popular as well as read and studied a lot. How do you make such a story appreciated by a contemporary audience?

I think that the key lies in understanding the fact that human nature, behaviour, emotions, and motivations have not changed in thousands of years. Recently someone wrote to me and vehemently argued that I should not use expletives when depicting conversations in ancient times. I asked him whether he thought that there were no cusswords in ancient history! The point is that one needs to demystify the ancient, only then can one make an ancient story into something that can be easily digested by a contemporary audience.

Today’s political scene is seeing a lot of changes brought about by
the two largest states of India. Did that have any bearing on the
writing of this novel?

Not really. But yes, I drew inspiration from many political developments that were happening around me while I was in the midst of writing the novel in 2009. I think that one of the happy developments in Indian politics is the evolution of a true federal structure where key states are beginning to chart the destiny of the country as a whole. I definitely wanted that particular element to be reflected in my story.

What do you think the average Indian politician can take away from your book?

I took away much more from the average Indian politician than the average Indian politician can take away from me! Most of the characters in my novel draw inspiration from one or more real world personalities or combinations thereof. Chanakya’s Chant is not about educating my reader; it’s entirely about entertaining my reader. If the average Indian politician is able to sit back and laugh at some of the incidents and keep turning the pages till the very end, I think I’ll have succeeded in my endeavour.

Which was the most difficult character in Chanakya’s Chant to pen, in terms of portrayal and build-up of events?

The easy ones were Chanakya and Gangasagar because Gangasagar is modeled as a modern-day Chanakya. The more difficult ones were Chandragupta, Chandini and Ikram. Chandragupta was one of the most powerful kings of his era but for the purposes of my story I needed to make him almost subservient to Chanakya. Ditto for Chandini. Ikram was the wild card… the one that keeps you guessing and thus keeps the plot charged with mystery. His was the most difficult character to pen but also the most enjoyable.

Although India has rich and varied culture and history, very few
Indian authors attempt to write commercial books on them. What do you think is the reason?

I see it differently. Till a few years ago, very few Indian authors wrote commercial fiction. Period. It was irrelevant what the topic was… it was expected that Indians should focus on writing award-winning literary fiction. The result was that many of us had to turn to western authors for commercial paperback fiction. Today, however, the scene has changed. Publishers are actively looking for authors who have fresh stories and ideas. If we see the slew of books that have been hitting the shelves recently, it seems that history, ancient culture, theology, and mythology are increasingly grabbing eyeballs. I enjoyed Amish’s Immortals of Meluha and also liked Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions. Tulsidas reinvented Valmiki’s Ramayana when he wrote his version of it… Devdutt Patnaik is doing pretty much what Tulsidas did… reinterpreting Indian history and mythology without the prism of western sensibilities.

What are your favourite books? The authors you draw inspiration from?

Favourite books: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. It was the one that got me interested in politics; The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam because it taught me about wine, women and song – skip the song! Also, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, because it made me realize that there isn’t much difference between sex and politics. Mostly though, my staple diet in fiction has always consisted of Sidney Sheldon, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, Agatha Christie, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Ian Rankin… the list is endless.

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy indulging in?

I have no time for indulging in anything else! I work in the day and write at night. Whatever time is left in between is for my family. That’s my life!

Your top secret third book, is that on history, too? Couldn’t help asking!

That’s like asking a fish whether it needs water to swim in!


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Rating: 6.4/10 (12 votes cast)
“Chanakya's Chant is not about educating my reader; it's entirely about entertaining my reader.”, 6.4 out of 10 based on 12 ratings

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 27th, 2011 at 11:26 pm and is filed under Authors, Historical Fiction, Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. February 28th, 2011 | Vivek Banerjeedr says:

    Nice and interesting interview. Would like to read the book after reading this.

  2. March 3rd, 2011 | BankruptDude says:

    Now, thats what I call straight from the mouth of the horse. Ashwin is just awesome. Chanaka’s chant was a good book overall. The plot was just what I needed. Some pages though, were kinda boring…but were soon taken over by other scenes.

  3. April 20th, 2011 | mohit says:

    An enjoyable read Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi. loved the way it balances two completely different storylines. I particularly liked the one written 2300 years ago.

  4. May 18th, 2011 | rohit says:

    An enjoyable read – Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi. Loved the way it balances two completely different storylines. I particularly liked the one written 2300 years ago.

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