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Interview with Raj Anand


Raj Anand 

Apophis: Into the Folds of Darkness

 


He is a writer, architect, professor, father, and a long-distance runner with a wanderlust to explore and write stories that traverse diverse cultures. Inspired by his then 18-month-old-daughter when she quoted Socrates-while they together sat in a children’s bookshop in Bangalore, he has finished his first book as she turns 7-years-old. 

 


Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
A.
 I wake up at 3:30 am to read, write, and design my architectural projects. I have followed this regimen for more than 20 years.

 

I had heart surgery when I was 29 years-old to fix an electrical problem (ventricular tachycardia). I watched as the cardiologist made an incision into my heart, insert a catheter, and then felt the tip of the catheter as it traveled through my heart and then burn the faulty nerve.

 

As an Architect, I have designed over 400 projects across India, including homes, offices, industrial projects, exhibitions, and even a Tibetan Nunnery near Dharamshala, in North India. And ironically, I still live in a rented accommodation-and dream about designing my own home one day. Such is life!

 

I once worked to document a far-off Buddhist Monastery (Hemis), located in the frigid, silent mountains of Ladakh for nearly two months along with twelve other Architects. Since our cook ran away at the end of the first day, besides doing my Architecture work, I also became the chief cook for the entire duration of the project (and secretly added vodka to everything, which went down very well with everyone!).

 

I was Captain of the Cross-country team in my senior year in high school in New York and led my team to their best (unbeaten) record in the school's 80-year history. 


Q.2 When are we going to read the next book in Kleos Chronicles?
A.
 I have already begun working on it and hope to have it published in the first half of 2023. 


Q.3 What inspired you to write Apophis: Into the Folds of Darkness? What kind of research you did for this book?
A. 
“Sophie, this looks like a good book.” I suggested to my 18-month-old daughter while we together sat on the floor of a children’s bookstore in Bangalore in India, one afternoon in January 2015. 

“Papa, what is GOOD?” 

The ever-inquisitive Sophie inquired, and I could only recall and picture Socrates standing in the middle of Athens while he pondered over a similar question. “What is Good? What is the nature of Good? What is the meaning of Good?” 

I turned to the bookstore owner and asked if she had any books on children's ethics and philosophy. “Why would you want to teach philosophy to children?” The lady wondered and affirmed that to the best of her knowledge-no, such book existed. In that prescient moment, I became certain of the book that I was meant to write. 

‘Philosophy and Children!’ Those two words haunted me for months as I began to randomly explore various subjects, including philosophy, time, and space travel. I made a list of philosophers across most cultures, histories, and geographies that I could gather. Until one day, I chanced upon what anthropologists and historians call THE AXIAL AGE. A moment in human history less than 150 years across, several ancient philosophers including Socrates, Plato, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and several others began to question life and its very meaning. 

To re-examine the original premise by removing these musty layers of dogma to discover the fountainhead of this seed-the beginning-became a part of my obsession and promise of this book. As an attempt to contemporize the ancient philosophical precepts and experience them from nine-year-old children’s perspective and their explorations. 

Over five years of research and writing this book, I was presented with a veritable set of challenges, including: 

· the ability to coalesce various ancient philosophical precepts and characters into a single unified story. 

· address the gender and race biases still prevalent. 

· seamlessly integrate time travel and the need to travel beyond earth. 

· and address the existential crisis of ecological degradation that we face today 

To collate the above into a coherent narrative as well as a compelling story. That was the challenge of writing APOPHIS – now complete. 

 

Q.4 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwines with other literary genres? 
A. 
I think these genres' segregations are artificial and false, done to separate stories to simplify the storytelling medium. I doubt if APOPHIS falls into a single genre, it is certainly a mixture of Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism & Young Adult genres - perhaps a few more. 

Q.5 How do you see the relationship between science fiction and culture? How about the boundaries between science fiction and reality? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future? 
A.
 Science Fiction is a way to imagine another world, an alternate reality. If we could? How would we live in another world, amidst other philosophical precepts and technologies? If we can accept and imagine a wider arc to the question of time, then Science Fiction continuously imagines an immediately imminent future, and it lays down an imagined world of new technologies that others can work towards.


Q.6 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the key aims of the genre changed considerably or not? 
A.
 I don’t think the key aims have changed, but Science Fiction has certainly evolved as we learn more about our Solar System and the Universe beyond. Therefore the more recent additions are scientifically accurate and correct the gender, cultural, race, and sexual biases embedded in our societies. 


