A short bio
Regarded as a pioneer among Indian authors, Ashok Kumar Banker’s internationally acclaimed Ramayana Series® has been hailed by critics as a ‘milestone’ (India Today) and a ‘magnificently rendered labour of love’ (Outlook). It is arguably the most popular English-language retelling of the ancient Sanskrit epic. The Ramayana Series® is also credited with launching the genre of Indian mythological retellings in English, now the most successful publishing category in the country. Among other firsts, Ashok has been credited as the author of the first Indian crime novels in English, as the creator and writer of the first Indian television series in English, the first ebook by an Indian author, the first Indian English author to gain international success in the speculative fiction genre, and several other firsts. His internationally acclaimed mythological retellings have sold over 2 million copies in 16 languages and 58 countries. One of the friendliest, most accessible authors, he has corresponded with over 45,000 readers. He can be reached via his Readerswrite page or you can follow his popular Facebook Page.
A slightly longer bio (under revision)
Born of mixed-race, mixed-religious and mixed-nationality parentage, Ashok was raised without any caste or religion, giving him an uniquely post-racial and post-religious Indian perspective. Even through successful careers in marketing, advertising, journalism and scriptwriting, Ashok retained his childhood fascination with the ancient literature of India. With the Ramayana Series® he embarked on a massively ambitious publishing project he calls the Epic India Library. Returning to the roots of the great ancient tales that have inspired countless western authors and filmmakers, Ashok sought to reclaim the original stories through a series of multi-volume retellings as well as original fiction and non-fiction. The EI Library comprises Four Wheels: Mythology, Itihasa, History, and Future History. Ramayana Series® and Krishna Coriolis are part of the First Wheel. His upcoming Mba Series retelling the world’s greatest epic, Mahabharata, is part of the Second Wheel. Ten Kings and the subsequent novels dealing with different periods of recorded Indian history are the Third Wheel. Novels such as Vertigo, Gods of War, The Kali Quartet, Saffron White Green are the Fourth Wheel. All Four Wheels are interlinked and, when read together, they shall form one epic uber-narrative. The complete EI Library is expected to comprise over 70 volumes. It is a lifetime writing project. He funds the entire enterprise through his book authorship and works entirely on his own, without aides, researchers or collaborators.
He famously takes decades to gestate and research a series or idea and only offers it for publication when the writing is complete or nearing completion. He is credited with having heralded the resurgence of public interest in Indian mythology, for being the author of the first Indian crime novels in English, the first Indian TV series in English and co-writer of the first Malaysian TV series in English, among many other firsts. His writing has been awarded numerous times but he has never claimed a single award as he believes talent is only the product of a cultural community and his work should be viewed in the larger context of Indian Writing. He is one of few living Indian authors whose contribution to Indian literature is acknowledged in The Picador Book of Modern Indian Writing and The Vintage Anthology of Indian Literature. His writing is used as a teaching aid in several management and educational courses worldwide and has been the subject of several dissertations and theses.
Ashok is 48 years old and lives with his family in Mumbai. One of the most interactive Indian authors, he is always accessible to his readers via his blog and official website at www.ashokbanker.com – over 45,000 have corresponded with him to date. He looks forward to hearing from you. 🙂
ABOUT ASHOK – a longer bio (work-in-progress)
Ashok comes from an Anglo-Indian family, a very tiny minority community consisting of the descendants of British colonials who inter-married with Indian citizens. His British grandmother’s family settled in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The family name was Smith, which was of Dutch British extraction and they were intermarried with Kellys, of Scots-Irish extraction.
His grandmother May Smith (Ashok’s ‘Nana’) and her sister Gertrude Smith (‘Great-aunty Gertie’) were born in Sri Lanka and migrated to Chennai, India, where they worked as nurses before moving on to Mumbai. (The family spoke only two languages fluently – English, their mother-tongue, and Tamizh.) Most of the rest of the family returned to the family homeland, UK, where their descendants (Ashok’s cousins and other relatives) are settled even today, largely in England and France.
His grandmother May Smith married Polycarp Joseph D’Souza (‘Grandpapa’) of Goan-Portuguese parentage in Mumbai and settled in Byculla, a suburb of South-Central Bombay as it was known back then. Their eldest daughter, Sheila Ray D’Souza, was Ashok’s mother. When she was 16 and working as a saree model in a saree store near Churchgate Station, Sheila met a businessman just returned from the USA named Anil R. Banker. They fell in love and were married two months later.
The marriage was a disaster as Anil’s conservative Gujarati Hindu family could not accept Sheila’s Anglo-Indian culture, diet or lifestyle and Sheila returned home to her mother’s house in Byculla barely a few weeks after marriage, never to return. In those few short weeks of marriage, she had conceived and the following year, shortly after she turned 17, she gave birth to Ashok.
Sheila and her Hindu husband Anil later divorced and Ashok was brought up entirely by his British grandmother and Anglo-Indian mother, both Christians. Except for rare visits with his father’s family, Ashok never lived with or spent very much time with the Banker family and later, due to their continued misbehavior and bias against his Christian mother and her family, and the abuse she had suffered from her Hindu in-laws Ashok grew estranged from his father’s family and eventually drifted apart. Ashok’s father never supported him financially or in any other way throughout his life and would refuse to even pay the cost of textbooks or school tuition, exam fees, etc. Ashok had to work his way through the last two years of high school and junior college, paying his own fees and buying his own books and stationary. As a result of Ashok not being considered a Hindu by his father’s family, he was also cut out of all property inheritances. Effectively, he was only a biological offshoot of the Banker family, nothing more.
