It was a dinner date with Dan Brown, a robbery with actor Boman Irani and a forbidden entry into Mumbai’s Tower of Silence that spawned the famous thriller novelist Ashwin Sanghiis the last The Mazda Wizards (HarperCollins, Rs 450). A globe-trotting story about Zoroastrianism, centering on an idealistic scientist who invents a panacea for all illnesses. Mazdathe seventh novel in the series, follows the nefarious forces – a greedy pharmaceutical, the Iranian government and the Taliban – to steal the formula from him, exposing unknown secrets from the community’s past.
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In 2014, Brown and Sanghi visited Mumbai after a conference at National Center for the Performing Arts. One of their destinations was the Malabar Hill Tower of Silence, the Zoroastrian structure of excarnation. “I found it absolutely fascinating that no one has written fiction about this ancient faith which is a precursor to most Abrahamic religions,” Sanghi says, adding that he snuck in a little action sequence in the place in his collaboration with James Patterson, Private India, the same year. After finding Irani next to him on a flight, Sanghi told him he was interested in Parsi history. Irani directed him to the Qissa-i Sanjan, an account of the Zoroastrians who fled Islamic persecution in Iran in the 8th century. Soon, Sanghi knew that a romance was brewing.
The search for Mazda, like all Sanghi books, ran for six to nine months. “There were several works that I had to refer to because I am a stranger to parsi religionhe says, citing a list that includes historian Alan Williams, runologist Stephen Flowers and linguist Mary Boyce. Like Jim, Mazda, is abducted and transported to dangerous terrain around the world in a haze of planes, trucks and prisons, blindfolded, he reminisces about his family’s history – a story that is inextricably linked to history of his own religion. “I wanted to structure the story like the peeling of an onion,” says Sanghi, adding, “As today’s narrative rushes forward, we go backwards chronologically in Jim’s mind as he recalls of the story of Parsis arriving in India, persecuted in Iran, and the founding of their faith.
Delivering this story without weighing down the narrative is crucial to the momentum that Sanghi builds, a trait that the contemporary teaching of the story would do well to incorporate, he said. “We live in a world where there is so much technology and content, but we persist with boring textbooks. Now you have so many movies, web series, graphic comics and novels on various topics. The story should be made in three dimensions,” he says.
But it’s not just history that is remixed in Sanghi’s books – contemporary reality is always around the corner. The COVID vaccine crisis in India, where doses were split between government and private hospitals, as well as patent disputes between different countries, inspired Sanghi to create a scientist who could put social good above private good. “We were seeing some companies imposing crazy conditions on governments in order to provide vaccines. So I thought, what if Jim was one of those weirdos who wanted to make his cure free for everyone? »
But, of course, scientific dilemmas are not the only ones a writer mythology and history must take care of it. Even though he frequently delves into cherished stories and iconography and fills in the gaps with fiction in his work, Sanghi says that if you approach the issue with sensitivity and enough research, there’s no reason for anyone to be insulted. “I also provide a bibliography in all my books because mythology, history or theology often only has one version and my references will contain material that goes against what I am talking about in the book. If you dig deep enough, you’ll probably find an opposite version,” he says.
Sanghi reads history as a set of multiple narratives. He says people calling for mosques to be probed while academics dispute the same claims of demolished temples are a reaction against “a single historical narrative dominating the public” since 1947. “We’ve never had anything like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that South Africa has set up. after Apartheid. The idea that history can be completely unbiased is nonsense. The only way to remove bias is to make all the stories thrive,” he says.
Elaborating on the role that fiction plays in the study of the past, he says: “With my books, I take obscure bits of history, religion or theology that have been overlooked and try to bring them into the mainstream dominant. It is to say to the scholars who are watching, I am not a scholar, I am not a historian. But you are. So why didn’t you watch this?
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