By Kanika Katyal:
He is in every sense the ‘literary superstar of India’. His first literary work ‘The Shiva Trilogy’ has become the fastest selling book series in the history of Indian publishing, with 2.2 million copies in print and over Rs 60 crore in sales. Turn to Twitter and you’ll witness the multitudes tweeting #WhatNextAmish and tagging him on Facebook with the same, as soon as the man announced the launch of his new series on Lord Rama, beginning with The Scion of Ikshvaku.
He has been ranked among the top 100 celebrities in India thrice in a row, by Forbes India; has won the Communicator of the Year Award in 2014, the Man of the Year in 2013, received colossal public acclaim for his work, and has a massive fan following (read 79.6K followers on Twitter – 1,40,228 Likes on his Facebook page). With book deals that are worth crores, the exact number of zeroes on those cheques kept secret, his success is a cause of envy to many. He is living the dream, you’d say. And he is humble enough to confess it, “Any better would be a sin. My life is damn good.”
What’s really remarkable is the fact that Amish is not just adept at wielding the pen, but is also a marketing genius (noticed the embroidered book covers of The Secret of the Nagas that are all the rage?). He is a man with a clear sense of what ‘works’. So much so that if you had gone over to see the Shahrukh Khan starrer Ra.One at a multiplex, you would recall that the video trailers for The Secret of the Nagas, replete with visual effects, (which would put many sci-fi Bollywood movies to shame) were released with the film. Tripathi believed that this would “work as the audience that visits theatres is the same that reads my books.”Inevitably so, when Kindle India decided to launch a commercial, they found in him the perfect poster boy! “It’s a fallacy to think that a good book sells itself. I can give you a long list of books that I think should have been bestsellers but nobody’s heard of them”, he affirms.
The writer who quotes from the scriptures almost on the go, can amaze pretty much anyone with his thoughts, interpretations and anecdotes on happiness, knowledge, success, and detachment. Youth Ki Awaaz settled down with the man of the hour for an interview (eyeing the present he had ready for us – a wooden frame of the Ikshvaku insignia embellished along with a mantra composed by him), and much was said and discussed in this conversation. Not least, how he ‘rediscovered’ his faith, and what he told us about himself “… for someone who’s innately rebellious, as I am, I think Lord Shiva was perhaps the perfect god to bring me back to faith. No disrespect to any other god”.
Q. Lord Shiva, himself is the hero of your trilogy. But he is a flawed hero. By giving him a voice, and making him accessible to common folk, didn’t you fear that opening Divinity himself up for criticism could lead to a religious controversy?
A. In the Dharmic way, which is the way of the Indian philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, there is this concept that true perfection lies only with the Nirguna Nirakar; that is Brahman, not the caste Brahmin, but Brahman. It’s like the force, the God from which everyone emerges. Everything else is actually in the world of Maya(illusion) which by its very definition has shades of perfection and shades of imperfection and that is the way all philosophies are looked at. Yesterday Mr. Debroy and I discussed the meaning of the concept of dharma from the Maharbharata and it is a complicated issue. It is not simple black and white and that is the perspective with which all Indian philosophies have approached this, so I say, I have not done anything new; I’m only following our traditions.
Q. You have always maintained, “I don’t think I chose the story, I think it’s the story that chose me”. “God’s been kind” – has been one of your most quoted lines. Has there been a metaphysical or a spiritual experience that brought about this faith that you’d like to share?
A. Yeah, certainly. I can’t say it was a bright flash of light and an immediate turn. But it was a slow experience. Over the process of writing the book slowly I rediscovered faith. I don’t say I discovered faith (rather) I rediscovered faith, because I was very religious. When I was young, I did turn into an atheist in my teenage years. I was an atheist for ten-twelve years and I rediscovered faith while writing the book. And for someone who is innately rebellious, as I am, I think Lord Shiva was perhaps the perfect god to bring me back to faith. No disrespect to any other god.
Q. What was your desired public reception? Were you happy with it?
A. I actually had no expectations of a public reception when I wrote my first book. In fact I didn’t even think I’d get published, frankly. I thought I was writing for myself and my family. So it’s wonderful that the books have been well received. So, I’m living a dream, don’t wake me up.
Q. Did you also aim for the readers to have a similar spiritual experience?
A. I try my best and all my books, on the surface they are adventures, but through that adventure I’m trying to convey some philosophies that are important to me. I’m happy to see that so many people, who come to my event, actually discuss the philosophies. So it makes me think that maybe they are absorbing that, but their interpretations could be different from mine, which is cool. All of us have a right to our own paths to God, our own philosophies, that’s absolutely cool, as long as you think about it.
