Amish Tripathi: The myth man

He makes mythology cool. His body of work redefines the way Indians look at mythology. Chethana Dinesh engages writer Amish Tripathi in a conversation on his new book, the philosophies implicit in his writing, and all things contemporary

Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi. A name we instantly associate with mythological fiction. Popularly known as ‘India’s First Literary Popstar’, this stellar storyteller weaves interesting stories around Hindu mythology. No wonder, his books are permanent fixtures on the bestseller lists, much sought after by the young and old alike. While reading his books is like going on a journey that is both fascinating and enriching, talking to him is like gaining a fresh and imaginative perspective on the rich repertoire of Indian mythology. He is known for his Shiva Trilogy comprising The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas, and The Oath of the Vayuputras, and the Ram Chandra series including the Scion of Ikshvaku, Sita: Warrior of Mithila, and Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta. Excerpts from an interview:

What about mythological fiction excites you?

I think the way mythology has been approached, not just in India, but across the world. The entire perspective of mythology is to communicate some philosophy in the wrapper of a story. The philosophy is there to learn, and to apply it in one’s life. Mythological fiction allows me to convey philosophy in the guise of a story. That is what is exciting about mythological fiction.

What does it mean to be a mythological fiction writer? Given that it involves a lot of research...

Mythological fiction writing involves a lot of reading, meeting a number of people, and travelling to learn from the mythologies of other cultures. Fortunately, I like all three — reading, meeting people, and travelling. Now, I get paid to do that.

How has the retelling of mythological texts evolved?

Retelling of mythology has been a strong genre in Indian languages. There’s a long line of writers who have done this very well — Narendra Kohli in Hindi, S L Bhyrappa in Kannada, Shivaji Sawant in Marathi, M T Vasudevan Nair in Malayalam, and so on. However, in the English language, it has been relatively recent.

How do you interpret the Raavan in Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta?

Raavan is seen in modern India as purely evil, a villainous, violent man. But that’s not the way he was being portrayed in our ancient texts. So, I would say my portrayal of Raavan is closer to the ancient version. Raavan has his faults, but he also has his strengths. And that’s the way Valmiki, the composer of the original Ramayan, also saw him.

The Ram Chandra series is going to be a collection of five books. The first one was on Lord Ram, the second on Sita, and the third one on Raavan.

What will the focus of the fourth and fifth books be?

Fourth book will be a common narrative, while the fifth one would be the conclusion.

Shiva Trilogy, Ram Chandra series... What next?

Honestly, I don’t know. I have various ideas in my mind. One on the Mahabharat, one set in the modern day… around dreaming and time travel. Let’s see. But first, let me finish the Ram Chandra series.

What do you enjoy writing — fiction or non-fiction?

For me, both fiction and non-fiction are a part of a continuum because normally my fiction writing begins with a non-fiction philosophy that I want to convey. So, step one is a non-fiction philosophy while the fiction, the story, is a wrapper. So, I don’t see fiction and non-fiction as two different genres, as far as my writing goes.

How have readers reacted to your books, other than the reviews, of course... considering Indians are a bit touchy about stories built around gods...

I haven’t faced any controversies. My books have sold over five million copies. Anyone reading my books will openly accept the fact that mine may be a different interpretation of myths, but I have written them with respect.

Of all your protagonists, who’s your favourite?

Lord Shiva, without any doubt.

What propelled you to write Immortal India? Will there be another Immortal India?

Most certainly. In fact, my sister and I are planning a series where we explain the fundamentals of Indian philosophy, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and the concepts of karma-dharma, atman-brahman, in an easy-to-read manner.

When did you realise your passion for writing?

It began with my first book, The Immortals of Meluha. It was the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. When I was young, I was always a voracious reader but never a writer. So I had never dreamt that I would be a writer.  

A typical day for you...

I don’t interact with many people. I just stick to myself. I read, I write, I travel. I lead a simple, boring life. I prefer to write early in the mornings. I wake up by 5 - 5.30 am and sleep around 10.30 pm. My mind stops working after 9.30 - 10 pm. So, most of my productive work happens in the morning.

What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?

None. Life’s good, actually. I get paid for doing what I like.

What, according to you, should a novel do?

This is something I believe in strongly – that it should convey some philosophy. If not, it is akin to a body without a soul.

Your take on criticism?

I treat it as an opportunity to improve. That doesn’t mean you accept all the feedback, or agree with it. Ultimately, it is your book, and you have to listen to the voice of your story.

What’s on your writing desk?

The books that I am reading, speakers, my Saregama Carvaan that plays music all the time, and my laptop.

You are now reading…

I just finished reading Vada by Radhavallabh Tripathi. I am now reading Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island and by Deep Halder’s Blood Island: An Oral History of the Marichjhapi Massacre.

If given a choice, would you go back to banking?

Banking was a job. It wasn’t like my calling. I am leading a wonderful life as a writer.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’m very fidgety. I can’t sit still. Even during interviews, I’ve to try hard not to shift or scratch my head or pick something and put it down.   

Your impressions of Bengaluru...

Green, young, vibrant... I really love the place. I love coming to Bengaluru. The city has given me a lot of love. My books have always done well in Bengaluru. Am always grateful to Bengaluru for that.

Is there anything particular that you do when you come to Bengaluru?

I go to MTR and eat the thali. I just love it.

Your advice to aspiring writers…

Be a good reader before wanting to be a good writer.

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