The Indus Valley Civilisation disappeared 3500 years ago. But in spite of all the scientific and technological achievements of mankind, we are yet to solve the riddle of how the civilisation came to an abrupt end. It is this unsolved riddle that gave birth to the Aryan invasion theory. And it is this mystery surrounding the civilisation which forms the foundation of Vineet Bajpai’s Harappa trilogy.

The first two books of the series, ‘Harappa – Curse of the Blood River’ and ‘Pralay – The Great Deluge’, have been received with all-round critical appreciation. Bajpai has been compared to Dan Brown, the celebrated American author of a series of bestselling thrillers of our time. The third and last part, ‘Kashi – Secret of the Black Temple’, is yet to be released.

Named after one of two major cities of the civilisation (the other being Mohenjo-Daro), the Harappa trilogy tells us a powerful, intriguing, action-packed, and, at times, painful story of glory, heroism, love, betrayal, sacrifice and triumph. At the centre, at stake, is the civilisation itself which has been in existence since time immemorial.

The books are fast-paced with every chapter marked with a cliffhanger ending. Though the chapters oscillate between 1700 BCE and the present time, a reader is unlikely to feel disconnected at any point.

But Bajpai is not just an author; he is an already established name in the world of entrepreneurship. He is the founder of ad agency Magnon, a part of Fortune 500 Omnicon Group, and a former CEO of international advertising agency TBWA.

In an email interview to The Statesman, Bajpai says what inspired him to write a fictional story centered on a lost civilisation and why he thinks Shah Rukh Khan can play one of the two principal characters from his book on-screen. He also shares his thoughts on India’s economy and what it means to be a Hindu. Read on.

What inspired an award-winning entrepreneur to write a historical fiction? And why pick the Indus Valley Civilisation?

It all started with business books. Before the Harappa series, I had written three business and inspirational books. I wrote business books because over my entrepreneurial and corporate journey I truly felt I had learnt things I must share with readers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and the corporate community at large. And I am glad I did. My business books have been deeply loved. But just as I wrote management books to share my experience in the industry and help my readers build better companies and careers, I also felt a strong urge to also express the creative storyteller in me. I wanted to write about India’s ancient mysteries, our rich heritage, our way of life, our profound myths, epics and more. Therefore, Harappa had to be my first fiction project. 

Moreover, the great Aryan debate was also something that I felt needed to be explored in more detail and presented in the form of an intriguing and thrilling story. Also, nearly every contemporary religion has the haunting legend of a great deluge and a massive Ark that saved creation from extinction. So, Harappa – Curse of the Blood River and Pralay – The Great Deluge take the reader on a nail-biting roller-coaster ride of mythological and historical fiction, of fantasy and also modern-day crime. 

Is the “half human, half god” reference for the principal characters not akin to the European concept of demi-god? Or is the ‘Devta’ in your story different from the demi-gods of Greek and Roman mythologies?

The demi-Gods in western mythologies have often been depicted with great human flaws like anger, ambition and conceit. The devta in Harappa and Pralay, on the other hand, is a far more generous, kind and giving character, despite being extraordinarily gifted in every aspect. If you read Tulsi’s Ramacharitamanas, you will fall in love with the character of Rama. His boundless valour combined with stunning humility is mesmerising. While who can compare to Rama, but Vidyut, the last devta, is similar to the valiant yet magnanimous character of Lord Rama.

Through the books, you have tried to create a fictional narrative debunking the ‘Aryan invasion theory’. Interestingly, the theory has also been challenged by Indologists who claim that Aryans were always the original inhabitants of Indian sub-continent. Does this mean that you agree with the version of the Indologists? If so, to what degree and why?

Something that I say in all my lectures and speeches is that I am not a historian. I am a storyteller. Therefore, my agreement or disagreement with any theory is of no significance. Having said that, I must share that during my extensive research for Harappa and Pralay, I came across some compelling studies that prove the indigenous roots of the Aryans beyond any doubt. It also elucidates how the Aryan Invasion theory is a great convenience for forces that want to create fault-lines among Indians. You will find reflections of those studies as you read the Harappa series.

You have, through the characters, tried to paint a picture of the Hindu religion as an all-inclusive, all-encompassing, ever-expanding way of life. Do you think that this picture of an inclusive Hinduism is under threat today with the rising case of lynchings and targeted harassment of minorities?

