A senior IT professional currently working in Bangalore, Dev Prasad has held senior management positions at various European and American multinational corporations. He is also the author of Krishna: A Journey Through The Lands and Legends of Krishna, which was long-listed for the 2010 Vodafone Crossword Award and Pitch it, (See: Pitch it: parallels between cricket and the corporate) which won the second prize at the prestigious ISTD Book award in 2014.
Pitch it was also shortlisted for the Tata Literature Live! Business Book of the Year Award in 2014. Prasad is a sports buff and keenly follows cricket, badminton, table tennis and chess. He is also passionate about working for underprivileged children. In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about his new book The Curse of Surya, his travel experiences to Dwaraka and why the Shyamantaka jewel was sought after by millions.
After your debut novel Krishna: A journey through the lands and legends of Krishna, The curse of Surya is yet again linked to the story of Lord Krishna. How did you come up with the idea of this mythological thriller?
When I wrote my debut book, a spiritual travelogue titled Krishna: A journey through the lands and legends of Krishna, I travelled across the country and visited numerous Temples, sarovars, ghats and kunds. On many occasions, some of my questions remained unanswered.
Why was a corridor built between the Krishna Janmasthan temple and a mosque built by Aurangzeb and where did this lead to? Was the Dwarkadhish Temple in Bet Dwarka Island the former residence of Lord Krishna?
Did a buried city lie below the Arabian Sea, off the Dwarka coast? And finally, the billion-dollar question - was the Shyamantaka Gem, the biggest and most priceless jewel in the world, really lost forever? Was it hidden in Dwarka or Mathura or stolen by the Mughal kings and taken to Afghanistan? Or was it really the same Kohinoor diamond taken away by the British and currently in a museum in UK?
These thoughts continued to haunt me not only when I travelled to these places but even after my first Book was published. It was then that I decided to write a fiction, trying to knit together all these mysterious places and unanswered thoughts. This is how The Curse of Surya was born.
Your book provides a vivid description of Dwaraka, making it a traveller's delight. Were these descriptions based on personal experiences or just in-depth research?
Mainly personal experiences. I made numerous visits to places associated with Lord Krishna - such as Brij Bhoomi in Uttar Pradesh (comprising Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo, Raval, Barsana, Nandagaon, Madhuvan, Talvan, etc,) and Somnath, Prabhas Patan, Dwarka and Bet Dwarka in Gujarat and Kurukshetra in Haryana.
I had spoken to many local guides and priests and visited countless temples, sarovars, kunds and ghats. All these proved useful for making the places and the legends come alive in The Curse of Surya.
Your book is set in the backdrop of the story of Shyamantaka-a powerful jewel that was associated with ill luck, as per the legend. Despite this trait of the stone, what made millions seek after it in a vigorous manner as described in your book?
As per the popular legend, if the owner of the Shyamantaka gem prays sincerely, the Sun God would bless him / her with 77 kilograms of gold every day! With today's soaring gold prices, that would make the owner of this jewel a billionaire in a year's time!
And it is not in this age and era. The desire to seek Shyamantaka has been in existence since more than 5,000 years - since the time the Sun God gifted it to Satrajit. I guess greed masks a person's ability to think about the consequences.
In the quest of this stone, one sees deceit, murder and treachery come into play. Why does greed tend to overpower basic humanity in such cases? Was the jewel so powerful that it could malign even a good person's heart?
According to Hinduism, there are four eras yugas - Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. With each passing yuga, deceit, treachery, greed and materialism have increased.
Lord Rama was born in the treta yuga and he was known as Maryada Purushottam. He was able to tackle his enemies by retaining his values and principles.
By the time Lord Krishna was born in the Dwapara Yuga, values and principle had deteriorated. Hence Lord Krishna had to change his approach. He preached in Bhagavad Gita that in a dharma yudha (war for righteousness), it was alright to bend a few rules if they helped protect righteousness.
