“I draw inspiration from the ancient”

Well-known contemporary author Amish Tripathi, of Shiva trilogy fame, talks about pandemic, literature, and his creative process

Amish Tripathi is a best-selling author and columnist. He has earned fame for his innovative style of writing and fictionalising characters from mythology and history. Currently, he is the Director of The Nehru Centre in London.

Tripathi published his first book in 2010, and has written 9 books till date. His books have sold 5.5 million copies, and have been translated into 10 Indian and 10 international languages. He spoke to Patriot on what motivates him, his upcoming novel, pandemic’s impact on creativity and more. Excerpts:

The ongoing pandemic has been wreaking havoc in India. How Has this been for you? How does a crisis of such proportion affect your writing?

Everyone in my extended family fell ill, including me. Things were a little bad, so I was stuck in Mumbai for six weeks. I recovered from Covid-19 two- three weeks ago. 

It doesn’t affect fiction writings. They were in my mind even before the pandemic struck, but will it impact my writing in the future? Almost certainly, it will. Because this is a time of grief, a time of loss, and it has impacted the world. So naturally, it will impact the work of most creative people.

 

You recently spoke on a podcast  “what’s a man” of author Deepa Narayan. What is your answer to this question in the context of existing realities — what does it really mean “to be a man” in India? Has its meaning changed from the past?

Yes, in some ways the modern world has changed. Every age has its own definition. But, some things are eternal — man should be honorable, dignified, responsible. These are eternal, they shouldn’t change with the time.

 

You pick historical and mythological characters for your books. How do you choose them? Your latest pick is Suheldev. There are a lot of contesting beliefs around him. Many castes appropriate him. Above all there are beliefs among some sections that he was not a benevolent king. What is your take on that?

On king Suheldev, practically all the folk traditions and historical memories that exist show him to be a very strong and honorable man. Regrettably, he was not in official history books. That is because history is normally written by the ultimate victors. For example, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the first ruler in the relatively modern era to ban slavery.

Slavery was very common with Turkic rulers. They used to kidnap and enslave a lot of Indians, who were taken to slave markets in the mediterranian world. For example, the Roma tribe in Europe are descendants of Indians, who were sold into slavery by the Turkic colonial ruler. But Aurangzeb and his chroniclers did not write well of Shivaji Maharaj.

If you read texts written in the time of Tughlaqs on King Suheldev, they don’t speak well of him. Tughlaqs were Turks and king Suheldev had defeated the Turks. The Indian tradition and the Indian story always speaks very highly of King Suheldev, just like for Shivaji Maharaj.

The reason I wrote about king Suheldev is because he is an inspiring figure. He is the king of the Subaltern caste. Traditions say he pulled together an army of all castes, some even say his army has people of other religions as well. So he pulled together an Indian Army and defeated the invading foreign Turkic rulers. It was such a devastating defeat that no Turkic ruler came back to India for around 140 years. In that sense, king Suheldev represents what a good man should be — strong, uniting, and willing to stand up for his people against foreign invaders.

 

There is a trend. People are being called out for their old statements or tweets reflecting their casteist, communal or sexist mindset. However, some of those who were called out said they weren’t aware of what they have said has casteist or any such connotations. For example the use of the word Bhangi or Kanjar. What do you think of this trend? 

One of the things that comes from our ancient traditions — Vedas, even Gautam Buddha has said that, “thought impacts your actions.” And it is not for me to comment on others. Everyone has to make up their own mind. But I would never use words such as these. You’d never find me using such words, and I genuinely believe that a creative person must at least try to put together a positive message.

This is true across all divisions — across all castes, religious divides, gender, sexual orientation. I try to do this in my books. I try to show women empowerment. One of the key things about King Suheldev was that he was from the subaltern caste. He is a uniting Indian leader. So, I try my best on this, so all creative people must at least try their best. I am not criticising anyone but I would never do this.

 

Have you ever thought of writing something on Charvaka philosophy?  

In the book Sita, a warrior of Mithila, I used this philosophy. My approach is, can I try and put different points of views, without judging, which was the traditional Indian way. In Sanskrit there is no word for blasphemy because our ancestors had no concept of blasphemy. It came with the invasions in the last 1000 years. Our tradition was to debate and discuss every point of view with an open mind. You never know where you can learn what from. Goddess Saraswati can bless anyone, so I have spoken of many of these philosophies including Charvaka.

 

What is the role of gender in writing?

I am inspired in many ways from what I have learnt from our ancients, which I try to represent in my books. Rig vedas have hymns written by Rishikas, they were equivalent to prophets and messiahs of the middle eastern religions. Show me which religion has female prophets and messiahs? Well, our way of life did. We had queens, who ruled in their own name like Vakataka queen, Prabhavatigupta, Rudra Mahadevi. They used to lead the army into battle.

This liberal approach did not just extend to women but to others as well. The founder of Chandravansi clan was a transgender, and Chandravansis were the most powerful of rulers because major Suryavansi kingdoms were only Kosala and Dakshin Kosala. Most of the other major kingdoms were Chandravansis. Lord Krishna was a Chandravansi.

It is just unfortunate that our education system is still colonial. Our youth assumes that to be liberal about women we have to learn from America or the UK. We can learn from our own culture. I try to represent this in my books.Which is why you will find in my books, there will be women prime ministers, women Rishikas, doctors. It will not appear that wow it is different, it will be normal. Whoever is the best person is the leader, he can be man, women, transgender.

 

What are you working on next?

Ram Chandra is a five book series. First three books were multi-linear narratives. First book Scion of Ikshvaku was from the birth of lord Ram to the kidnapping of Goddess Sita. Second, Sita – Warrior of Mithila is from the birth of Goddess Sita till her kidnapping. Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta, is also from birth of Ravana to kidnapping Sita. So all three books have the same ending.

Fourth book is from the kidnapping of Sita to the death of Ravana. This book is tentatively called War of Lanka, which I am writing now.

 

Many critics say that best-selling writing is a banal act. What do you have to say about this?

The only true judge of anything is time. For example, in English literature Jane Austin was not liked by critics, she was thought to be a fluffy writer who writes about rich people who have no real problems in life — whereas Charles Dickens was appreciated by critics and both were in the Victorian era. Both survived 150 years. Both are good, and Jane Austin not only impacted literature but also culture and western women. And certainly British women were seeing themselves and their relationships through her book till very long. At the same time, there were many other authors who were popular or appreciated by critics who have completely forgotten today. So what critics say is just an opinion. It’s nice to hear this, but is it something that an author should allow himself/herself to get impacted by? No. The only true judge is time. So I say this entire debate is silly and stupid.

 

Time is tough, everyone is going through grief. What message do you want to give to your readers?

Time is bad. Everyone is in trouble. One of the things that I have learned from our tradition is that grief causes you to suffer only if you don’t accept the reality of truth — Gautham Buddha’s first noble truth that grief is the reality of life. 

I have had a very tough time for the last 4-5 years. I lost people very close to me. There was a time when I used to think, why is this happening to me? But I realize I am not alone. Many are going through these emotions. So I accepted it. There is a famous vedic saying — ‘Charaiveti, Charaiveti’ meaning ‘keep walking, keep walking.’ This is what we have to do.

(Cover: Author Amish Tripathi)

To know more about What’s a Man, go to: https://www.whatsaman.com/

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