Leela's Book: Modern-day Mahabharata
Alice Albinia, the acclaimed author of Empires of the Indus, is back with a novel about the battle between Ved Vyasa and Lord Ganesh in modern-day Delhi.
Turning to fiction after an award-winning travel book, Alice Albinia has written a brilliantly playful and genre-defying novel. 'Leela's book', is a work of fiction that gives a peek into the author's fascination with Indian Mythology. Ambitious and entertaining, the book weaves a tale of contemporary Delhi that crosses religious and social boundaries, reaching back into the origins of the Mahabharata itself. Alice Albinia read English Literature at Cambridge University. After graduating, she moved to Delhi, where she worked for the next two a half years as a journalist and editor for the Centre for Science & Environment, Biblio, Outlook Traveller, and several other Indian newspapers and magazines. We caught up with the author to find out more about the book.
Tell us about your book ‘Leela’s Book? Is it the new age Mahabharata?
Leela's Book imagines the revenge the god Ganesh took on Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata, by writing his own subversive book. And interweaved with that is the narrative of three families in Delhi, whose lives come together on one fateful evening. My novel draws on the Mahabharata – is inspired by it, and pays homage to it – but the epic itself doesn’t need any updating. It is unique and of all ages.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre? What other genres of writing would you like to explore?
I have always loved novels, and always loved myth, and I also loved being in Delhi from the moment I arrived there to live, so for me, writing Leela’s Book was the ideal way to combine those things. I loved writing my first, non-fiction book too. I feel it is a creative freedom and even a necessity to move from one genre to the other.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I lived in Delhi for two years in one of the neighbours I describe. Then at SOAS, during my MA, I researched and wrote a paper on the Ganesh dictation episode in the Mahabharata. After that I came back to Delhi as often as possible while I was travelling for my first book, Empires of the Indus (which is about Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Tibet), and even more so when I finally began writing my novel.
Is there a message in your novel that you want the readers to grasp?
I would be happy if they love reading it as much as I loved writing it.
They say for an author to be able to truly write, he must have a lot of experiences – can you talk about some of your most memorable experiences, and have they made their way into your writing?
Experiences were at the heart of Empires of the Indus but for my novel I found the important thing was a way of thinking – about other people, and about other places. The stories I heard while I was living in Nizamuddin definitely influenced the narrative I told in the book.
Your interest for discovery shines through your travelogues. What has been your most remarkable journey so far?
My most awe-inspiring experience in Delhi was watching people commute across a giant pipe laid across the open drain near my house – and venturing out after them across the drop. It was very scary, like being on a tightrope. And I will never forget taking a boat ride on the black, bubbling, hellishly-polluted waters of the sacred Yamuna River.
Do you consider yourself to be a travel writer?
I think of myself as a writer who has produced a travel book and a novel. Who knows what will be next?
What's a typical working day like for you?
I would adore a life where I have a typical working day. I strive for that! An ideal day would be one in which I cycled after breakfast for half an hour across whichever city I was living in, to an empty room where I could work uninterrupted all day long, until it was time to cycle home again for supper. Instead my days tend to be quite varied.
How much and what do you read… books one reads are often reflected ones writing?
I read quite eclectically, especially in fiction. At the moment I am much more wary of non-fiction, unless there is something specific I need to find out.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I just read two books by Nicole Krauss, The History of Love and Great House, both of which are very different, and both of which I loved.
Alice will be launching her book in Bangalore on May 20th at Reliance TimeOut
Book: Leela’s Book
Author: Alice Albinia
Publisher: Random House
Price: Rs. 499