Third time's the charm: Neil Gaiman on India visit

Neil Gaiman (Photo AFP)

Neil Gaiman almost came to India, twice.

The genre-defying author, who announced his participation in Jaipur Literature Festival this year on Twitter only not to arrive later, hopes third time's the charm with his Indian fans.

Gaiman said he was unable to visit the country due to a clash between the festival and shooting dates for Amazon Prime Video's "Good Omens", on which he serves as creator and executive producer.

"It was a time when the shooting of 'Good Omens' stretched from October 2018 to the middle of December to January 2019, when I was supposed to come to Jaipur for the literature festival. But that couldn't happen as we were shooting for the sixth and final episode of 'Good Omens'. There were no options," he said in a telephonic interview from London.

However, the writer said he is not one to take things for granted, adding that he is "enormously aware" of his popularity in India.

"I have so many people who read my stuff in India. They keep asking me, they love what I do and there are so many people who would like to turn up."

Writing the script from "unadaptable" 1990 fantasy novel "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" was more of a personal mission than a professional challenge for Gaiman, who co-wrote the book with iconic fantasy author Terry Pratchett. Pratchett died in 2015 from Alzheimer's.

"It was Terry's last wish to me, so I had to do it. Honouring Terry was most important. I remember, almost years ago now, going home starting to write at 11.31 in the night. I felt that Terry would want to see this go ahead. I thought I'm going to give this just another chance."

The show's co-executive producer Rob Wilkins, a longtime collaborator with Pratchett, added one can't deny final wishes as they are a matter of honour.

"My job was to keep Terry's dream alive throughout the production. And obviously, Neil being the showrunner, who is the co-creator of the original novel, we couldn't have wished for anything more. Between Terry and Neil, nobody loves the Old Gods as much as they do. With Neil being on set every day, we were able to honour Terry," Wilkins told PTI.

From the Apocalyptic setting in "Good Omens", "The Sandman" graphic novel, his spin on fairytales in "The Sleeper and the Spindle" to his interpretation of Norse Mythology, Gaiman's works have a little bit of everything - mythology, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy with philosophical allusions.

But it was "The Sandman" that made him a cultural rage in the 1990s with youth, especially women. The story follows Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, who belongs to a pantheon of beings known as the Endless, along with Death, Despair, Destiny and others.

Asked what could be the reason for his popularity, the writer initially answered, "I don't know".

He elaborated on his musing, saying young women weren't getting anything to read because it wasn't for them.

"Maybe because I was writing comics in a medium traditionally for pubescent boys. But I wasn't writing comics for pubescent boys, I was writing for the people intellectually important to me. I am very aware that a large part of my readership is female. My female characters were not really male warriors. They were just women.

"Something which I learnt while working with Terry Pratchett... You write grounded characters and you wind up doing amazing things with them. With 'Sandman', I'm assuming that the reader is intelligent and I'm assuming that the readership wanted to read stories about real people, even if it involves anthropomorphic personification about a universal concept."

"Good Omens" follows the demon Crowley (David Tennant) and the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), who, being accustomed to life on Earth, seeks to prevent the arrival of the Antichrist and the Armageddon.

Gaiman said it is interesting how the concept of opposing forces like heroes and villains is changing shape across cultures today.

He praised Indian mythologist-author Devdutt Pattanaik for his 2016 book "Olympus: An Indian Retelling of the Greek Myth".

"I read a fantastic Indian writer recently where he told Greek myth but from an Indian perspective. What I loved about the book was that he was seeing things that I knew about from a perspective I have never encountered before. He makes it so easy to understand but what is lovely is that he does from a very proud Indian connect. It is illuminating to learn about the Vedic Period.

"It's a joy to find out about a concept from different standpoints in various cultures. 'Good Omens' like that is giving people a different way to imagine what heaven and hell may look like. Hopefully, making them laugh and fill them with delight."

At a time when identity crisis has hit the world hard, Gaiman’s Twitter bio location places him "a bit all over the place".

The writer, who has Polish Jewish origins, studied in different schools growing up in the UK and lives in the US, said people "need a kinder place to live in".

"I think of myself as British. I have lived in the UK. I think Brexit will happen and I also think that Brexit will destroy the United Kingdom as we know it. Maybe they will bu**er off or maybe they will stay...

"I think the smarter thing to do, the wiser thing to do is to see yourself as a member of the human race. Maybe this will get us through the day and hopefully, it will make people's lives less shi**y."

Also starring Jon Hamm, Adria Arjona and Miranda Richardson, "Good Omens" streams Friday.

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