Usha Narayanan is a gold medallist with a master’s degree in English literature. She has had an eventful career in advertising, media and the corporate world, as creative director, features writer, web editor and communications manager. Her debut novel, ‘The Madras Mangler,’ a suspense thriller, was very well received by readers and the media. Her second, ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ features consistently on bestseller charts. Her next book, ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’, a romcom, has just been published by Harlequin-HarperCollins.
NAW- Please tell us about your book ‘Pradyumna: Son of God’. What made you write about a peripheral character from the classic Indian epic ‘Mahabharata’?
Myths are always fascinating as they offer us the distilled wisdom of our ancestors. The ‘Mahabharata’ and the ‘Ramayana’ have been narrated many times, but with their focus mainly on Krishna and Rama, to the exclusion of many other compelling figures. One such forgotten hero is Pradyumna about whom little is known, except for the fact that he was Krishna’s son. What was his story? Was he ever given his due in the spotlight or was he resigned to being in Krishna’s shadow?
These questions intrigued me and when I delved further, I was led along tantalising paths into his past lives, the burden of karma he brought with him and the curses that foretold the extinction of his clan. What appealed to me was that Pradyumna was a mortal like us, with his own weaknesses to overcome and choices to make, which would determine his destiny and that of his people. His dilemma echoes our plight in a world where values and principles are badly eroded. This was how ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ came into being!
I found however that not much material was available on him, but was too caught up in his story to let him go. I therefore took the broad outline I could gather and recreated the rest. Now, Pradyumna straddles not one but two books that will bring us a glorious message of hope to guide us through our troubled times.
NAW- Tell us about the research you did for the book. How did you go about it considering there isn’t much known about Pradyumna unlike other major characters?
I immersed myself in the epics and puranas written in Indian languages as well as English versions where available, in order to make my book authentic. I pored over dusty tomes in libraries and research centres scanning them for what was often just a passing mention of Pradyumna. I visited Pancha Dwaraka or the five Dwarakas associated with Krishna and his clan and spoke to priests and devotees in order to recreate those heroic times from a dim past. I discovered several fascinating fables, many of which were unrelated to Pradyumna. Then I laboured to meld these colourful strands into my book in order to entertain and inspire my readers.
The reviews that are flowing in indicate that my efforts have been well received. The book today features among the top sellers at home and abroad and has been mentioned in a list of ‘10 best books on Indian mythology.’
NAW- How difficult is it pursuing writing as a female author in the sub continent?
Indian society is patriarchal and the woman is regarded mainly as the caretaker of the household and the children. If she has a career in addition to these responsibilities, she finds little time to devote to creative pursuits that are regarded as non-essentials. In such a scenario, she must be highly self-motivated in order to achieve any kind of success as an author in a chaotic publishing scene.
In my case too, it was only when I stopped working as creative director in advertising and in other fields that I found the enormous energy needed to craft a full-length novel. But once I took the leap, I found myself enjoying the pursuit so much that I now wonder why it took me so long to get here!
NAW- The Indian publishing market is full of mythological tales. What made you try this tested theme and are you going to stick with the mythology genre for your upcoming works?
The appeal of myths spans generations. Older people like to revisit the oft-told tales. Younger folk seek inspiration from the larger-than-life heroes that populate these stories. Children are engrossed by the magical realms and the wars between colourful gods and demons. But as western influences have taken over young minds, it is necessary to cast light on our myths that anchor our people to our culture and value systems. There are so many gems that lie hidden in the musty volumes and so many sagas that clarify eternal truths.
The success of ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ has enthused me, and I hope that the sequel will consolidate my standing as a writer of myths. I will definitely continue writing in this genre, though I might still dabble in other streams!
NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?
In the last two years, three of my books have been published ― a suspense thriller, an epic fantasy and a romcom. And currently, my thoughts are consumed by the sequel to ‘Pradyumna’ that I am writing. That leaves me with little time for anything else!
I read voraciously and love to interact with readers and friends through my website, through blogs and through social media. It’s so easy now to connect with people, to learn from them and share our thoughts that it has become quite addictive! My other interests are travel and animal welfare.
NAW- What are you working on next?
My romcom has just been published by Harlequin-HarperCollins. ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ is about finding love in the midst of office power games and politics. Set in the colourful media world, it’s a wickedly funny yet tender tale of contemporary life.
I’m now working on the sequel to ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’, which promises to be even more spectacular than Book #1, and features Vishnus’s chakra, Shiva’s trident and journeys to Kailasa and Yamaloka.
I will continue in my quest to better my skills and create even more enjoyable and elevating experiences for my readers.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you find your publisher?
The experience of writing my first novel ‘The Madras Mangler’ was so exciting and challenging that I did not give a thought to getting it published. After I emerged from my creative frenzy, I discovered that there was a glut of manuscripts floating around looking for publishers! I searched online for contact information and sent them my proposals. I got a few almost automated rejections. And then Leadstart Publishing approved it, that too in toto. A year later, ‘The Madras Mangler’ was in bookstores everywhere and winning rave reviews as being unputdownable and spookilicious. The Hindu, one of India’s leading newspapers, called it ‘a celluloid pot-boiler in print’, and said that they wanted to read more from me. And thus, an author was born!
When it came to ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ and ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ however, there were several publishers vying for them. I chose to go with Penguin Random House and Harlequin-HarperCollins, leaders in their field, and have found the journey very satisfying.