Now, we are in the fourth and the most deteriorated yuga - the Kali Yuga. With every passing century, ethics and values have degenerated further. If you look at the Mughal history, there are instances of princes who imprisoned or killed their own fathers and uncles to usurp their thrones.
One of the prime reasons for a very long British rule in India was because of the disunity, treachery and betrayal among the Indian princes. There were so many instances where the Indian princes betrayed their own brothers and cousins.
In today's materialistic world, money and power seem to have become the number one priority for everyone. And that leads to greed. When you can't satisfy your desires through fair means, you stoop to deceit and treachery.
India is a land of temples. Hindu religion has thousands of gods and goddesses. We have so many temples dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) and Goddess Shakthi (goddess of power) but hardly any temple of Goddess Saraswati (goddess of knowledge). I guess that sums it up!
In the pursuit of something precious, one tends to blindly trust fellow humans at times only to get betrayed such as in the case of the character of Sangeeta Rao. So would you advice humans to rely on their instinct alone in such instances rather than place blind faith on a stranger?
Do you go by your head or heart? That has been debated since many centuries by leading scientists, psychologists, coaches, trainers and mentors. I don't think there is a ''right'' or a ''wrong'' answer. I am very much a ''heart'' person. The majority of my decisions in my personal and professional life have been taken with my ''gut feel''. However, I also know many individuals who just refuse to take even the simplest of decisions without having sufficient data points and logic.
How would you draw parallels to the hunt of the shyamantaka jewel to corporate life? Are people merely in the quest for just material gains or do factors like self-actualisation also play a certain role here?
Maslow's Law of Hierarchy has been in existence since the pre-historic days! Even during the era of cavemen, the first desire was to satisfy basic human needs. The desire to help the community came once the basic roti, kapada aur makaan was satisfied. We always had people in each strata of Maslow's Hierarchy. Probably, over the years, the proportion of people in each layer is changing.
In the shymantaka legend, for every Satrajit who was on the lowest level, chasing the famed jewel for its gold generating properties, we had a Lord Krishna at the top who wanted it to be gifted to the emperor so that it would satisfy the financial needs of the entire kingdom. This is true in today's world. If you look at companies like Dell and Microsoft - a few decades ago, their sole aim was to grab market share, increase the top line and improve profitability.
Today, it gives me great joy to see Bill Gates and his wife Melinda actively helping the underprivileged via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Same is true for Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Tatas and the Azim Premji Foundation.I think it is a great example of these top leaders reaching a state of self-actualisation.
Your book also mentions the two primary characters visiting the submerged Palace of Dwaraka below the sea. Has there been any archaeological evidence of the same in reality?
Definitely. Late Dr. S R Rao, a leading marine archaeologists in the world had performed extensive research in Dwarka and Indus Valley Civilization. He spent over two decades in a ship off the Dwarka coast. His discovered numerous artefacts belonging to Lord Krishna's Dwarka under the Arabian Sea bed. He found pottery items, seals and other items that date back to the era of Lord Krishna.
He also discovered a buried city that included canals, broken houses, walls, etc. His findings about the holy city of Dwarka also matched with the city's description in ancient scriptures. Most of these artefacts are displayed in the Krishna Museum in Kurukshetra.
There is a rising trend of mythological thrillers hitting the bookstores. What makes The Curse of Surya stand out from the rest?
When I began to evolve the story in 2010, there were hardly any mythological thrillers by Indian authors. However, I decided to write another Book Pitch it! and this one was kept on the backburner. By the time I had begun to start scripting The Curse of Surya, there were many Indian authors writing in the same genre.
One key differentiator of my book is the description of various places and its authenticity. Since I had made numerous visits for my first Book, the description of certain places like Krishna Janmasthan Temple in Mathura, Dwarkadeesh Temple in Dwarka, Panchananda Teerth off Gomti River and Shankodhara Teerth in Bet Dwarka Island are extremely accurate.
