Ashok K. Banker, a contemporary Indian novelist with mixed parentage whose literary works have won international acclaim, was born on 7 February 1964 in Mumbai. His writing spans a fairly wide range, including mythology, fiction, literary criticism and crime thrillers.
Banker rose to fame in the global literary scene owing to the popularity of his Indian mythological retellings. His eight-volume Ramayana Series became a bestseller and earned him much critical acclaim. The New York Times lauded his mythological work, saying that his books are "better written than many books in the genre that have followed" and that he "introduced the Ramayana to a new generation of readers." The fact that his books have been published in as many as 16 languages and sold more than 2 million copies corroborates his literary genius. He is among the very few contemporary Indian English authors who have made it to prominent anthologies such as The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature and the Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature.
Banker’s childhood was full of turmoil, mostly owing to tension arising out of the cultural incompatibility of his parents and the hostile social scenario of the era when he was born. His Anglo-Indian Christian mother's marriage with his Hindu NRI father did not work out, forcing her to return home. As a consequence, Banker was raised largely by his British grandmother. This left an indelible mark on his mind, and a lot of his literary work reflects these childhood memories and angst. He was brought up in a largely westernised surrounding. Banker has spoken of the turbulent times when his mother had to convert to Islam to get a divorce and when he had to do part-time jobs to sustain his education.
Interest in Mythology and Epics
Banker did not read many mythological books or Hindu literature in his childhood years but he loved reading the epics. It was in his adolescence when he was smitten a Hindu girl that his interest in Indian literature and culture flared. Unknown to him, the event would be the turning point of his life and career. It was at this time that he read the ancient Vedic texts, which fired up his imagination.
Effect of childhood on literary creation
In several of his interviews, Ashok Banker spoke undiplomatically about the bitterness he developed about his father's family for the plight caused to his mother. This has been reflected in many of his books, according to the author. Books like Byculla Boy and Vertigo are autobiographical but the elements of bitterness towards patriarchy are also reflected in his mythological works. Sons of Sita is an example where the cruelty meted out to his mother has been narrated in an epic proportion.
Banker denies that his writing was influenced by any specific author or celebrated work of fiction. While he enjoyed reading Renaissance English poetry and the writings of Henry James, he said he reads a lot so any single work cannot cast influence on his writing. He admits his mother is a huge source of inspiration for his writing.
Career growth and versatility
Before making it big as a writer, Ashok Banker worked as a freelance journalist and columnist, tasting success. He wrote periodically for publications like The Times of India, the Outlook magazine, etc. Before making a foray into Indian mythology, Banker published a few crime thrillers, which brought him accolades and recognition in the Western milieu. He also worked as a commentator and reviewer of contemporary Indian literature. His literary criticism is often marked with a rare forthrightness and he never shied away from being vocal against the hypocrisy of Indian media.
Foray into commercials and scriptwriting
Ashok Banker wrote the script of India's first English television series, A Mouthful of Sky, which enjoyed a successful run on small screen. First aired on DD Metro, it was shown later on Star World. He also acted as co-writer of City of the Rich, a Malaysian television series. Apart from these, he created a number of advertising commercials that fetched awards. ‘Whose World Is It Anyway’ is one such instance that won several awards. Incidentally, many of his original screenplays have been bought by large production houses but they are yet to see light of day.
Foray into technology and internet
Ashok Banker is among the first few Indian authors who embraced technology and started sharing work online. He is also believed to be the first Indian author who published an ebook as well as the first online serial novel. In a way, he paved the way for digital publishing for Indian authors. He founded AKB eBOOKS, a successful independent e-bookstore, where his works are sold online.
Also on this day
1908 – Manmath Nath Gupta, Indian Revolutionary Writer, was born
1938 – S. Ramachandran Pillai, Indian politician, was born