Published: 14th January 2020
Textbooks make it dreary: Author Anuja Chandramouli explains how History can also be fascinating
Anuja Chandramouli tells us how History as a subject can be taught in an interesting manner and why people should indulge a lot more in it
In this age where there is easy access to OTT (over-the-top) media platforms and movie theatres, all kinds of texts, books, plays and so on, are being created for the screen, which people tend to go and watch. However, we should read more books as they are more detailed and enriching, feels author Anuja Chandramouli, a bestselling Indian author and New Age Indian classicist. Her highly acclaimed debut novel, Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, was named by Amazon India as one of the top five books in the Indian-writing category of 2013. We speak to her about historical fiction as a genre, ways to make history more interesting and a whole lot more.
Excerpts from an interesting conversation:
1. How hard is it to write historical fiction as every one might not be pleased by the way you choose to represent the past?
Not just historical fiction, my works are based on mythology as well. It is not a question of 'hard' but I have to be a tad sensitive as we have seen people kill each other over stories. For the most part, I have been fortunate as I haven’t received any backlash as such, besides the occasional hate mail here and there and trolling on social media. But that's a part of your everyday life when you put up your work for public consumption. I am personally very picky about research and extremely fond of the material I handle, so it hasn’t really been a problem. I do my research properly, stay faithful to the character/material I have chosen and I am good to go.
2. How do you go about doing your research?
A lot of people would find it tedious but I am geeky and I like it. You never know what you are going to find while exploring. You can never state that you are an expert of something or a scholar or you know everything about a topic — you have to go on with your research and I feel that’s in a way very humbling. The more you dig deeper, the more you get to know that there’s an ocean of information out there. I still like to make handwritten notes to put things in order. After all this research, it comes down to what you want to keep and what you want to leave out. But in history or mythology, there are too many versions and that makes it difficult. Nothing is set in stone, no definitive version — lots of holes in the narrative. That's why I prefer to write under the historical fiction genre, as you can’t claim that you've translated exactly from some text.
3. Movies are being made every year on history or historical events. History used to be a boring subject in school but now, with so many movies and web series, do you think this genre is garnering more interest among youngsters?
Yes, I think it is. Some people call it a nationalistic wave and dismiss it but it’s way more than that. I think it’s sort of like comfort food for some who would love to know about their roots and their origin. I am sorry to say but History textbooks make learning about our history extremely dusty and dull. But the material itself is fascinating — it’s got everything in there, all the masala and twists and everything that people go to the theatre to watch. History can never be dreary, it’s just the texts that make it sound like that. I am glad it’s finally getting its due.
4. How did you become interested in history?
I was that rare student who would listen in class and whenever I was bored at home, I used to read history texts. I was always fascinated despite teachers making it sound boring in class, asking us to mug up chapters and putting so much emphasis on remembering dates. I don’t know why they are so obsessed with dates. It becomes tedious when you tell a student to mug up dates.
5. If you were not an author, what would you have been?
I am one of those people who can’t make up their minds at all. As a Psychology major, I wanted to get involved in forensic psychology at first. On some days, I feel that I should give acting a shot or become a yoga instructor and be that zen person sitting in some ashram. I can’t decide, I just go with the flow.