Described as ‘India’s first literary popstar’ by world-renowned film director Shekhar Kapur, Amish’s unique combination of crackling story-telling, religious symbolism and profound philosophies has turned him into an Indian publishing phenomenon, with spiritual guru Deepak Chopra hailing Amish’s books as ‘archetypal and stirring’.
Amish’s 6 books till now — The Immortals of Meluha (2010), The Secret of the Nagas (2011) and The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013), which collectively comprise the Shiva Trilogy, and Ram – Scion of Ikshvaku (Book 1 of the Ram Chandra Series) (2015), Sita – Warrior of Mithila (Book 2 of the Ram Chandra Series) (2017), and Immortal India – Young Country, Timeless Civilisation (Amish’s first non-fiction book) (2017) — have 4.5 million copies in print.
The third book of his Ram Chandra Series, Raavan was release recently. Avatans Kumar (AK) had an opportunity to ask a few questions about this latest book and several other related topics amidst Amish’s busy promotion schedule.
First of all, congratulations on this highly anticipated book of the Ram Chandra Series. What made you write on Raavan?
Thank you so much. Ram Chandra Series has five books. And the first 3 books are in a multi-linear narrative. Ram Scion of Ikshvaku starts from the birth of Lord Ram till the kidnapping of Lady Sita. Sita Warrior of Mithila starts from the birth of Lady Sita till her kidnapping. And, Raavan Enemy of Aryavarta conveys the tale from Raavan’s birth till the time he kidnaps Lady Sita. Raavan had to be covered in this multi-linear narrative since he is one of the 3 principal characters driving the narrative of the Ramayan forward. In addition, Raavan’s immense talents and obvious negatives also make him a fascinating, albeit troubling character to write about.
Do you think Raavan’s character is ‘controversial’? Is your Raavan primarily based on Valmiki’s version?
Controversy only if we look at things from a simplistic, black & white perspective. If one sees it from a nuanced perspective, as our ancestors did, one can see that there is something to be learnt from everyone, including the so-called villain. So my version, Raavan-Enemy of Aryavarta is closer to the approach of the ancient versions of the Ramayan rather than the modern TV retellings.
Staying on version, and in the context of your Ram Chandra Series, how do you decide which version to use?
The Texts essentially work as source material, guidelines, and for inspiration. Armed with those ingredients, I just let the story flow. I genuinely believe that Lord Shiva is the creator of these stories, I am only a channel.
It is interesting you say that. Famous mathematician S Ramanujan had said that his village Devi comes to him in his dreams and writes all those complex mathematical formulas on his tongue by her own finger. Similarly, you just mentioned that Lord Shiva as the creator of these stories helps you write. Can you elaborate?
This is something, as I am sure you will understand, is difficult to explain. If you want a scientific explanation for it, then perhaps one can say that the rational, analytical left-brain is not the only source of knowledge. The intuitive and creative right-brain can also be a source. Our ancient Gurukul system (and indeed ancient education systems around the world), focused on strengthening both the left-brain and the right-brain. The modern education system (especially the Indian one) is devoted only to building the left-brain. So perhaps we should acknowledge the role of the right-brain as well in knowledge generation and encourage intuitive-thinking. This is a nice scientific explanation that will probably appeal to the modern rational mind. The explanation that makes sense to me is different. I believe that Lord Shiva is the creator of my stories and I am the channel. And I don’t care if this sounds strange to a few.
Since you are talking about the Gurukul and the modern education system, etc., let me ask you this. You have always advocated the study of Indic texts in Indian curriculum. Have you had a chance to look at the government’s New Education Policy? Any comments?
Not yet. I am afraid I have been very busy with editing and now the promotions of Raavan-Enemy of Aryavarta. I hope to look at the New Education Policy when the promotions work for Raavan is over. But I will repeat again, we must teach Indic texts in our education system. And I am not just referring to spiritual texts. There is a wealth of knowledge that our ancestors left behind in areas as diverse as Mathematics, Medicine, Navigation, Metallurgy, Astronomy, Water-management, Urban planning, Governance ideas and many others. We must study them all.
Noted philosophers Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee claim that the study of India and Indian texts by foreign Indologists is an outcome of Protestant debate over scriptures and over time but consciously Protestant prejudice was injected in the study of India and Indian texts. Keeping that in mind, how do you sift through those biases while working on your characters?
Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee are certainly fine scholars. And I certainly have come to believe that translations and the analyses of our scriptures by many Westerners do carry many errors. Whether that is due to bias or a lack of understanding, is something that is best left to the opinion of scholars. How do I sift through these errors of Western Indologists? Well, the translations of scholars from the British Raj era are not my sources. I read Indian sources, or more often than not, have learnt it the traditional way from my family. My grandfather was a Pandit in Kashi. And my family is deeply religious and steeped in our traditional ways.
How much time did you spend researching for Raavan? Can you tell us about some of the texts or other material you used in your research?
I don’t really do much besides reading, writing and travelling. I have also learnt a lot from my family. As I always say for all my books, that one way of looking at things is that I have been doing research for my books for more than 30 years!
Why do you think people, especially young people, should know about Raavan? How is Raavan relevant in today’s world?
Our ancient culture saw Raavan, and indeed all life, in nuanced terms. And the belief was that there is something to be learnt from everyone, including those demonized as ‘villains’. But one of the key things we can learn from Raavan is the danger of an out-of-control ego. Even if you are as supremely talented, as Raavan was, if you cannot control your ego, you will become your own worst enemy.
You originally write in English. Have you ever run into an issue where you find it difficult to describe certain words, concepts, etc.? How do you overcome those situations?
Yes, sometimes there are problems. I try my best to find an adequate English word in such cases. But in case I am unable to do that, I use the original Sanskrit term and try to explain it in the manuscript.
What is the update on Raja Suheldev book?
I will make an announcement on this in due course.
There were also talks about films being made on your books. Any update on that?
Again, I will make an announcement soon.
Will there be a book on Hanuman under Ram Chandra Series?
Unfortunately, not at this point in time. From the fourth book onwards, it will be a common narrative. But Lord Hanuman is obviously a key character in the fourth and fifth books of the Ram Chandra series.
What’s next? What are some other projects are you working on?
A lot of ideas. Work has already begun. But at the same time I would like to announce that I have started Writers Center wherein I will be hiring writers, give them a brief about my story, they will write the first draft and then I will edit it. A lot of other projects are in the pipeline and I will hopefully make some announcements in the coming months.
Thank you very much for your time and giving me this opportunity to talk to you. I appreciate it.
Always a pleasure to speak to you.