By Vishnu Makhijani
As we walk through the ruins of Nalanda, each stone speaks of a bygone era that demands to be kept alive in our collective consciousness, says Shivani Singh of the multifaceted his gripping historical thriller which is a compelling tale of the way one of the most ancient universities was destroyed.
“As an academic, media professional and filmmaker, it didn’t take me long to conclude that every event is fundamentally a story – and the story is a story waiting to be told,” Singh told the ‘IANS in an interview for his third historical fiction. , “Nalanda” (Amaryllis), which could unfold like a trilogy.
“My career has created a form and a profession for my writing of a novel. All three novels use the suspense format, with ‘The Secret of Sirikot’ and ‘Nalanda’ fitting more specifically into the murder mystery genre. Although both of these books are historical fiction, even “Lonely Gods”, a fantasy, gravitated in that direction.
“The fiction format gives free access to the art of storytelling and when it comes to history, this access can be liberating. Also, I think in pictures, so that part came easily, ”Singh explained.
How was “Nalanda” born?
“Have you ever experienced the otherworld of a Buddhist monastery? Shrouded in mystery, how can one not be a story to be written? And Nalanda, if you walk through its ruins even today, each stone speaks of a bygone era that demands to be kept alive in our collective consciousness, ”Singh explained.
Siddhartha, a young Buddhist monk studying at Nalanda, is catapulted to the brink of history by the university’s senior professors. They order him to help the royal investigation into a suspicious death on campus. Mahipala, the king of Magadha, thinks that death is in fact murder.
Mahipala’s royal investigating officer is none other than Siddhartha’s brother, Aditya Raj. The brothers are forced into a difficult alliance. Among them are the unforeseen forces that wiped Nalanda off the historical map of India.
As Nalanda’s fate is sealed, strange deaths quickly follow one another. In the grip of misery and doubt, Siddhartha unwittingly stumbles upon a secret. It makes him question his faith, his rationality and, finally, his own existence. In the end, Nalanda is shaved. It’s a fact. However, the narrative is a culmination of many other elements of alternative history and speculative spirituality. It is a shocking revelation of esoteric practices, involving the divine feminine, never disclosed to the masses for reasons unknown.
Venturing into historically pristine territory and, in many ways, picking up where Dan Brown left with “The Da Vinci Code” and its successors in the genre, “Nalanda” exposes a devastating, overwhelming and yet devastating reality. in a way, liberating.
“The narrative is a culmination of many other elements of alternative history and speculative spirituality. It is a shocking revelation of esoteric practices, involving the divine feminine, never disclosed to the masses for reasons unknown. “Nalanda” exposes a reality that is devastating, overwhelming and yet, in a way, liberating, ”Singh explained.
Even today, the how, why and when Nalanda was sacked is the subject of heated debate to the point of controversy.
“The gaps in the historical evidence leave space for an alternate story, and I used it just because I can. Especially because the esoteric practices around the divine feminine are truly the best kept secret in history. Those who “know” usually don’t talk about it, and those who do “know” little about it. Again, perhaps because its literature is too obtuse to decipher. For those in the know, esotericism is a code that must be broken. And breaking the codes is always liberating, ”Singh explained.
The search for the novel was not easy.
“In fact, there is hardly anything there. The research was like putting together a puzzle. Much of the content is an extrapolation of existing practices that drew on the Nalanda tradition, as there is nothing left of Nalanda. Not even the date of his dismissal, nor the reasons that motivated him. So in the novel a world has been built from pieces. The esoteric aspects of the book were more difficult not only to research but also to write due to the ephemeral and experiential nature of the material, ”Singh said.
“Nalanda” is truly a book within a book. How did she come to adopt this format?
“The book is essentially a manuscript written in the first person and unearthed a thousand years later. Book within a book has evolved over the course of writing as a necessary tool. Much like alone, the manuscript seemed out of context, with no chronology or background continuity, somewhat awkward. In addition, the complexity of the plot requires a sequel. Book within a book facilitated this like a trick, ”Singh explained.
Speaking about her previous novels and how they have been translated and published in Romanian and Portuguese, she said: “The book ‘The Secret of Sirikot’ took full advantage of the poetic license created by the unbridled imagination of a young girl. The telling of the story happened through his prismatic experience. “Lonely Gods” was an experimental postmodern effort to demystify esotericism. “
Both may have found an audience in Europe, when translators and editors contacted her.
“The Romanian publisher has shown its intention to publish ‘Nalanda’ in Bucharest and Italy, so we hope that ‘Nalanda’ will also reach Europe,” she said.
For Singh, “‘Nalanda’ turned out to be a” palimpsest, her story unraveling even after publication, showing more complexity, hidden layers. Truly the hardest book I have ever written “.
Never one to rest on her laurels, a sequel to “Nalanda” is on the cards “because it feels like a trilogy.” I also explore new aspects of Rajput history, ”Singh concluded.
May the Force be with you, Shivani Singh!