Author Interview | Aroon Raman | The Shadow Throne | The Treasure of Kafur


AroonRaman

Today, it is my pleasure to host an interview with Aroon Raman, author of The Shadow Throne [Link to my review] and The Treasure of Kafur [Link to my review]. While the first novel is a contemporary narrative about how terrorists try to unleash a wave of terror in the sub-continent, the second one is a historical fantasy fiction about how the great empire of Akbar is almost brought down to its knees when a rebel renegade happens to come across the legendary treasure of Malik Kafur.

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  1. Talking about The Shadow Throne, it is quite clear from your educational and professional background that the only probably exposure that you have had to crime, criminals, geopolitics, intelligence and espionage is a healthy diet of crime-thriller novels in your life. So how much of an influence do you think the books you read had on how The Shadow Throne was plotted and narrated?

In writing The Shadow Throne, I drew of course heavily on my readings – especially of the many adventure stories I grew up on. Authors that readily come to mind are Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, John Buchan and other late 19th century and early 20th century writers who wrote thrilling stories. At the same time I read widely on contemporary non-fiction, especially on the politics of the sub-continent, especially Pakistan, by journalists like Ahmed Rashid and Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark (who wrote The Siege). The result is a sort of researched mix where fantasy is blended with fact to create what hopefully is a compelling storyline.

  1. Tell us about the kind of research that went into credibly narrating the inner workings of agencies like the RAW and the ISI. Also, tell us if you really believe that there could be situations like the one mentioned in The Shadow Throne which will force these arch-enemies to work together like they did in the book.

I was a bit lucky in that I had some contacts in internal security who put me onto some retired people who had worked at senior levels in Indian intelligence. Some of the stories I heard (of course non-classified and a bit dated) convinced me that truth is indeed, in some cases, stranger than fiction! The scenario I have painted in TST is certainly fanciful, but not by that huge a degree. I believe the extent of policy and administrative paralysis in government under the then government by 2011, 2012 had reached a certain alarming proportion that had rendered large parts of the State apparatus completely dysfunctional. On the other hand, ISI and RAW coming together as they do in the book, is again not impossible. There have been some less-known instances where these organizations have worked together when they have felt their interests converge. This limited co-operations certainly suffered much post the attack on the Indian Parliament.  

  1. It is usually said that in his/her debut novel, the author crafts one character which is very close to himself/herself. Is this true in your case? If yes, which character and what aspects of your personality are reflected in this particular character in The Shadow Throne?

Rather than model a character specifically after me, I have painted the “good guys” with characteristics which are attractive to me: ‘strong, silent type’ that characterizes Chandra, Meenakshi’s quicksilver wit, Hassan’s tough yet poetic strain; so all my lead characters have what I see as being interesting facets to them. None of them, however, is modeled on me, per se!   

  1. In the mail that you had sent to me, you mentioned that the characters of Chandra, Hassan and Meenakshi, the main protagonists of The Shadow Throne are poised to make a comeback in 2015. Request you to please provide us with more details of the same.

I’ve just signed a contract with my publishers Pan Macmillan for the next Chandra-Hassan-Meenakshi thriller. I am pretty excited about the way the storyline is developing into a book tentatively to be called Skyfire. Obviously details are a tightly kept secret at the moment, and I expect to reveal closer to the date! But suffice it to say that this will also be a fast-paced plot with the good guys racing against time to save the country from Armageddon of another kind.

  1. Moving on to The Treasure of Kafur, this book belongs to an entirely unique genre given that it straddles historical fiction and fantasy fiction. What was the genesis of this particular plot which primarily revolved around the legendary treasure of Malik Kafur?

TreasureOfKafurOf the two books I have written, TOK is my personal favorite; one reason being that it was more than 6 years in the making. The idea came to me literally one evening when I had been mulling over my idea for a book for more than 3 weeks, and then the thought suddenly popped into my mind, “Why not a story involving Akbar and a threat to his empire?” The character of this greatest of Mughal emperors has always been an attractive one for me, and with this starting point, one idea let to the other very quickly. I had just finished re-reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and so almost immediately fantasy started to play a part in the story. I’m also a great admirer of Buddhism as a religion and so Panchatantra type animal characters have been in my story consciousness for a very long time. And so it all began to come together in a particular way very quickly once the main plot question had been answered in my own mind.

  1. The Treasure of Kafur follows the ‘three act structure’ in that it begins with Datta and his friends making the treacherous journey to Agra, the second part dealing with how Datta convinces Akbar of Asaf and the final part dealing with how the story unfolds and ends. Was it a deliberate attempt on your part to stick to this oft followed convention or was this something that just happened during the course of writing the novel?

In my style of writing, once the main theme of the story is determined, then the story leads me on. I do not lead the story. So, I had no real thought to split the story into these 3 logical parts: it just happened naturally as the story progressed.