(As of this writing, he has not interacted with anyone on his father’s side for over twenty years and to the best of his knowledge all the closest family members are all dead, including his father, father’s parents, aunts, etc.)
Despite the bias and severe abuse Sheila suffered as an Anglo-Indian Christian daughter-in-law in a conservative Gujarati Hindu household (including dowry demands and death threats), she decided not to baptize Ashok as a Christian and left the decision over which religion to follow upto him, once he was grown up. For this reason, instead of putting either Hindu or Christian in the space marked for ‘Religion’ or ‘Caste’ in Ashok’s birth certificate, she simply wrote ‘Indian’.
In order to secure a quick divorce from Anil Banker, Sheila was compelled to legally convert to Islam so that her Gujarati Hindu husband’s lawyer could claim that her unexpected conversion made it impossible for any ‘decent’ Hindu to accept a Muslim daughter-in-law. Sheila later reverted to Christianity but continued to retain respect for the Islamic faith and later reconciled her beliefs by accepting Sai Baba of Shirdi as her spiritual guide, teaching Ashok to be tolerant of all faiths and exposing him to all religions.
As a result, Ashok grew up going to mosques, dargahs, church, synagogue (as they lived in a Jewish-Christian enclave near Magen David Synagogue at Byculla and since Ashok later studied in a Jewish school), and Sai Baba’s temple at Shirdi.
It was only much later in life, out of his own interest in his biological father’s religion and the roots of the intolerance that destroyed his mother’s marriage and her life that Ashok researched and studied the Hindu religion and attempted to go to the source of Vedic culture and literature, while avoiding the contemporary fundamentalist Hindu aspects. While Ashok never formally converted to Christianity, it remains the religion he is most familiar with even today, although he remains an individual without any religion, caste or nationalistic bias. His first literary works were all related to the Bible and his first publications were in Christian journals. Later, his first published book would be released by a Christian imprint. He studied mostly at Catholic institutions for lower school and at a Jewish school for his secondary education and junior college. He was later given admittance to a prominent Christian college under the Christian quota.
While almost all Ashok’s family members chose to take British passports and citizenship as was their birthright (being of British origin), he chose to stay in India and remain an Indian citizen. His few remaining relatives are in Kuwait, the UK, France and Sri Lanka.
(To Be Continued)
Ashok’s life was marked by the tragic destruction of his mother through her failed marriage at a tender age. She later remarried a Shikarpuri Sindhi who had migrated from Karachi, Pakistan, after Partition but once again the same pattern of bias was repeated, with her second husband’s family, in particular his mother, unable to accept Sheila’s Anglo-Indian culture and lifestyle. The psychological and emotional abuse that followed as well as her second husband’s severe alcoholism addiction, led Sheila into a downward spiral from which she never recovered fully. When Ashok was about 12 years old, an incident occurred which destroyed her psychologically and emotionally.
From the age of around 13 onwards, Ashok was forced to care for his own mother, often having to feed and clean her during the times when she was unable to do so herself. Mentally and emotionally damaged, she would fly into fits of rage and would often become violent. After profitting from the property sale, her second husband abandoned her – literally putting Ashok and her on a plane and sending them back home, never to return to them again. Sadly, even Ashok’s mother’s family closed their doors on him and his mother as well, literally refusing to open the door to their Byculla house to give them shelter.
Less than 14 years old, with a mother who could barely talk or walk straight and needed 24/7 nursing, Ashok had to stay alone with his mother in a small flat which she had fortunately bought earlier before her collapse, and care for her daily. While his biological father – Anil Banker – and family continued to refuse to support Ashok and his mother or help in any way, Ashok’s foster-father agreed to pay a nominal monthly alimony to help defray needs. Ashok had to take up part-time jobs to support his own education, paying his own school fees during his 9th and 10th grade high school years, two years of junior college and one year of senior college, before finally being forced to drop out and take up a full-time job to support himself and his mother.
Through all this, Ashok continued to write his early works, even finding success as a poet and essayist, published in several prestigious journals in India and abroad, on the editorial pages of numerous newspapers none of which were aware that he was only a teenager at the time of publication. He also completed his first novels at this time and began the reading of the puranic epics that would form the basis for his Epic India Library plan, although it would take him decades longer to actually be able to start writing the books.
At the time, his main reason for studying the puranic epics was to learn why his Hindu biological father and his Hindu foster-father had treated his mother and himself so badly, why he had had to grow up facing a constant bias for not being a Hindu himself, and why even his Anglo-Indian family and relatives discriminated against him for not being Christian.
To give just one example: When he was barely 10 years old, he was cornered by two gangs of Christian and Hindu boys in boarding school and threatened to choose either one faith. When he refused, saying he did not believe in religion or caste and considered himself an “Indian” he was badly beaten. When they attempted to sexually assault him, Ashok fought back, putting at least one of his assaulters in hospital with a broken jaw and suffering a beating that laid himself in a hospital ICU for two months, during which he fell into a jaundice-induced coma from which doctors did not expect him to recover.
When he did recover, he determined that he would grow up without such biases and prejudices against any religion, community or nationality and would never espouse any one faith or group all his life.
(To be Continued)