Usha Narayanan had a successful career in advertising, radio and corporate communications before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of several books including The Madras Mangler, a suspense thriller and Love, Lies and Layoffs, a lighthearted office romance. The Secret of God’s Son is the sequel to her bestselling book Pradyumna: Son of Krishna which was published in 2015.
In this heart-to-heart conversation with the author, we talk about the protagonist Pradyumna, the son of Lord Krishna in her novels, ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ and ‘The Secret of God’s Son’, and other fascinating details about the theme, characterization and juxtaposition of the human and the divine that characterizes her literary work.
Lopa Banerjee: The title of the novel itself appears very intriguing to me. I would love to know what compelled you to make Pradyumna the protagonist of both your novels ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ and ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ and what came to your mind when you took up the task of writing this entire series based on his life choices?
Usha Narayanan: What inspired me was the thrill of discovering an unknown hero and the excitement of unearthing colourful tales woven around a son of Krishna. While the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa both have Krishna as the focal point, there is a wide difference in their tone and manner. The first focuses almost entirely on the human story, specifically the war between the Kurus and the Pandavas. But the puranas roam unhindered through heaven, earth and the netherworld, bringing us vivid stories of gods and demons, asuras and gandharvas. Pradyumna and his wife Maya are depicted as belonging more to this fantastical world and their lives provide more vibrant material for a fantasy. The paradox of his being both human and divine engaged my attention, as well as the possibility of exploring whether these two levels can ever meet.
Lopa Banerjee: Your novel ‘Pradyumna’ is the mythic tale of the protagonist who endured much pain in love, which is not highlighted or mentioned much in the epic Mahabharata. When you wrote the sequel, did this same pursuit of delving into the mystery of a minor character of the epic haunt you? Can you share some of your feelings regarding this?
Usha Narayanan: The greatest love stories are tragic, often ending with the death of the protagonist and his beloved. Their path is strewn with obstacles that defy every attempt to surmount them. In the case of Pradyumna and Maya too, I could perceive many hurdles and decided to write their story using my own imagination. Maya, who is Rati reborn, awaits the rebirth of her beloved Kama, burned to ashes by Shiva for executing his duty. Rati prays ceaselessly to the gods and finally wrests a promise that Kama will be reborn as the son of Rukmini and Krishna. When Pradyumna is born, he is snatched by an asura and brought up by the asura’s wife Maya who plays the role of his foster mother. He is unaware of his original form or that he is the son of the Blue God. She frets and fumes as she tries to mould the dissolute prince into a warrior. When the truth is revealed, Pradyumna refuses to accept her as he still looks upon her as his mother. She is older than him too and the wife of the asura emperor. How this love story would develop was something that intrigued me and set my creative juices flowing.
As for the sequel, much of it is fictionalized. I followed what seemed to me the natural trajectory of their lives and their love. Now, when I read the initial reviews coming in, I am happy to see that my readers are just as thrilled with their story as I was.
Lopa Banerjee: What role did the epic Mahabharata play when you embarked on the journey of this novel? How much of the depiction is sourced from the epic and how much of it is fictionalized?
Usha Narayanan: As far as I know, Pradyumna is mentioned only a couple of times in the Mahabharata and Maya not at all. So there was not much that I could take from the epic, except for using the Kurukshetra War as a backdrop. ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ has a little more from the Mahabharata, specifically Draupadi’s vastraharan and the story of Duryodhana’s noble brother Vikarna. Of course Gandhari, the Kuru queen, plays a major role in my book as it is her curse that goads Pradyumna to undertake his journey to Kailasa and Yamaloka. My challenge was to make the fictional sections appear to be a natural extension of our epics.
Lopa Banerjee: Does the novel also focus on the father-son dynamics between Lord Krishna and Pradyumna and their collective journey in the terrifying realm where the protagonist Pradyumna finds himself? What would you say is the foundation of this epic depiction?
Usha Narayanan: Imagine the delight and the terror you would experience if you suddenly discovered that you were the son of Vishnu’s avatar! When Pradyumna finds out this truth, he defeats and kills the tyrannical asura in whose kingdom he lives and makes his way to Dwaraka to meet his godly parents. He strives to make himself worthy of Krishna, spending every moment that he can at his feet, partaking of his wisdom. Even when he is elsewhere or in later years when Krishna leaves the earth, his father still remains his focus and his inspiration. We see Krishna too sharing deep truths with his son, knowing well that his son must continue his mission after him. The avatar shapes Pradyumna into the ultimate warrior in the cause of righteousness and an ideal purusha. We see the human side of Krishna in his interactions with his sons, his grandsons Aniruddha and Ajaya and his great grandson Vajra.
There is no foundation as such for my depiction of these relationships. I have merely followed the tradition of bards handing down stories to the next generation, along with their own flourishes!
Lopa Banerjee: The mythology sub-genre in Indian Writing in English is making major headway in the fiction publishing world. What do you think makes a mythological fiction enduring and remarkable to readers?
Usha Narayanan: Myths have a universal appeal that is not limited to India. Rick Riordan says, ‘They’ve got everything you could possibly want…mystery, treachery, murder, loyalty, romance, magic, monsters.’ The gods experience the same emotions that we do. They are jealous or greedy and do foolish things due to lust and anger. We see ourselves in them and wonder how we can attain their lofty world. Myths also bring us eternal truths wrapped up in exciting tales brimming with action, romance and divinity.
In India, we have a rich treasury of puranas that we have lost touch with, as we can no longer read them in the original Sanskrit. The old system of joint families where grandmothers told children tales of devas and asuras over dinner has become rare. When we extol superheroes like Batman or Superman, why not discover our own heroes ― be it Krishna or Pradyumna, Rama or Hanuman, Draupadi or Maya? As long as the telling is fresh and interesting, the characters are unfamiliar or looked at from a different angle, these stories will continue to charm readers aged eight to eighty.
Lopa: Wish you all success with the book, Usha Narayanan jee!
Usha Narayanan: Thank you so much, Lopa, for your original and imaginative questions. It was a delightful experience answering them. I look forward to more such interactions with you and with readers of your blog.
The ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ is available on Amazon.com: