Published: 06th August 2017
The Ashwin Sanghi Interview: 'I'm a huge fan of the works of both Amish and Devdutt'
You know Ashwin Sanghi as the author of a few mythology-based, fiction-thrillers. Now, you’ll also know him as the author of a series of self-help books
How often and to what extent have we observed versatility in authors? If there was a scale from 0 to 10 to measure versatility, I'd give Ashwin Sanghi, the author of the 2016-released Sialkot Saga, an 11. If you’ve read the book then you’d know why. A decade ago, we read The Rozabal Line, the fiction-thriller that had us imagine Jesus Christ settling down in India after surviving his crucifixion. He then went on to write Chanakya's Chant and The Krishna Key that have a narrative style similar to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol, hailing him ‘India's Dan Brown’. He even co-authored a couple of books in James Patterson’s Private series. The fiction-thriller genre has been Sanghi’s preferred choice for the past eleven years. But then last year, we saw a different side of Ashwin Sanghi — a life hack guru.
Now how does someone go from writing fiction to writing self-help books? I mean, they aren’t even remotely similar! I had a lot of questions for Ashwin Sanghi and lucky for me, he was patient enough to sit down and answer all of them prior to the release of the third book in his 13 Steps series, 13 Steps to Bloody Good Marks.
Honestly, one wouldn't imagine the author of Chanakya's Chant to write a self-help book. How did the 13 Steps series come up?
It's not a transition. The 13 Steps series came up as a coincidence. I was in Chennai for a literary conference when someone came up to me and said, "You've spoken about the importance of good luck — that you'd never have made it as an author had it not been for good luck." My publisher was standing next to me and he began laughing and said, "Ashwin, this calls for a book where you explain what good luck really is." That is what resulted in 13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck. We realised that people were actually reading and appreciating it. We could think of many other ideas and then eventually we came up with 13 Steps to Bloody Good Wealth and 13 Steps to Bloody Good Marks.
We know that Dan Brown spends years researching a single book. How much time does India's Dan Brown spend on research?
(Laughs) It varies from book to book. Currently, I have three separate series that I’m working on — the Bharat series, the Private series, and the 13 Steps series. In the Bharat series, I read around 18 to 24 books to research for one book. It might be about six months for the Private series and less than six months for the 13 Steps series.
A few excerpts
Most people think that working smart means a 'short cut'. That's not quite true. Working smart means working in a manner that is organized, efficient and effective. Period.
Some people are more alert in the early hours of the morning whereas others perform better in the late hours of the night. Only you know what works for you.
It's a good idea to be in the front row (or the first few rows) simply to prevent distractions by curtailing your field of vision to the blackboard and teacher.
When you make notes by hand, you are engaging your brain. This does not happen to the same extent with a keyboard or tablet.
Do not be afraid to ask about the nature of an upcoming test or the specific material that you should focus on. You will be surprised as to how many clues you can get from simply talking to your professor.
Think of your computer that slows down when multiple web pages and apps are open or running simultaneously... Quite often you may think that you are using your time effectively by texting or messaging while studying, but the truth is that you are guzzling RAM on low priority activities.
If you lie down on a couch (that you associate with watching television) or on your bed (that you associate with sleeping), how can you expect not to feel sleepy? Sit upright on a chair while reading.
It is important to be selective when highlighting, because too much highlighting defeats its very purpose... If you are not allowed to make notes in the margins because the book in question areshared, you can use sticky notes.
When getting ready to sleep, review your summarized notes (for not more than five minutes) right before slipping into slumber. It is a well-established scientific fact that the brain strengthens new memories during sleep.
Remember the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words? It's literally true. If you think about it, you effortlessly remember scenes of a movie without cramming, right? In fact, using such diagrams in your answer sheet at exam time could get you a few extra marks plus refresh your memory.
Almost anything and everything you could want can be found on the net. Searching for an appropriate video that explains the material that you need to study is a good idea.
If you wish to excel in your studies and get excellent marks, you should change your orbit and move with studious classmates.
If your handwriting is poor, spend a little time in finding the right pen or pencil that really works for you. Then go back to first grade and fill up a few sheets of paper with basic alphabets until you are satisfied that your writing looks clean and legible.
The above excerpts are from 13 Steps to Bloody Good Marks by Ashwin Sanghi, published by Westland
Do you travel to the places that you write about for research?
A lot depends on whether or not I need to. The Krishna Key takes you to places like Dwaraka, Mathura and Vrindavan. I visited these places because despite having all the material, I needed to have a feel of the place. Sometimes, the places that I mention in the story do not exist today. For example, in Chanakya's Chant, I talk about ancient Pataliputra. There is no way I can go back and look at what it looks like. It is a suburb of modern day Patna. In such cases, the only option is to depend on the notes and documents available as archaeological pieces of evidence. I think right now too much importance is given to visiting places. Take for example Sialkot Saga that is placed in Sialkot; I never went there for research.
Ten years ago, I was a businessman who was a writer. Now I'm a writer who is a businessman. Most of my time is spent on research these days. The other time is spent with friends and family. Where is the time beyond that?
Ashwin Sanghi, Author
What is your favourite genre of books?
Frankly, my fictions are always inspired by the kind of books that I read. I read non-fiction mostly and that gives me ideas for my fictional writing, which is again a mix of fact and fiction. I love thrillers. That genre appeals to me because the page turns itself. Otherwise, I love reading books on history, mythology, science and spirituality. I love paranormal stuff too. I'd love to read more genres, but time doesn't let me explore much. Most of the books that I read are related to the research I do.
Have your books ever posed threats to you?
I have always said that my work is fiction. Controversies arise only if you write mythology and history as non-fiction. As long as you approach a subject with respect, there will be no controversy.
Mythical Memoirs: Sanghi's books traditionally simplifies themes like mythology
What do you do when not writing?
Ten years ago, I was a businessman who was a writer. Today I'm a writer who is a businessman. Most of my time is spent on research these days. The other time is spent with friends and family. Where is the time beyond that?
Has your marketing background ever hindered your creativity?
It has never been a hindrance. I've seen many good writers who don't get the appreciation they deserve. The prime reason is that they don't know how to market themselves. I think the author has the responsibility to ensure that the book reaches the widest possible audience. Just like filmmakers in Bollywood or Hollywood market their films, writers too, especially the ones in commercial genres need to market their books.
I co-authored a book with James Patterson twice in his 'Private'series. It is always a great experience working with James, because he is a master of suspense. He knows how to hold the suspense, amplify the thrill and to create an atmosphere around a particular set of crime. To that extent, the partnership is creating better and better results.
Ashwin Sanghi, Author
Speaking of mythological writing, the three names that usually come up are yours, Amish Tripathi's and Devdutt Pattanaik's. What makes your audience different?
There is bound to be an overlap between all the authors. Devdutt simplifies mythology. You can read it as a story. Amish on the hand retells the story. He gives you his take on it. As far as I'm concerned, I figure out if it's possible to write something linking history and mythology to a contemporary story. The mythological narrative is always a part of it. Let me tell you, I'm a huge fan of the works of both Amish and Devdutt. Immortals of Meluha was very fresh. Devdutt's retelling of Ramayana was very interesting, especially the illustrations.