Mythology & storytelling

Sundar Nathan was pursuing a successful Silicon Valley career when he embarked on a seven-year journey writing his first mythological thriller, Prince of Naraka. he has been passionate about mythology and storytelling since he was a boy. As he crafts the next book in ‘The Naraka Cycle’ series, Nathan teaches and mentors MBA students at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nathan is an engineer, technology marketer and entrepreneur. He sat down with Anuj Chakrapani to talk about the launch of his first book, the inspiration for his writing, and his advice for budding authors.

The picture shows a man smiling and raising his hands
Author Sundar Nathan (image courtesy: Sundar Nathan)

Anuj Chakrapani: You have had a career spanning two decades in the tech industry. What inspired you to write fiction?

Sundar Nathan: My amma and akkas encouraged me to read widely from an early age. I fell passionately in love with language, especially the written word, its ability to create awe, to inspire, to evoke emotion in the heart of the reader. 

Reading fiction is a unique experience for us humans. It’s different from watching a movie, looking at a piece of art, or even visiting the location that the work of fiction is based on.  While reading a great novel, we co-create the experience with the author, trying to visualize the characters, the environment, objects, art, architecture, as we read. 

We resonate with emotions felt and expressed by the main characters. In other words, two people can read the same novel and visualize it differently, based on their unique backgrounds and experiences. We humans are exquisite in our ability to absorb, interpret, retain and retell unique stories we’ve read. 

As much as I’ve enjoyed great fiction, about ten years ago, I started feeling the urge, the pull to write a piece of fiction that would evoke rich emotions and inspire the hearts of readers.

That’s what inspired me to pick up the pen.

AC: So, having gone through the birth pangs of writing a book for the first time, what advice can you offer?

SN: As the eminent scholar of comparative mythology, Joseph Campell said “Follow your bliss.” While I felt the pull to write, it took me several years to have the courage to start. Fear of rejection, and fear of failure can sometimes be the reasons we don’t pursue our deep passions. It’s important to build the courage to live a life that is true to ourselves. 

While our parents and family might have the best intentions in guiding us early in life, I believe it’s critical to go within, examine who we really are and to express that essence through art. It could be drawing, painting, music, dance, even a martial art. I believe each of us has at least one book in us, waiting to be expressed. 

There is a great saying from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

“You are who your deep, driving desire is;
As is your desire, So is your will;
As is your will, So is your action;
As is your action, So is your habit;
As is your habit, So is your character;
As is your character; So is your destiny!”

I would advise aspiring writers to foster a small group of people who understand your passion and encourage you. The acknowledgements section of my first novel lists the wonderful people who supported my efforts over many years. A writing group is also immensely helpful.

My advice to anyone interested in writing would be –  Take the leap, be bold and persist! 

AC: The book is fantasy. What inspired you to choose this genre?

SN: My first book ‘Prince of Naraka’ is a revisionist supernatural thriller that traces the teenage years of asuras Surpanakha, Ravan and Kumbhakaran on the mythical continent of Naraka, which is also populated by reptilian shape-shifting Nagas, the horse-hybrid Kinnaras, enormous ten foot-tall Rakshasas and elf-like, mountain-dwelling Vidyadharas. 

Where did I get the inspiration to write epic fantasy with characters from the Puranas and Ramayana? My paati (grandmom) Namagiri and amma Saroja regaled me with stories from the Puranas, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata when I was a child. 

Growing up in India, we all read Amar Chitra Katha comics. I was enthralled by the heroism of Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata, by the altruism of Raja Shibi and Harischandra, the wisdom of Ahilyabai Holkar, the courage of Maharana Pratap and of the Sikh Gurus and the great piety of saints such as Meerabai and Jnaneshwar. Historical fiction and mythology became great loves. I used to wonder, “What if Ravan had defeated Ram in the final battle? Would the epic have been composed differently?”

While my dad convalesced after cardiac surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, my amma visited a bookstore and asked a teenager there for a book recommendation for her thirteen year old son. She brought back ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and J.R.R. Tolkein’s tale of sword and sorcery, replete with mythical creatures, mages, heroines and warriors in a range of races that occupied an epic stage, set in a variety of exciting locales, had me enthralled from the very first chapter.

I admire the writing prowess of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Indu Sundaresan, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, James Clavell, Steven Pressfield, Robert Greene, and James A. Michener, among others. But I strive to be worthy of Tolkein; he remains a great inspiration on my voyage of expression with revisionist epic fantasy based on the ancient Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

AC: What’s been the reception to your book? Any interesting nuggets you could share?

SN: The reception has been wonderful, in the US, India, and with the Indian diaspora all over the world. I was honored to be interviewed by Dr. Deepak Chopra on his YouTube channel after he read ‘Prince of Naraka’. Humbled that Viswanathan Anand, five-time World Chess Champion has written a review of my novel. 

Well-known fiction reviewers Reader’s Favorite and The US Review of Books have highly recommended my novel. Readers of all ages have shared that they enjoyed shlokas as magic spells, unique female characters, mythical species, creatures, plot twists and a compelling narrative. 

I’m both humbled and excited by the feedback.

AC: What are your future plans or ideas for your next book?

SN: I’ve been working on my second novel, which will build on the events of ‘Prince of Naraka’ leading to the great Deva-Asura wars. The tentative title is ‘White Lightning, Black Trident’. My next novel will be available Summer 2023.

Anuj Chakrapani loves music and cinema among all art forms. He believes their beauty lies in their interpretation, and that the parts is more than the sum. Anuj lives in the SF Bay Area and works for a...