The other aspect where the book that stands out is its fast pace. The entire story occurs in 40 hours, involving chases through planes, helicopter, motorboats, cars and trucks across different cities.
What is your next book be based on?
The next book will definitely be in a similar genre. Christianity, perhaps!
Excerpt from The Curse of Surya
A few metres away, Tenzing got up from his hiding place. He was crouching below the stone slab in the prison cell. Since this room did not house any deities, the temple priests and security guards rarely checked for any tourists at closing time. Tenzing dusted himself and looked around. Everyone had left. He looked at his watch. 1:45 p.m. He had approximately two hours to complete his task.
His mind went back to the events of the past few days. None of his colleagues knew that he was an active member of the banned Tibet Liberation Front. When his manager asked him if he was willing to travel to India to cover an important event at Agra, Tenzing grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He was well aware that Agra was just fifty kilometres from Mathura, the town that he had been planning to visit.
He could not have got a better opportunity than this. The timing too had been perfect. Its location will be revealed to the whole world tomorrow. If I manage to find it today and donate it to the Tibet Liberation Front, we will no longer have to depend on other countries to fund our freedom movement.
Tenzing quickly pushed back these thoughts and began to concentrate on the pending work. He had his back to the stone slab and was facing the huge grilled door. He guessed that this must be the door to the secret passageway. Tenzing removed his huge gum boots and slid the sole of one of the shoes to reveal a small compartment. It was equipped with the tools required to break open locks. He sat down on the floor and inspected the lock on the grilled door. After studying the keyhole for a couple of minutes, he pulled a key out from the toolkit.
Thirty minutes into the task, Tenzing realized that he had grossly underestimated the effort required. He had tried a variety of keys with different combinations but to no avail. He even filed prtions of a key and altered its shape to suit the lock. It was of no use. There was no sound of levers moving. It appeared as if the lock was just one huge mass of iron.
Does this lock have any levers at all? Is there some other mechanism to open it?
Tenzing's mind was clouded with these thoughts when he suddenly heard a noise. He shot a glance at his watch-it was only 2.15 p.m.
The head priest usually arrives at 4 p.m. So who can it be?
Tenzing felt a sudden rush of blood. He sprang to his feet and darted towards the stone slab fixed on the other side of the prison cell. Just as he tried to crouch below the stone slab, he saw a figure walking towards him slowly.
'What are you doing here?' the voice asked. Tenzing noticed a gun in his hand.
Tenzing remained silent. He was not a professional robber and was certainly not used to be accosted like this. His mind was filled with trepidation. Is he one of the security guards? What should I reply? Should I run?
The voice repeated the question. This time it was firmer and louder.
Tenzing replied hesitantly,'I was not aware that the temple closes in the afternoon. I was in this room when they locked the door. I am trapped inside.'
That's true. How stupid of me! Tenzing was still thinking about his response when the voice asked,'Are you hunting for the Shyamantaka?'
How does he know? Who is he?
He had been told that the temple closed daily for a few hour in the afternoon and there would be absolutely no one side. Even the security guards locked the main gates and left for lunch.
'Breaking the lock open and accessing the passageway would be a cakewalk,' his chief had said.
Something had gone horribly wrong. As the man approached him, Tenzing could feel the sweat trickling down his back. He was unarmed except for a couple of pliers and screwdrivers. He looked around in panic for something he could use to defend himself.
'This room is barren; it's no use,' the voice remarked, as if reading his mind.
'I got trapped here by mistake. Allow me to leave… please,' Tenzing pleaded.
The voice cackled, 'You came hunting for the Shyamantake and you will get it.'
Tenzing heard the gentle squeeze of the trigger and within seconds a bullet pierced his chest. Clutching himself in agony, he hit the floor inches away from the grilled door. Oh God! I have been shot. I must not die without finishing my mission.
If Tenzing had known what was going to happen next, he would have wished he were dead.