Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 3/24/2020 11:11:21 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Aditi Banerjee

Aditi Banerjee is a practicing attorney in the greater New York area. She is on the Board of Directors of the World Association for Vedic Studies (WAVES) and has organized and presented at global conferences on matters related to Dharma. She co-edited the book, “Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America”, and has written widely on Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience. She has recently come out with the book “The Curse of Gandhari”, which is a fictional re-conceptualization of Gandhari. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, she talks about her latest book, her writing journey, and why she prefers to call ‘mythological fiction’ as ‘speculative fiction’.

Please tell us more about Aditi Banerjee as a person.

I live in New Jersey and am a practicing attorney at a Fortune 500 financial services institution. I was born and brought up in the Chicago area of the USA, but am a frequent traveller to India. I am currently studying for my Executive MBA at Columbia University. I am a voracious reader and am particularly interested in learning about history and exploring different cultures worldwide through travel and literature.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later on and then instantly fell in love with it?

Ever since childhood, I have dreamt of being a published novelist. I used to write poems and short stories from a very young age but did not seriously turn towards writing for publication until I started working on this book.

Can you tell us more about your book “The Curse of Gandhari”?

Gandhari has one day to live. She is not ready to die, needing to come to terms with all that has happened to her, all that she has done in her life. Through a series of flashbacks, we see Gandhari’s life through her own eyes – her devotion to her family, her bitterness, her regret and the glimmers of hope for her possible redemption through the unique relationship she develops with Krishna.

What type of research went into writing this book?

My primary source was the Mahabharata itself – the Critical Edition as well as folk tales associated with the Mahabharata.

Which of the mythological characters that you have written about in the book interests you the most? Why?

In this particular book, Gandhari herself is the most compelling for me as she is the focal point of the story. The complexity and ambiguity in her character, her incredible strength and power as a woman and the questions her actions and decisions provoke in our minds – all of these drew me to her.

A lot of books nowadays delve into retellings of mythology. What do you think makes mythological fiction click with the readers?

The Mahabharata and Ramayana are in our cultural and civilizational DNA. Most of our storytelling, through literature and films, are linked, directly or indirectly, to the themes and tropes we find in these epics. These are the stories we learned from our grandparents as children. At the very mention of the names such as Arjuna, Karna, Draupadi, Rama and Sita, so many emotions and thoughts are stirred within us. But sadly, many of us have become alienated from the source stories and are only now finding our way back to them. I feel these retellings are a bridge for many of the younger generations who want to delve into the epics, to the original texts, which may sometimes appear daunting and formidable. My hope would be that these retellings take us back to the original texts, because that is the root of all the literature and must be studied and kept alive to preserve the authenticity of the stories we come back to again and again.

Can you share with our esteemed readers about the genres that you like and your favourite books? What are your favourite mythological fiction reads?

I enjoy historical fiction, memoirs, fantasy and mysteries. W. Somerset Maugham, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and Tolkien are some of my favourite authors. My favourite books would probably be the “Anne of Green Gables” series by L.M. Montgomery and “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. They were books I read in my girlhood but that have stayed with me. In ‘mythological’ fiction (which I prefer to call speculative fiction instead), I particularly enjoyed “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and “Karna’s Wife” by Kavita Kane.

What are your other interests apart from writing?

I enjoy reading, travelling and cooking.

Are there any other literary projects in the pipeline?

There are a bunch! My two current literary projects are a book on the PanchaKanya (Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari – sometimes also including Sita in place of Kunti), who are considered to be five heroines of our epics, and a novel about the love story between Shiva and Sati.

There are many new writers and poets who are aspiring to get their work published. What would you say to them?

Take the time to learn and practice the craft of writing and storytelling through classes and creative writing workshops. Write every day or at least every week. Read as much as you write. Open yourself to inspiration through long nature walks, meditation, exercise, and reflection. Write as an exploration, not as an exposition – writing is a journey that should surprise you and teach you things along the way if you write as a listener instead of as a talker.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

In writing – “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”― Maya Angelou

In life –Bhagavad Gita 2:47 “Karmanyevaadhikaarastemaaphaleshukadaachana; Maakarmaphalaheturbhoormaatesango’stwakarmani” (You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.)

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