August 20, 2019

Unique mystery formula blends quiz with history to weave The Emperor’s Riddles

An interview by Vinita Kinra (@VinitaKinra)

Satyarth Nayak

Satyarth Nayak

Satyarth Nayak is an author and scriptwriter based in New Delhi. A former SAARC award-winning correspondent with CNN-IBN, he holds a Master’s in English Literature from St. Stephen’s. Satyarth’s debut novel, The Emperor’s Riddles released in 2014 and became a bestselling thriller. Described as ‘a history meets mystery’ by Times of India, ‘a gripping tale of intrigue’ by Hindustan Times, ‘a heady mix’ by The Hindu,  and ‘a book that opened a different avenue for budding writers’ by New Indian Express, the thriller takes its readers on a trail of cryptic riddles connected to the royal secret of an ancient Indian Emperor. The book earned him acclaim from writers like Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi, and comparisons with Dan Brown. His short stories have won the British Council Writers Circle Prize and also featured in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. His latest story Elixir was published in Penguin’s new anthology Something Happened On The Way To Heaven – 20 Inspiring Real Life Stories. A member of the Planning Board of the Kumaon Literary Festival, Satyarth was recently named as one of the Top 50 authors to follow on Facebook. He is presently working on his next thriller, and also developing an illustrated hardcover that celebrates one of Bollywood’s most iconic films.

Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Satyarth. What draws you to the world of historical mysteries?

Satyarth Nayak: No genre allows the author to play with the mind of his readers like the mystery genre. I have grown up reading and admiring Doyle, Poe, Wallace and Christie. I always knew if I ever wrote a book, it had to be on similar lines. I love how a thriller places you in an extraordinary situation. And add a pinch of history and the gravy thickens! It creates numerous layers and reference points making the book even more fascinating.

Vinita Kinra: Talk to us about your latest novel, The Emperor’s Riddles.

Satyarth Nayak: The book is essentially a History meets Mystery. A thriller with elements of Ancient Indian History and Buddhist Mythology, it’s a modern mystery with a past legend as its backdrop. Media comparisons have been drawn between my book and Dan Brown for similar reasons that both our writing fuses thriller with religion and myths. I am glad that authors like Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi have also lauded the thriller.

Vinita Kinra: Do you need a certain type of environment to write, or do characters and plots flow naturally anywhere?

Satyarth Nayak: I generally prefer writing late into the night. Quite therapeutic.  My room is where I write. That’s the private chamber of secrets where all my zany ideas come to life. Enter this space and you will find way too many thoughts floating around in despair. But I can get an epiphany anywhere. The brain is a perennial sponge absorbing all kinds of stimuli.

Vinita Kinra: Did you ever think you would make a career in writing when you were younger?

Satyarth Nayak: Not really. I always knew I would write books since I love telling stories. But I had no plans of making it a full-time career. Even now I dabble into other stuff like screenplay writing besides books.

Vinita Kinra: Share with us your publishing journey.

Satyarth Nayak: The first draft was done within 6 months. The final version took about a year and a half. I was fortunate to get Red Ink Literary Agency as my literary agent. The excellent team at Red Ink really made my life easier. They pitched the book around. We had offers from Rupa and Amaryllis and we finally signed up with the latter. I will always remain indebted to my publishing house for their faith in a debut author and for packaging and distributing the book so perfectly.

Vinita Kinra: Without revealing the punch of your mystery, give us an overview of The Emperor’s Riddles.

Satyarth Nayak:   It takes you on a trail paved with cryptic riddles that end at the gates of an Indian enigma that’s centuries old. An enigma even gods would kill for. The book is a fusion of murder mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction and mythology with a stunning final revelation. The story oscillates between gripping action of the present and the past tale of the royal secret of a celebrated Indian Emperor. It explores the possibility that the ancient world probably dabbled with scientific and technological marvels far more futuristic than what we can imagine.

Vinita Kinra: Did you have a support group while slogging on your manuscript?

Satyarth Nayak: My family, for sure. I am forever thankful that they put up with this creature who remained confined to a single room, typing away the whole night. They remain my biggest strength and celebrate the success of my book more than I do. My editor, Sharvani Pandit, and my friend, Shalini, also played a huge role in shaping the book.

Vinita Kinra: Who has been your biggest mentor through your writing journey?

Satyarth Nayak: It’s difficult to name any. I would say all the brilliant writers and poets that I had ever read in my life acted as mentors. I know I must have subconsciously grabbed enough guidance from them all that came handy while creating this thriller. Especially Agatha Christie and Dan Brown for inspiring me so.

Vinita Kinra: What did writing a novel do for you on a personal level?

Satyarth Nayak: The success of the book surely boosts my confidence as a writer. It’s wonderful to be recognized as a bonafide writer. That readers have made it a bestselling thriller and constantly ask me about my next book is a high and eggs me on to write another tale of intrigue. With success comes responsibility. I now need to ensure that my next offering is better than the first one.

Vinita Kinra: What are your future projects?

Satyarth Nayak: I have just finished the first draft of my next thriller. It is a mystery once more, but with shades of the supernatural. I am also developing a coffee table book celebrating one of Bollywood’s most iconic films.

Vinita Kinra: Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from The Emperor’s Riddles.


It started glowing. More and more radiant. More and more euphoric. Transforming into a rapturous orb of fire as if the sun had stumbled into the room. The aura was holding their bodies and raising them up. Jasodhara was clasping the sun in her palms but it did not burn. There was no heat. Only a light that healed. Words sprang from the face.

Four lines.

The trio stood enchanted. Stunned by the fireworks, they forgot to hear the words. The wonder had transported them to an alternate universe. When the sound stopped, the light also dimmed and died.

‘Did you see that? Did you see how it blazed?’ Jasodhara’s face was shining.

Sia nodded. ‘Like a beautiful solar flare. But it should have heated the metal.’

‘It must be the magic of the enigma it carries.’ Patnaik said reverently. ‘These ancient men were playing with technologies far ahead of their time, much ahead than we can imagine.’

What they had witnessed had wrapped itself around their bodies completely. It was no longer an ancient relic of the past, but a dazzling avatar of ancient scientific advancement that had burnt to cinders any fragments of doubt that any of them were still clinging on to. In that single moment they had died and been reborn.

‘Ask the question again. We missed what it said.’

They crowded around to watch the miracle unfold for a second time. The password breathed life into the figure again and they heard a clear voice render a mystical stanza.

Open your eyes and see them for these are words of Vishnu

Leave me by these copper leaves of the twisted trees fifteen

Did two hands create the science or were the fingers thirty

You can be a new ruler if you repeat with your brain keen

Satyarth Nayak can be reached via Twitter: @SatyarthNayak

Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.

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