Dr Anand Ranganathan needs exactly 30 seconds to destroy his opponents in a TV debate, so we got curious when he instead came out with his latest book, a crime thriller that needed plotting and weaving and all ingredients slowly cooked for a delectable murder mystery. Dr Ranganathan, who recently came out with Souffle (Penguin India) in another avatar is a leading Indian scientist who has to his credit some prestigious awards and honours in the field of molecular medicine with several key peer reviewed publications in his field.
We got chatting with the Dr Ranganathan on his new book, his fans and the science behind the success.
Q. For a scientist working on molecular medicine, what made you explore the world of crime writing?
A. Actually, I started writing quite accidentally to be honest. Around 20 years ago, one fine day, I remember it clearly, in front of a computer in the lab, I just wrote a couple of pages. The words just came to me and I typed them. They were the first two pages of my first novel, The Land of the Wilted Rose. I quite liked what I had written. But then if there is one thing I had learnt as a scientist it is that others, and not you yourself, should be the judge of what you do. And so I realised very quickly that I must not be the judge of my own writing. And so for the next 10 or so years I just read. I read a lot. I read all the great writers. And I was very disciplined. For 10 years, every day, I made it a point to read 70 pages. And after 10 years, when I had read all the great masters, and had learnt to recognise the rhythm of formulating and drafting sentences, the beauty of words and language, it is then that I gained confidence that I could write as well and would not be a disappointment. And when I revisited those first few pages of what I had written, I realised they were quite decent. And that is how I started writing in earnest. But it was all a secret. In fact, my family did not know that I had become a writer till the time Rupa Publications was about to come out with the published book. In the last 12 years, I have written four novels and around 300 articles.
Q. The characters in your book have similarities with some of the very well-known people from the world of business and Bollywood, was that deliberate?
A. Yes, that was quite deliberate. I wanted the protagonist to be associated with the world of glamour, for it to serve as a total contrast when he is on the run, because I know characters that are glamorous have a lot of depth, and that they are fallible, they have falls, they travel to find happiness, and they become victims of crime, or at times perpetrators. The glamour world is a world full of unexplored crime fiction as well as non-fiction.
Q. What would you define Anand Ranganathan an expert in?
A. To be honest, I take pride in not being an expert in anything. I would like to see myself as a Jack of all trades and a master of none. In every domain, there is so much to learn that quite honestly, one can never become truly an expert in anything. The great joy lies in realising that one must be forever a student and take delight not only in learning but also in the process of learning.
Q. Which is your favourite character in the book and why?
A. The favourite character would have to be Neelima. Let me confess something here. Every character that I write on in a book possesses shades of me, some more, some less, but all of them do. And that is because putting my characteristics or my shades in each of my characters makes them more realistic, because I know my shades and recognise them. Neelima has a lot of my characteristics.
Q. How did you think of the plot?
A. I didn’t really think of the plot to begin with, and I do that for the crime fiction that I write, the reason being that I want to explore multiple worlds in multiple genres within one theme. And that is why I like the fact that it is very difficult to pigeonhole my books. I guess it’s quite rewarding for an author if the reader realises this, and a lot of readers have, and that pleases me.
Q. Apart from murder there is philosophy as well in Souffle. Rajiv the main character is going through a turmoil in his head. How does an atheist go about this aspect of merging Sanatan philosophy with his writing
A. Yes, you are right, that I am Darwinian atheist, but of what little I know of the Hindu dharma, the Scriptures, the way of life, and religion, being an atheistsits rather well when it comes to appreciating the various aspects of Hinduism. So I call myself a civilisational Hindu as every Indian is I suppose, and I realise the tremendous flexibility Hinduism bestows upon Indians. There are so many streams within the Hindu philosophy and one of the streams is in fact is Atheism. How glorious is that! In my book therefore I like the free intermingling of these various themes and philosophies , and I believe they render my characters the complexity that not only intrigues, but also rewards the reader.
Q. What are you writing next?
A. I am currently writing two books. One of them is on the forgotten scientists of India and the other one is a novel that I cannot disclose much at this point of time.Suffice it to say that I love the concept of this novel so much that I am putting all my heart and energy into it as much as time allows me.
Q. How do you feel about the huge attention you get?
A. I see it as a privilege and honour and I am very grateful for this attention but I am equally aware that such things come and go with the click of a finger. And so although I am very grateful for the love and affection people give me I never let it affect me or bother me in any field. Very early on one of the philosophies that I learnt to imbibe was the saying by Barthes. He said, the birth of the reader is the death of the writer. It is so profound, this quote, and for me it sums up what a man should be in any field that he decides to pursue.
Lipika Bhushan is a children’s writer and senior publishing professional. She is the founder of MarketMyBook.