Q. What is the fine line between retelling of myths and retelling of history, especially when it comes to Indian writing in English?
A. I know this debate gets really emotional when it comes to history. But the way I see it, history is just a recording of interpretations of facts as you see it now. There are always new sciences that come up, new facts that emerge, in which case you have to redo the interpretation. For example, genetic science today, is calling into question many of historical interpretations across the world, including in India. But that’s history and I do love history. But why I love mythology more is because the purpose of mythology is not to convince you that my story is right. The purpose of mythology is to make you think about some philosophies that are hidden in that story and I feel that is much more beautiful.
Q. You wrote about the existence of some modern scientific theories in ancient India. Isn’t this similar to the claims by the RSS and their propaganda?
A. I never comment on any political situation, but let me answer it this way- My books are fictional, I make that clear. But if you actually look at our history, there were genuine scientific achievements that we did make; I do admit that there are some fantasists today who make claims that are not credible. But that doesn’t mean that we as a country had no scientific achievement in the past. The truth is somewhere in the middle. And why there is space for so many fantasies about our past is because we are not taught our true achievements. Our history books, the history of science are completely Eurocentric. We learn about Europe’s scientific achievements, we don’t learn about Indian scientific achievements. And if you don’t learn about it then you will follow fantasies. Like for example, there was a recent thing in the Indian Science Congress and there was some gentleman who spoke of interplanetary travel, which is fantasy. At least from what I know, there is no historical evidence to support this fact. But Dr. Harshwardhan spoke of the fact that Maharishi Bodhayana had discovered the Pythagoras theorem, before Pythagoras, which is actually true. There is credible, documentary evidence to support that. But journalists couldn’t differentiate between the two, they thought both are fantasies. Why? Because no one has taught them. Because they are also a part of our education system, so that is the problem.
Q. The film rights to your first book have been bought by Dharma Productions. I’m sure there must have been other offers to choose from. Why pick them?
A. I met various producers when the rights for the Shiva Trilogy were being discussed and the thing I liked most about Karan Johar and his team when they met me is this line that Karan told me; he told me “We will make a movie that is worthy of Lord Shiva.” that really won my heart. It must be made with a sense of respect, and a sense of pride in Lord Shiva, I felt that I saw that in them.
Q. The next thing you’re working on. This says that it will be a retelling of “my fictional and respectful interpretation of the Ramayana.” What do you mean by that?
A. Respectful means it is the same approach by which I wrote the Shiva Trilogy.
Q. But hasn’t the Ramayana always been respectfully interpreted?
A. There are some who have not interpreted it in a respectful way. That has happened. So mine will be a different interpretation.
Q. Advice to aspiring writers of myth.
A. I always say write with your heart, because what is in your heart, actually emerges in your book. If it’s in your heart, you’re writing it with love and respect, it will show in your book.
The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival [/su_column]
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What does your writing space look like?
It’s full of books, wooden, flowing, and I have a lovely view of the sea.
The view from your window…
A lovely view of the sea! And the Bandra-Worli sea link. I get a wonderful view of that. I can see both Bandra and Worli from there.
That what keeps you from writing/work…
My family. I love to spend time with them.
What aspiring authors must not do…
Don’t write for money, write for your heart.
Tea or Coffee?
Early Bird or Creature of the Night?
Road trip or flying?
Good one !Road trip.
Okay to sip wine while writing?
What do you do when you hit the mythical Writer’s Block?
I’ve never hit that as yet, God’s been kind.
And where does one find that mystical Muse?
You have to wait for the muse to find you. You can’t find it.
If not a writer, you’d be?
A banker, that’s what I was !
A character of your own creation you have fallen for?
I’ve fallen for Lord Shiva, but he’s not a character of my creation. I’m his creation.
A book’s ending you wish you could change (not yours) and how…
Gone with the Wind. I wish he hadn’t said, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn!” I wish he’d taken her in his arms and said, “Okay man. All is forgiven.”
Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?
My own art. Both of them are illusions. You should do what feels right to you.
The one author you’d be happy to swap lives with?
No, I’m happy with my life. I have no complaints at all. I get to read, I get to write, I get to travel, I get to listen to music and I get to spend time with my family and I actually get paid for it. Any better would be a sin. My life is damn good. I don’t want to exchange it with anyone. [/alert]