Interview with Priya Narayanan, author of Demons and Demonesses of Hindu MythologyInterview with Priya Narayanan, author of Demons and Demonesses of Hindu Mythology
on Nov 22, 2021
Priya Narayanan is both an interior designer and an award-winning children’s author. While she runs her own design practice under the banners Tatva, Soma, and Umu, she is also a Professor at CEPT University, her alma mater, and a published poet and author. While her poems and short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, Priya has six children’s books under her belt and many more lurking in the deepest corners of her computer, waiting for their moment in the sun. When not practicing and teaching design, she likes to travel solo and read everything that comes her way.
Ques – Tell us something about your Book?
Priya: Demons and Demonesses of Hindu Mythology is, as the title suggests, all about the magical and exotic beings that make our rich mythological heritage all the richer. We all know the stories of gods but seldom are stories of asuras and rakshasas written about or discussed. One of my readers recently wrote back saying he had heard of these demons but did not know their origin stories until he read the book. This ‘not knowing’ was one of the key reasons I wrote the book. Where did these demons come from? Where did they live? What are the differences between asuras and rakshasas? How did the meaning of the word ‘asura’ change over a period of time? How do the concepts of time and space apply to the world of demons? I reveal all this and more. Of course, the largest chunk of the book is dedicated to the fantastic stories of seventeen demons and demonesses narrated chronologically, starting from Satya Yuga and ending in Dwapara Yuga.
Ques – How long has it been since you tapped into writing children’s books? When did you decide that you want to be a Children’s writer?
Priya: When I became a mother in 2006, I confronted a dilemma of sorts. I wanted my children to grow up reading stories that had Indian protagonists doing some unbelievable stuff like I’d read in the Enid Blytons or Hans Christian Andersons growing up. However, there were very few such books for children by Indian authors in the market. So I instinctively started conjuring a variety of stories for my children – stories that were rooted in the cultural and geographical context of our country, but just as fantastic as I’d wanted them to be. I guess, writing for children was a natural progression from there and a worthy challenge – conjuring stories for my own children at bedtime was one thing, but writing stories that children the world over could read and enjoy were quite another. I decided to give it a shot though and the result was my debut book ‘The Moon wants to be Spotless White’, which was released in 2013. Since then, it has been quite an adventure for me in the world of children’s publishing… I have six books under my belt now, with two of them have won prestigious awards.
Ques – Why did you opt for the subject of magical and powerful asuras and rakshasas of Hindu Mythology to write?
Priya: I grew up listening to mythological stories narrated by my grandfather and remember that the seemingly wicked asuras and rakshasas were the ones who made all those god-stories so interesting! I also admired a few of these beings, specially Ravana, so much so that my book ‘Ten Heads for Tanuj’ was inspired by him and even has him playing a key role in the story. I also made sure to add a note at the end of the book to highlight the good qualities of Ravana, something that usually goes unmentioned. It was when writing this note that I realized that most mythological stories focus on the gods and talk about only the wicked or evil aspects of the asuras and rakshasas, which does them injustice. There is quite a bit of good in the demons and their stories reveal the complexities of being gods and demons in a way the stories focusing on the gods do not. It was a wonderful coincidence that even as I was toying with the idea of writing about demons, my editor, Saswati, reached out to me to write a book on very similar lines. I happily took it on and had a great time researching for the book.
Ques – You’re both an interior designer and a children’s book author. Which Priya, Interior Designer Priya or Author Priya, do you prefer?
Priya: I really cannot make that choice -both are vital to being who I am. As a designer, I have to focus my energies on delivering something that my clients will want to use. I love connecting with them, understanding their requirements, and helping convert their dreams into reality. These days, I also teach design, which adds another layer to my experience and understanding of the subject. As an author, I usually put myself first -I write stories that I want to write and am not very worried if a publisher isn’t interested in publishing it. Of course, it is icing on the cake if they do get published, but I’m quite satisfied just writing the stories down and sharing them with a few near and dear ones. In recent years though, I have been trying to find ways to marry both my passions and one of the outcomes has been the launch of a collection of Story Chairs for 3-8-year-olds that come with a story written specifically for each chair design. I’m quite looking forward to exploring this concept further.
Ques – What subject would you like to choose to write for your next book?
Priya: I like to explore different genres with every book, so I’m looking forward to writing something very different from my previous books -perhaps a mystery or thriller? I have a few ideas but haven’t zeroed in on anything specific yet.
Ques – Apart from Hayagriva, how many asuras and rakshasas have you talked about in this book?
Priya: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve narrated the stories of seventeen demons and demonesses in this book. Some of these are well-known, of course, but I have tried to reveal lesser-known stories associated with them. And then there are stories of a number of lesser-known asuras and rakshasas who are equally fascinating in their physical appearance, the magical powers they possess, and stories of their origin. I must say here that although the book has my name on it, I’ve merely retold the stories that belong to and are a testament to the inimitable imagination of our ancestors. Stories like those of Raktabeeja, Mura, Kabandha, and Kirtimukha are so rich in imagery that I’d personally find it rather difficult to match up to them. After all, it takes a very different kind of mind to imagine a being with three heads, three legs, six arms, and nine eyes, doesn’t it?!
Ques – What advice would you give to aspiring authors of Children’s Books?
Priya: I’m neither a prolific writer nor someone who writes for a living, so I’m not sure I’m qualified to be advising others. However, I’m very passionate about writing and there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that I’d like to share:
- Each book is a new journey you embark upon. While you need to be prepared to weather a storm for sure, it is more important that you immerse yourself into every step of the adventure and enjoy it to the core. I’d like to cite the example of my book Srinivasa Ramanujan: Friend of Numbers here. Writing it was quite an adventure and a mixture of curiosity and serendipity took me all the way to London and Cambridge for my research! I’d love it if you took out some time to read my blog post regarding the same.
- Don’t procrastinate. Whether it is with putting your pen on paper and getting those ideas rolling or reaching out to publishers with your manuscript, just don’t get tangled in the web of the everyday routine and put things off for some other time. Because that ‘later’ never really comes.
- Keep honing your skills as a writer – never make the mistake of thinking you know it all.