Ashoka, not a nice guy? : Ravi Shankar Etteth on his latest book, ‘Le retour du brahmane’
How Ravi Shankar Etteth’s Return of the Brahmin looks at the disruptive side of the famous king
Ravi Shankar Etteth The return of the brahmin (Westland), like its predecessor The Brahmin (2018), is a historical thriller. However, to call it that would be tantamount to failing to recognize the broad storyline Etteth creates for his main characters – all of whom have grown in age and stature since the first book.
For generations accustomed to reading popular comics about the kings and emperors of India, where they were distinctly white or black, this series shows what could have been. In the process, the author also imagines how a king who may not have shown kindness or remorse is still revered centuries later.
Food and drink are a big part of the debate, and Etteth laughs when you mention that. Think medaka or rice beer, barley bread and butter, palm liquor and pork soup (which would have been invented by the Buddha) which was “made from the flesh of succulent piglets cooked with butter and parsley, and a pinch of ginger and spring onions. ”. This series is fast-paced and teeming with a certain grandeur, much like the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, as one reviewer of this article wrote on The Brahmin. This makes it eminently adaptable as a web or OTT series – perhaps why media company Endemol chose it.
Excerpts from an interview:
Why did you choose to write about Ashoka?
His benevolent and spotless personality intrigued me. There are good kings and bad kings, but there are no good kings. You cannot be kind and ruthless at the same time. Ashoka was ruthless, who killed 99 siblings and burned the crown prince in a flaming ditch. He built the magnificent Hell Palace in Pataliputra run by torturer Chandagirika where Ashoka’s victims, including his concubines who disliked his skin texture, were tortured to death. His favorite pastime was feeding crocodiles. So, it is hard to imagine that it turned into a sweet Buddhist war and avoided seeing 10,000 Kalinga soldiers lying dead on the battlefield. In fact, he committed the genocide of ajivikas after becoming a Buddhist. I wanted to explore how such a leader could have made everyone believe that he had changed. Did he really do it? Ashoka was a troublemaker and he balanced Hinduism and Buddhism to retain supreme power.
While the novel is set in the past, in Magadha, the language is contemporary. Also, the relationship, even between Ashoka and the Brahmin, has a certain informal tone. Was it intentional?
The relationship between Ashoka and the Brahmin has already been established in the first book. They are brothers and comrades even though Ashoka is the king, and this is something the Brahmin is aware of.
As for keeping the narrative style contemporary, it’s because I believe that a book and the story should be accessible. We are creatures of our time and it does not make sense to use archaic language. It is important to present the idioms of the time, manners, fashion, food, architecture, geography, rituals, etc. to ensure authenticity. Today’s historians like Wendy Doniger, William Dalrymple, Walter Isaacson, etc. use contemporary language and adopt a narrative form that makes it easily accessible.
Your novel is as much about food as it is about political intrigue. How did you rethink the food of this period?
We have records of the history of food in medieval India, but I have reinvented some based on the history of the region. Magadha is a melting pot of cultures and a commercial center too – there are Greeks and Persians. And due to Chandragupta’s relationship with Seleucos, whose daughter he married, you can imagine that the food served at the royal palace would merge the kitchens.
How important is the fact when there is some element of re-imagining?
Facts form the endoskeleton of historical writing. That said, overall, unlike European history which is well documented, there are many aspects of some ancient empires that are not fully documented. As all of this goes back so long, the writer has to combine guesswork with history.
But you cannot alter the facts. It can be said that rice, wheat and corn were cultivated in Magadha, but not the poppy. The architecture, town planning, horses, weapons and topography in the Brahmin books are real. I took a few liberties with fashion and food.
At the price of 277 The return of the brahmin is available on amazon.in