An interview with Ashwin Sanghi, bestselling author of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chants and now, The Krishna Key

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, there is no way you would not be aware of Ashwin Sanghi and the stupendous success of his books, The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chants and now his latest bestseller, The Krishna Key.

I first met Ashwin when I hadn’t even written my debut book. He was gracious and warm, and very generous with his time. I drew two important lessons from my first meeting with Ashwin, the first being believe in oneself. His first book, The Rozabal Line, was rejected by umpteen publishers, but he had the faith in it to stick his neck out and self publish it. It became a runaway success, and the rest is history. The second lesson was that of discipline. If Ashwin, after a hard day’s work heading the business house he did, could take the time out to write, surely what I was doing was sheer procrastination. Thank you, Ashwin for those two very important lessons you didn’t even know I got from you.

His books have been a heady mix of fact, mythology, religion and intrigue and his latest book, The Krishna Key follows the same lines, with, I would say, the added incentive of being amazingly researched, with the research making the book a wealth of information about Krishna and mythology for those fascinated by the subject.

Here’s a bit about the author: Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel, The Rozabal Line was self-published in 2007 under his pseudonym, Shawn Haigins. The theological thriller based upon the theory that Jesus died in Kashmir was subsequently published by Westland in 2008 in India under his own name and went on to become a national bestseller, remaining on national bestseller lists for several months.

Ashwin’s second novel, Chanakya’s Chant, a political thriller with roots in ancient Mauryan history, shot into almost every bestseller list in India within a few weeks of launch. The novel went on to win the Crossword-Vodafone Popular Choice Award and UTV acquired the movie rights to the book. The novel has remained on AC Nielsen’s India Top-10 for over 18 months.

Ashwin’s third offering, The Krishna Key, a fast-paced and riveting thriller that explores the ancient secrets of the Vedic age and the Mahabharata. It was released in August 2012 and shot to #1 on the A.C. Nielsen all-India fiction rankings within the first week of its release.

Ashwin is an entrepreneur by profession but writing historical fiction in the thriller genre is his passion and hobby. Ashwin was educated at Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai, and St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He holds a masters degree from Yale and is working towards a Ph.D. in Creative Writing. Ashwin lives in Mumbai with his wife, Anushika, and his son, Raghuvir.

And here are some questions I put to Ashwin about writing, the journey, his inspiration and his books:

From business to writing, it has been an interesting journey for you. What gave you the courage to follow your dream of being a writer?

Not what, but who… it was my wife. My passion for reading was ignited when my maternal grandfather would bombard me with books that were far ahead of my time. He would insist that after reading every book I must write a letter detailing what I liked and what I didn’t. In the beginning, it was a tedious process but my imagination and knowledge increased over the years. I was thirty-five by the time that I sat down to pen my first novel—rather late in life. By that time, I had already been working for around fifteen years in various divisions of my family’s business. I had reached a point in my life when business growth was no longer exciting me. I was going through a difficult patch at work and I needed an activity that would anchor me and hold me steady in turbulent times. My wife and I were in Goa on a holiday and she insisted that I use the trip to write a few pages of a story idea that I had discussed with her. At the end of that trip I had typed up around ten thousand words. There was no looking back.

What is the writing process like for you? Do you start with research or plot? How do your characters evolve? Do you plan them out before hand or do they grow organically with the story?

There are three things that make the novel—plot, plot and plot. I always start with the plot. Initially, the plot may not be too detailed but I will have an overall idea of the direction that the story is meant to take. Having developed a rough construct of the storyline, I then plough into my research. This may take several months or even a year. During this phase, I make meticulous notes and ensure that all the interesting material that will eventually be part of the story is filed correctly. Post-research, I revisit the plot in order to flesh it out with the knowledge acquired from my research. This entire process of plotting, researching and then plotting yet again can consume well over a year. Only once I have the entire book mapped out chapter by chapter in excruciating detail do I begin the actual writing. Characters are always incidental to my plot.

You have a fascination for history and mythology. Your books from The Rozabal Line to Chanakya’s Chant and now The Krishna Key interweave the past and the present. How much do you enjoy the intensive research that goes into creating these books and what advice would you give authors on research?

