Best­selling au­thor Dan Brown un­der­lines his love for In­dia, but ad­mits he is not yet qual­i­fied to write a story based on re­li­gious iconog­ra­phy from our cul­ture

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - NEWS - By Priya Bala brunch­let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ Fol­low @HTBrunch on Twitter A se­nior writer based out of Bengaluru, the au­thor spe­cialises in food, travel and life­style writ­ing

Ori­gin, the lat­est novel by Dan Brown and the fifth in the Robert Lang­don se­ries, opens with Ed­mond Kirsch, a 40-year-old tech mag­nate and fu­tur­ol­o­gist, pre­par­ing to re­veal an as­ton­ish­ing break­through that will chal­lenge the fun­da­men­tals of hu­man ex­is­tence. He asks to meet Bishop Valde­spino, Rabbi Ye­huda Koves and Al­lamah Syed al-Fadl, who have just fin­ished at­tend­ing the Par­lia­ment of the World’s Re­li­gions in Cat­alo­nia. Sit­ting in an an­cient repos­i­tory of sa­cred texts in the famed li­brary of Montser­rat fac­ing the Holy Trin­ity, as he de­scribes them sar­don­ically, Kirsch tells him­self ‘It (the rev­e­la­tion) will not shake your foun­da­tions. It will shat­ter them.’

Jux­ta­pos­ing the spir­i­tual and the sci­en­tific is a theme that runs through the Robert Lang­don se­ries, which in­cludes An­gels & Demons and the best­selling The

Da Vinci Code, and it is more pronounced in Ori­gin. Dan Brown main­tains that even as the two realms fre­quently clash there is a spir­i­tual as­pect to sci­ence. “I do be­lieve that the deeper we delve into the im­pend­ing new sciences, the more we will dis­cover that the an­swers we dis­cover are more spir­i­tual in na­ture,” he tells us. That ex­plo­ration as­sumes im­por­tance also be­cause of the reper­cus­sions of the reli­gion ver­sus sci­ence di­vide in a coun­try like In­dia. Brown says In­dia is not alone in its feel­ing that sci­ence and reli­gion are at log­ger­heads. “The same is true in my coun­try.”

He says he en­joyed a deeply in­spi­ra­tional visit to In­dia two years ago. “I have spent sub­stan­tial amounts of time read­ing about Hin­duism in the wake of that visit.” With the last four books set in the Vat­i­can, Paris, Washington, DC, and Florence would he con­sider set­ting a novel in In­dia, af­ter all there is no dearth of the re­li­gious iconog­ra­phy that holds such ap­peal for Lang­don here? “I still do not feel qual­i­fied to write a book about the re­li­gious iconog­ra­phy in In­dia, but I am still learn­ing,” Brown says.

In Ori­gin, the au­thor sets up a sce­nario in which Lang­don has to solve a case af­ter an event he is at­tend­ing at the Guggen­heim Mu­seum, where Kirsch is to make his rev­e­la­tory pre­sen­ta­tion, and it ends in catas­tro­phe. As in the pre­vi­ous books of the se­ries, he has to crack codes, this time con­nected to mod­ern art and par­tic­u­larly Of

Mice and Men. A reader mainly of non-fic­tion, Brown is par­tial though to the Stein­beck clas­sic of 1937 and has said that he loves its de­scrip­tive power.

“Robert Lang­don is the man I wish I could be. Lang­don is far braver than I am, and we share an in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity for all things ar­cane.”

Brown’s own abil­ity for graphic de­scrip­tion – ‘all art, ar­chi­tec­ture, lo­ca­tions, sci­ence and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions in this novel are real’ says one of the in­tro­duc­tory pages to Ori­gin – is backed by painstak­ing re­search. The writ­ing process for Ori­gin he has said was akin to launch­ing a sci­ence ex­per­i­ment. With evo­lu­tion, cre­ation­ism and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence be­ing the cen­tral ideas ex­plored in Ori­gin, Brown read ex­ten­sively on the sub­jects and for­mu­lated ques­tions he had about these. He then spoke to ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sci­en­tists, mod­ern art cu­ra­tors and re­li­gious cler­ics for the an­swers, be­sides spend­ing time in Spain where the novel is set. “It is not re­ally un­til I get a lot of re­search done that I first be­gin to do an out­line,” he has said.

Brown’s writ­ing reg­i­men is rig­or­ous, and ex­plains his pro­lificity. “I work 7 days a week, 365 days a year, at 4am. For me this is the time of the day with least dis­trac­tions and the time at which I feel most creative,” he tells us. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he puts on a pair of grav­ity boots and hangs up­side down to help him re­lax and con­cen­trate. “Yes, I do still use grav­ity boots – although now it is more of an in­ver­sion ta­ble,” says the dis­ci­plined writer.

In com­par­i­son, his pro­tag­o­nist, Robert Lang­don, the Har­vard pro­fes­sor of re­li­gious iconol­ogy and sym­bol­ogy, would seem to have a ter­ri­bly ex­cit­ing life. In Ori­gin, he has run-ins with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, is in a skir­mish in the Sagrada Fa­milia and goes hunt­ing for codes that can crack a com­puter in the com­pany of the ravishing di­rec­tor of the Guggen­heim Mu­seum. How much do Brown and Lang­don have in com­mon? “Robert Lang­don is the man I wish I could be. Lang­don is far braver than I am – and he also has a far more in­ter­est­ing life. Of course we share an in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity for all things ar­cane,” says Brown.

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