Q.7 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre? 

A. As a listener to stories, you always want to be transported to another world, and Science Fiction certainly fills that need. Films certainly help bring a writer's imagination to the screen and make it real, shorter, easier to absorb, and certainly entertaining. Unfortunately, some of the Science Fiction movies are shallow in ideas and really do not follow the essential and universal precepts of science, which is disappointing. 

 

Q.8 For a long, humans have been looking for immortality at all costs. Do you think this will lead to our eventual dehumanization? 
A.
 We imagine different outcomes in scientific research. Some of us would like to live forever, but that has been an unnecessary human endeavor that has plagued more than one tyrant across the earth. Immortality? Why? Every story has an end… as it should. Even the sun and the universe have a definitive end date – that is an unchangeable truth. 

 

Q.9 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre? 
A. 
I don’t know enough about the history of the genre to answer this question, as I don’t write or am cocooned only in this genre. 

 

Q.10 In many science fiction stories, the existence of God is denied. Could we call science fiction, an atheist literary genre? 
A. 
I believe that creating the idea of an ambiguous God that lives in the sky was when humans separated themselves from the magical natural world that we are only but a small part of. Once this idea was created and embedded in our lives - artificial tiers and caste segregations followed. God above us, the all-conquering humans in the middle and the rest of the natural world beneath. And it is due to this fallacy that we have plundered and continued to destroy the mother spaceship that carries us along and across the milky way galaxy and further beyond into the Universe. Once we can accept this unchanging truth, that we are but a small part of the magical realm of a conscious universe. That is the day our respect for the gift that has been given to us will arrive, appear. What is God? It is this conscious and ethical universe. 

 

Q.11 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits? 
A. 
Unique and quirky? I am not sure. But I do know that as a writer, you must read - all the time! But I read for the simple joy of reading, not to copy a style or mannerism. Some admittedly may seep in and then be added to the layers of one’s very being, and that - is completely okay. And, I am reminded of a quote by a neuro-scientist, Nancy Andreasen, “Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections and originally seeing things - seeing things that others cannot see…” At heart, one is a storyteller - nothing else and nothing more. Those stories arrive from a confluence of one’s own personal experiences and memories. But at most times, the stories are a collation of a vivid and other-worldly imagination. What could be, can be, and maybe - layered altogether, to become a new moment, a new world. 


Q.12 How do you select the name of your characters? 
A. 
Any fiction book is layered with personal life experiences, philosophy, and ethics (whether you want to make it so or not - IT IS!). APOPHIS certainly follows that rhythm of sharing a certain life vision. Several characters, their mannerisms, habits, and even names are a happy mix of people that I have met in my life, including but not restricted to friends, mentors, and even a couple of ex-girlfriends. Since the book is in the realm of Historical Science Fiction, it certainly has important historical figures and (in this case) ancient philosophers embedded in the story. 

As disparate and complex as it may appear, I hope that the array of characters from varied cultural subsets do come together in a cohesive form to become a great story. That at least is the attempt and hope. 

 

Q.13 What do you want readers to take away from your book? 
A.
 ‘Don’t confuse intelligence with wisdom.’ 

For there are enough intelligent people today - destroying our world. 

Look around you, and you will discover that it is not the wise that head our governments, but the intelligent. And it is these same super intelligent who build weapons, desecrate the earth, pollute our rivers, our oceans and continue to kill all that is sentient. 

It is time for this narrative to change - for the intelligent to STOP being cool. 

The virus teaches us the value of innate contemplative wisdom, the value of respecting nature, the value of slowing down, and the realization that it is a relatively few essential things. 

The virus is teaching us humility. 

And at this moment - more than ever - we need the WISDOM to become the new cool! That is the only path forward for humanity to survive. 

