Did you enjoy reading the Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna’s Key? Then there are high chances that you will fall in love with The Vault of Vishnu. Author of unputdownables, Ashwin Sanghi talks to us about his love for writing, life and more.
1. Who is the real Ashwin, a writer, a philosopher, just a common man with common ideas?
I feel like an imposter. There are times when I look at passages written by me and wonder how I wrote them. I am convinced that my writing is a blessing of the almighty and I pray each day that the creative muse will continue to support me in my endeavours. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: even though I have written three books, I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer. I’m an ordinary person who had never written anything longer than a single page till seven years ago and hence my own incredulity and amazement at penning three books with a fourth in the works.
2. How was your childhood, family, life spent in school and college?
I grew up in a business family. My schooling was at Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai. I attribute my love for history and the English language to my school days. I enjoyed elocution, debates and dramatics at school. I completed a BA in Economics from St. Xavier’s College and followed it up with an MBA at Yale. From the very beginning my life was predestined to be that of a businessman… I started working along with my father at age sixteen. By the time that I began writing my first book, The Rozabal Line, in 2005, I already had twenty years of business experience behind me.
3. When did you realise the inner calling of being an author…the circumstances and incidents that drew you towards writing?
My maternal grandfather was a voracious reader and poet who would send me a book each week to read. At the end of the week I had to send him a one-page letter about why I liked or disliked it. Up until 2005, I had remained a voracious reader without having any idea that there was a writer lurking inside of me. In that year I visited Rozabal—a shrine in the heart of Srinagar, which carries the legend that the person buried there is none other than Jesus Christ himself. I was fascinated by the story and began reading and researching everything that I could lay my hands on. Twelve months and fifty-seven books later I had multiple theories swimming in my head. My wife casually suggested that I should try weaving the disparate threads into a single cohesive whole and that gentle nudge got me started on The Rozabal Line.
4. What inspired you to pen down books like The Rozabal Line, Chanankya’s Chant and your other books… inspiration, people who inspired you or the tales from your life?
I find that adversity can sometimes help break the status quo of one’s life and thus inspire creativity. I was going through a rough patch at work and was completely stressed out. Some individuals turn to yoga, meditation, music or golf. In my case it turned out to be storytelling. Writing fiction allows me to escape into my fantasy world. If I have a bad day at work, I can choose to create an equally difficult and challenging situation for my protagonist. I can choose to escape to Venice, Istanbul or Afganistan—in my mind—while ensconced in the privacy of my study. Writing is my form of prayer and meditation—an elixir.
5. How do you define spirituality? Are you spiritual at heart?
I see spirituality in a very broad sense, the maxim being to ‘do no harm’. I see it as an awareness of the fact that one’s actions can—and do—alter outcomes, even in one’s own life. I have often commented that when I sit down to write, I see the words flowing through me, not from me. I read a passage the next day and wonder to myself how I wrote it. I see the universe as a giant laboratory experiment. We’ve partially figured out how it got started—the Big Bang—but haven’t still figured out who made the Big Bang happen.
6. How many days’, months or years did it take to research on the characters and the story line of your novels?
Most of my novels end up taking around eighteen months from start to finish. The first six months are spent on research and the next three months are spent on developing the plot. The final nine months go towards writing and editing. This pattern may vary slightly from one book to the next but the overall timeframe is rather constant.
7. One book that is really close to your heart and why?
It’s a 1952 translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward FitzGerald. It was handed down to me by my grandfather. One of my favourite verses from it is “Ah, fill the cup, what boots it to repeat; how time is slipping underneath our feet. Unborn tomorrow and dead yesterday; why fret about them if today be sweet.” Whenever I need a morale booster I turn to Omar Khayyam.
8. Do you follow modern day politicians and philosophers?
There isn’t much difference between politicians and philosophers. It’s usually a philosophy that drives politics and, unfortunately, sometimes it’s politics that drives philosophy. I am very active on social media and I remain abreast of developments in the political arena. For a writer, every new development in the world of politics, economics, crime, science or government is fodder for fiction, particularly my brand of storytelling in which I intersperse facts with fiction.
9. Please tell us about your favourite authors, films, your favourite travel destination (in India and abroad) and your hobbies.
I work five days a week and use whatever time remains to write my novels. I have little time for anything besides my family. Thus I have no hobbies at all. Writing is my sole hobby. My wife jokes that my hobby resulted in loss of hubby for her! I do have indulgences though. My favourite ones are single malts and cigars. Among English films, my all-time favourites are Godfather, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Schindler’s List and Elizabeth. Among my Hindi favourites are Golmaal (the one by Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Umrao Jaan (the one by Muzaffar Ali), Chashme Baddoor and Don (the original Amitabh one). In addition I love watching the old and utterly nonsensical comedies of David Dhawan and Govinda. My favourite travel destination in India is Mahabaleshwar—I love all hill stations actually because they inspire me to write. My favourite destination abroad is the English countryside, particularly the Lake District.
I was brought up on a diet of commercial fiction and thrillers for most of my growing years: Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Irving Wallace, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy, Ken Follett, and Arthur Hailey. In the past decade, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and countless others were added to my list. Among Indian authors, I have enjoyed Salman Rushdie, Ruskin Bond and R. K. Narayan.
10. Are you in talks with film makers who’d want to adapt your books in to film?
The movie rights to Chanakya’s Chant were sold by me to UTV almost a year ago. They are currently scripting the movie and I believe that casting should be finalized by the end of this year. I am not involved in the process because I would rather write another book. I plan to revisit my unfinished manuscript, the story of which is set in post-independence India. If all goes well I hope to complete it by the end of next year.
11. Please tell our readers five books of all times that they must read. (both fiction and non fiction)
First: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. It was the one that got me interested in politics. Second: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, because it taught me about wine, women and song.. and God! Third: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, because it makes you realize that you can empathize even with a degenerate if his character is presented in all dimensions. Fourth: India After Gandhi: The History Of The World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha, because it is a wonderfully balanced chronicle of the triumphs and defeats of post-independence India. And fifth: Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore, one of the only books of poetry that can bring tears to your eyes.
12. Any special message for the readers of this blog?
In the enduring words of the Simpsons, “Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”