It takes either extreme cockiness or unsnubbable ambition to attempt a magnum opus on ancient Greece when all you know to begin with is the smattering of lore and legend that you picked up as a schoolkid from comic books. But Aniruddha Bahal has plenty of both. In fact, you could say Bahal’s new novel, The Emissary: A Tale of Love, Vendetta and War, set in Greece during Alexander’s reign, is the result of a snub that misfired. This was in 2002, when Bahal met the grandmaster of put-downs, Sir Vidia Naipaul. Discovering that Bahal had read no history so far, Naipaul ticked off the young writer, suggesting that writers of fiction had to make history compulsory reading. Bahal returned home to do just that: attracted vaguely to the heroes of ancient Greece, Bahal picked up a bunch of books on ancient Greek history. And being a man who revels in taking risks, he instantly decided to write a historical fiction of that time. Eight years later, Bahal is not only out with a breathless, 456-page saga of match-fixings in chariot races, battles and gory deaths told in the voice of Alexander’s emissary, Seleucus, but is also planning a 500-page sequel—as soon as he finishes the novel he’s writing in between—about Iraq!
It’s this trademark combination of cheekiness and a hide so thick that he’s impervious to any humiliation that has made Bahal what he is today—a former salesman of automated office equipment who broke into journalism to become the King of Sting, famously exposing among other things, match-fixing in cricket and corruption in defence deals, Operation West End that brought a government to its knees, no less, toppling a defence minister and several high-placed army officials.