I love every moment of the research that I undertake. I have always maintained that the journey is much more important than the destination. I feel a sense of melancholy when I complete writing a book because it implies a sudden vacuum in my life. Writing a book is an opportunity to read a hundred other books during the research phase. I see each novel that I write as an opportunity for me to emerge slightly more educated and, possibly, enlightened. My only suggestion to new authors would be that they should focus on enjoying the journey rather than worrying too much about the destination. It takes all the fun out of writing!

Indian authors have redefined the traditional notions of bestseller these days with never seen before numbers in sales. What would you attribute this rise of interest in reading, and why is this mix of mythology/history and popular fiction as a genre deriving the most interest in the readers?

I believe that we are seeing the effect of one key demographic: the fact that over 35% of our population in India is below the age of twenty. We have a huge surge in first-time readers and their numbers are absolutely staggering. It is this young demographic that is fuelling the sales of campus romances, chick lit, and IIT/IIM inspired novels and novellas. On the other hand, there is an entire generation of Indian readers in its thirties and forties that had remained starved of commercial fiction written in an Indian voice. For most of my growing up years I had to depend on foreign authors for my dose of genre fiction. Most publishers were only interested in promoting either non-fiction or literary fiction. This has changed dramatically in the past decade and the result is a flourishing commercial fiction segment written by authors whose sensibilities and stories have some deeper emotional connection with Indian readers rather than the average foreign paperback.

What advice would you give those who want to be writers? How important is discipline, reading, etc. according to you?

It was Stephen King who said that “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write.” Even though my upbringing was entirely oriented towards business, my maternal grandfather was a voracious reader and poet who would send me a book each week to read. At the end of the week I had to send him a one-page letter about why I liked or disliked it. I genuinely believe that it was the best grounding that I could ever receive for my future career as a writer. As regards discipline, I believe that too much importance is given to it.
There are some writers who are extremely casual and careless in their approach and they still seem to turn out wonderful material. At the end of the day, writing is not just another occupation. If an artist lacks an artistic temperament and sensibility, her work will be just about average, irrespective of the number of hours that she spends in front of her canvas. Creativity cannot be manufactured using tools that are applied in the ordinary workplace.

What can your fans look forward to next? Do you have something you’re working on or are you still exploring subjects at the moment?

Actually, I had started working on a manuscript before commencing work on The Krishna Key. It was a story that revolved around an incident that happened in 1948—immediately after Indian independence. It was a business story, something that I have wanted to do for the longest time ever. But destiny had other plans in store for me. At a friend’s house, someone mentioned to me the fact that the prophesized appearance of the tenth avatar of Vishnu—Kalki—was very similar to the apocalyptic prophecies of the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
That got my brain into overdrive. I spent a week reading the Kalki Purana and there was no looking back! I had to put the business story on the backburner. I now plan to finish that story over the next one year.

Thank you Ashwin, for that lovely interview, and we wish The Krishna Key all the success possible.

Ashwin on Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/shawnhaigins
Ashwin on Twitter : http://www.twitter.com/ashwinsanghi
Chapter previews : http://www.slideshare.net/ashwinsanghi
Ashwin’s YouTube Channel : http://www.youtube.com/ashwinsanghi
Ashwin on GoodReads : http://www.goodreads.com/ashwinsanghi

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About Kiran Manral

Author of The Face At The Window, ( 2016), Karmic Kids, All Aboard (2015) , Once Upon A Crush (2014) and The Reluctant Detective (2011).
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6 Responses to An interview with Ashwin Sanghi, bestselling author of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chants and now, The Krishna Key

  1. Nish says:

    Hi,

    I am curious that no mention of Dan Brown is made as his books are heavily derived from that style. Was that intentional not to ask him about his inspiring authors?

    Like

  2. Reshmy Pillai says:

    Lovely to know the mind behind those wonderful stories. Thanks Kiran.

    Like

  3. Muna Al Gurg says:

    Such an inspiring interview, thank you for sharing this. Authors who are not writers by profession have always fascinated me. This will be very interesting to share with people I know who are grappling between their careers and love for writing.

    Like

  4. Gayatri says:

    cool and I noticed “Shawn Haigins” is “Ashwin Sanghi” jumbled 🙂 very cool!!

    Like

  5. was lovely to read this …I really feel there is a vast difference between his work and most of the present day younger Indian authors.. the effort, the research, the storyline. It is a real class apart. Surprised to hear that The Rozabel Line was rejected by so many publishers…

    Like

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