Hinduism has always been a peaceful, deeply spiritual and inclusive religion. It is perhaps the only religion that has never propagated or marketeditself in any way. Hinduism has never used a conqueror’s sword to force itself on anyone. It has never sent out preachers to convert people. Since time immemorial this great religion has only opened its arms and welcomed anyone who came into its fold. Moreover, Hinduism champions the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or simply that the entire world is one large family. Hinduism never promotes the idea that only the Hindu God is the real God and every other God or belief is blasphemous. Absolutely not. Hinduism respects all religions and you will find innumerable Hindus bowing their heads in reverence as they pass a church or a mosque. I think the Ajmer Sharif dargah is visited by as many Hindus as Muslims. So is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. This should highlight the inclusive fabric of the religion.

A Hindu does not care about which God you worship. When you worship. She does not care if you worship at all! As long as you let her live in peace with her God and her search for the divine. She is not interested in converting the entire world to Hinduism. Nor is she inclined even remotely to wage a holy war for the sake of religion. Her God is her personal matter. Her God resides in a small wooden temple nailed to the wall of her small home. That is her religion. But peace is something that cannot be achieved by one community in isolation. It has to be a collective effort from all corners. I remember hearing in a Govind Nihalani film once – violence not only propagates violence, it also generates counter-violence. It might be worth thinking about as to what is triggering a historically peaceful community into such sporadic incidents of violence? The lynching incidents are most unfortunate, if they are being reported correctly and apolitically. As a Hindu, I denounce any form of violence – physical, verbal or ideological.

Religion-based problems are all around us. Europe is struggling with Islamophobia. The Islamic world is struggling with fundamentalism. One is prompted to ask: Is religion not the biggest bane for the world? Or are some religions better than others, like Buddhism?

This reminds me of the words of Voltaire, who said – Religion was born when the first fool met the first scoundrel! On a more serious note, before I answer your question, it is important for us to differentiate between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is an individual’s solo quest for meaning, for the divine, for the truth and perhaps for God. It is not a collective concept. Therefore, I may be a very spiritual individual, but with absolutely no interest in religion. It can work the other way around as well. I may be a fanatic religious follower, but with no spiritual orientation.

The trouble today is that religion is being used as a political force rather than it being left alone as a passive, peaceful and personal way-of-life. The problem is that if some sections of one community resort to unbridled sabre-rattling and talking of holy wars, it is bound to cause unrest and insecurity in other communities. And slowly, the venom spreads. India has already witnessed perhaps history’s most horrifying chapter of religious strife and violence during Partition. We will be extremely foolish to fall in the trap of divisive forces again. So, it is most critical that religion is separated from politics. People of all religions must start casting votes based on economic development, education and healthcare rather than based on religion. Social media posts that spread hate must not be propagated. When religious rhetoric and jingoism fail to attract votes, everything will fall into place, and religion will go back into people’s hearts and homes – where it belongs. 

If the Harappa trilogy is made into a movie, who do you think is/are best suited to play Vidyut and Vivasvan Pujari?

This is always my favourite question! I wrote the character of Vidyut with two actors in mind – Tiger Shroff and Ashish Sharma (of television serial Siya Ke Ram fame). The powerful character of Vivasvan Pujari will suit an intense actor like Shah Rukh Khan or even Arjun Rampal. My readers send me hundreds of mails and messages suggesting actors that should play the characters of the Harappa series. A lot of them say that the great Dwarka Shastri can be enacted by none other than the great Amitabh Bachchan himself. And Deepika Padukone for Naina is another popular suggestion.

You have been compared to Dan Brown. Your comments.

Dan Brown is a living legend. To be compared to an icon like him is most gratifying.

The culture of start-ups has taken over young wannabe entrepreneurs but not everyone is able to make a mark. As an established entrepreneur, what do you think young entrepreneurs should take note of?

This is a topic on which I have written three books in the past. My first book Build From Scratch is a step-by-step manual for young start-ups. If there is any one advice that I would want to offer to entrepreneurs, it is that never make a business plan the survival of which depends completely on VC funding. Build businesses with strong fundamentals and a long-term vision, rather than with the sole objective of raising the next round of money. 

What changes do you think has India’s economic climate undergone in the last few years?

The changes have been very encouraging. It is good to see a strong government that is working towards real fiscal hygiene and not resorting to populist measures that drain the exchequer. India’s world-image has witnessed a significant boost which bodes well in terms of attracting foreign investment into the country. Whether is electrification of villages, building of roads or even the setting-up of one of the world’s largest electronics plants, the effort of both the government as well as the private sector is visible.

What should the readers expect from the last part of the Harappa trilogy?

The last part of the Harappa series, titled Kashi – Secret of the Black Temple, is slated for late 2018 release. I can say it is a powder-keg of intrigue, action, myths and fantasy waiting to uncoil and explode. Lacs of readers have showered their love on Harappa and Pralay. I dearly hope Kashi also meets their expectations and wins their love all over again. Writing and then reading the climax(s) of Kashi gave me tears and goose-bumps. I hope readers also share this emotion and this excitement.