  1. While writing The Treasure of Kafur how much of effort did you have to put in terms of research that needed to be done to get the historical settings as accurate as possible? And also, how much of ‘historical truth’ did you need to bend and modify to suit the requirements of the plot itself?

The wonderful thing about writing a book like The Treasure of Kafur is that the research forms of the picture frame, the backdrop against which all events are made to seem ‘authentic’ and therefore believable. This makes the research crucial. The persona of Akbar, for example, is fully researched and I think the Akbar you see in the book is pretty much the way I think he must have been. Similarly, I read up quite a bit about the Hindustan of the time. Prof Irfan Habib’s Atlas of Mughal India contains a fund of knowledge of how the country was at the time; folk tales that have come down to us over the centuries lend their own texture to the telling of the tale especially in the sketching of characters like Rana Pratap. Last but not least the fun part is that while you base the story on the politics of the time, fiction allows you to play fast and loose with some of the facts in a ways that add greatly to the enjoyment of the tale. So in a word: research provides the flavor and bouquet to the wine of fantasy!    

  1. In terms of future books, do you have any plans to dabble with either historical fiction or fantasy fiction in the style of The Treasure of Kafur again?

It is very interesting to me that I have had a great variety of responses to both my books – given that they are very different from each other. Some have liked TST and other TOK more, and yet others have enjoyed both equally. If you notice, I have left the endings of both books slightly open to the possibility of a sequel. That is being fulfilled now in my third book which is a quasi-sequel to The Shadow Throne. At the same time I’ve started yet another thriller set this time in an overseas setting, and so for the immediate couple of years, I think I will be centered on the modern thriller rather than go back to the TOK type adventure.

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Related links

Aroon Raman on Facebook
Aroon Raman on Twitter
Aroon Raman’s website
The Shadow Throne – Flipkart
The Shadow Throne – Amazon
The Treasure of Kafur – Flipkart
The Treasure of Kafur – Amazon

 

The Shadow Throne – Aroon Raman – Book Review


Goodreads blurb: India faces nuclear Armageddon.

A mysterious murder at the Qutub Minar triggers a call to ace journalist Chandrasekhar from his cop acquaintance, Inspector Syed Ali Hassan. The victim is unlike anyone Chandra has ever seen: a white Caucasian male who has all the looks of a throwback to Greek antiquity. Soon after, Hassan calls in to report the case has been taken away from him – in all likelihood by RAW – the Research & Analysis Wing, the uber-agency of Indian intelligence.

What began as a murder enquiry soon morphs into a deadly game of hide-and-seek within the shadowy world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; and Chandra, his friend history professor Meenakshi Pirzada and Hassan find themselves in a race against time to avert a sub-continental nuclear holocaust.

As the action moves to its hair-raising climax among the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, Chandra must face up to the fact that Inspector Hassan is not all that he seems …

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The above blurb does grave injustice to the actual way in which the book begins. The mysterious death of the strange victim at the Qutub Minar forms only a small part of the narrative which sets in motion a crazy chain of events in the main protagonist Chandrasekhar’s life over the course of the next two odd weeks.

Between Chandra, Hassan and Meenakshi, the story travels between time and space in terms of the fact that its genesis lies in Emperor Kanishka’s times and most of the action is centered on the Bamiyan region in Afghanistan where the world famous Buddha statues once stood. As is the norm with espionage thrillers, all is not what it seems for most part of the book, but suffice to say that all the knots are slowly opened, and all secrets revealed at appropriate moments in the book and the end result is more than satisfying.

What I particularly liked about the book was that the author seemed to know the nitty-gritty of the inner workings of the RAW and the ISI. It is one thing to say that this kind of information is easily available on the public domain and can be read and researched by anybody, it is entirely another thing to actually go ahead, do that and come up with a reasonably credible and believable account of the goings on in these shadowy offices. And Aroon Raman comes up trumps, at least in my opinion, on that front with this novel.

What I would have loved to have a little more of would have been more detailing to the characters of Hussain and Meenakshi. While Chandra and his trouble with overcoming the loss of his wife Yamini to cancer have been dealt with at the beginning of the book, the author could have added more flesh to the characters of Hussain and Meenakshi as well, and this would have added more to the chemistry between these three characters. This would have added more sheen to the already sizzling rapport that they share during the action in the book.

This would have to be the third book in recent times that I have read which places a espionage / terrorism thriller in the sub-continental milieu (the first one was Baramulla Bomber by Clark Prasad and the second one was The Taj Conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar) and I honestly have to say that it makes for a welcome change compared to all the books in this genre that I have read over the years which are set in other countries all over the world. The fact that these books are set in India, have Indian characters, deal with Indian authorities, and are so credible make them all the more special. I truly believe that Indian writing in this genre is slowly coming of age, and man, am I excited about that or what!

Do read this book if you are a fan of well written, well paced thrillers. This one is a definite page turner, no two ways about that.

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Name The Shadow Throne
Author/s Aroon Raman
Publisher Pan MacMillan India
Year published 2012
ISBN 13 9788192398006
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon