India’s largest bookstore chain, Crossword, released its annual list of the bestselling books of the year recently. And on top of the list is Kochi-born author, Anand Neelakantan’s debut novel, ‘Asura- Tale of the vanquished’. It is the story of Ravana and his people, a retelling of Ramayana from Ravana’s angle. Released in May 2012, the book has managed to be the top seller of the year with just six month’s of sales. ‘Asura’ is followed by ‘The Bankster’ by Ravi Subramaniyan and ‘Narcopolis’ by the Man Booker Prize short-listed Malayali author Jeet Thayil.
Anand credits the cultural richness of his native town of Tripunithara as the inspiration to come up with this mythological best seller. “I grew up in a culturally endowed place where mythology, arts and music was an integral part of life,” he says. “It was no wonder that I was attracted to Ramayana.” Ironically, Anand was drawn to the anti-hero of the epic - Ravana, and to his people, the Asuras. “For six years Ravana has haunted my dreams, walked with me, and urged me to write his version of the story,” he says. Apparently, unknowingly, Anand has introduced a new genre in the world of Indian English writing: the counter-telling of mythology.
“Asura is a brilliantly conceived fictional narrative of the Ravana clan,” says veteran journalist, and Padmabhushan winner, M V Kamath. Many critics have hailed the book as a modern-day classic. The book has its detractors too, who say that it has failed to capture the grey areas of Ravana’s mind. It has also been criticised for using the now unfashionable Aryan invasion theory and for its unabashed iconoclasm. However, this has not prevented ‘Asura’ from being the top best seller of 2012. Anand is a manager of the Indian Oil Corporation, Belgaum. “My next book will give Duryodhana’s perspective of the Mahabaratha,” he says.