Q.14 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why? 
A. 
Obviously, it would be a writer, ha. I have an eclectic taste in books ranging from Science Fiction, Philosophy, and Greek Tragedies. But given the context of this, my first book APOPHIS - Into the Folds of Darkness, I would submit that a book that had a deep influence was The Celestine Prophecy, written in 1993 by James Redfield

The book delves into spirituality and our connection with the divine through a series of Insights - a wonderful piece of storytelling! I remember reading it in 1995-1996 and thinking that I would love to follow a similar technique if I ever wrote a book. Where an exciting adventure is layered with philosophy and a deeper insight into the meaning of life. Therefore, to answer your question, I would love to meet James Redfield

Q.15 What is your favorite book or author, and why? 
A.
 Along life’s journeys, there have been many from Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Ayn Rand, Rumi, Carlos Castaneda, James Redfield… 

But it was the words of one man that took my breath away… the one that I read so often - Fernando Pessoa. The ethereal power of his words, the raw emotions so honestly and powerfully shared, the magical prose. I remain besotted by this Portuguese writer. 

I traveled to Lisboa in 2010 and spent a large part of the day in Pessoa’s museum; traveled on Tram No. 28 the same that he would usually take and imagined the city from his eyes; shared a bica or espresso with a bronze Fernando Pessoa, dressed in a suit and a fedora, outside the Café-A-Brasileira on Chiado square. A place where he often sat in the evenings with a few of his friends to discuss their writings and, of course, books. 

Q.16 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good and bad ones?

A. Well, once the book is launched/published, it gets a life of its own, it’s a child born and set free to go into the world unencumbered. The book will never please everyone, but one hopes that the writing quality and the story generate enough interest all around. And I am reminded of a famous quote by the late American President Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”

 

Q.17 Among all the characters from your book, which one is your favorite and why?

A. When you have several children, to love one more than the other is certainly not possible. Each has their own journey and life learnings that they impart in their own prescient manner.  At the same time, Agasthi, who makes a brief, fleeting appearance at the beginning of the book, mysteriously leaves many questions unanswered about who she is? Wait for the second book in the series to find out more.

 

Q.18 What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A. Besides a writer, I am also an Architect and teach Architecture at various Universities. So that keeps me occupied and helps in paying the bills, haha. But I do love to cook, so you will find me in the kitchen trying out some new dishes or cooking for my 7-year-old daughter at home. My repertoire in cooking is varied and includes Indian, Italian, Spanish, and American dishes. Besides this, you may find me running across a forest and a river next to my home in Goa in the early early morning. I have been a long-distance runner for more than 25 years, including finishing more than a dozen half-marathons in less than 2 hours.

 

Q.19 Can you share with us something off your bucket list?

A. Bucket List? Well, there are many…

·     From reading several books that remain on my TBR.

·     To traveling further across the world (already covered 45 countries, some more than once).

·     To building my own home finally here in Goa (soon, soon).

·     Running the New York Full Marathon.

·     Writing the next 3 books in the Apophis Series.

·     Writing a couple of travel-related fiction books.

·     A love story.

·     Writing the biography of a Shaman-friend.


Let’s see what I can manage to accomplish in the life that I have left on this planet.


Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far? 
A.
 I have been dreaming about writing fiction for more than two decades. I have taken creative writing courses, edited Journals of Architecture taught Architecture and creative writing, written short stories, attempted to write longer stories, but after a few chapters realized that the story wasn’t really going anywhere. 

How the idea of APOPHIS came about was ethereal and magical. At that prescient moment, I was certain that this was the book (or a series of books) that I was meant to write. For it was at the confluence of all my life’s pursuits and personal interests: 

· Politics 
· Philosophy 
· History 
· & Epic storytelling 

The book took me five years to finish (between multiple edits). But as much as I looked and asked around, I could not find anyone to guide me on the publishing process. So, I began a random, disjointed process of searching on my own. I found snippets of information and hints online. In error, I sent out letters to well-known Literary Agents across the world when I had an incomplete manuscript, badly written synopsis, and worse introductory letters. And of course, in response (the few that did respond), I received abrupt and sometimes rude refusals of representation. 

I searched further and discovered that only after the manuscript (especially a fiction manuscript) is complete, finished, and fully edited should I even seek representation. A year later, after the book was complete, I again approached Literary Agents across the world and over many months sporadically received more than fifty rejection letters. 

It was only then that I decided to go the Indie publishing way and approached several such publishers. I chose one that offered the best service and had an excellent reputation for being honest and professional. 

In effect, I did everything wrong (for nearly two years) and went through a deep agony and confusion - which in itself was learning, especially for a first-time writer. 

I am sure the process of publishing Book 2 (in less than two years from now) will be from a place of learning the lessons learned from publishing Book 1. 

 

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