Desi Talk - page 17

May 8, 2015
– that’s all you need to know
By Sankalp Phartiyal
he gods must be pleased
with Amish Tripathi. After
all, the author’s first three
books on Shiva, the
Hindu god of destruction,
have sold more than 2.2 million
copies and made him a house-
hold name in India.
Tripathi, 40, has undergone
two transformations, one possibly
more profound than the other.
He’s a former banker and a former
atheist. Now he’s a believer and a
writer. And, as he said to me when
I interviewed him two years ago,
he has many more story ideas. If
they do run out, he said, he could
return to the corporate world.
Tripathi spoke to India Insight
about his latest book, “Scion of
Ikshvaku,” censorship in India,
Ram and sexism, and more. Here
are edited excerpts:
Why a retelling of the Ramayan.
Haven’t we already heard, seen
and read enough of the epic?
There are so many versions of
the Ramayan, there’s so much to
learn from these stories, and of
course what I will do is bring in
my own interpretation.
How religious are you?
Today I’m a deeply devout per-
son. Like I said I grew up very,
very religious. I turned into an
atheist in the early 90
s. I was an
atheist for 10-12 years and writing
the first book, “The Immortals of
Meluha”, actually slowly brought
me back to faith.When I just start-
ed, when it was just at the philo-
sophical thesis level, at that point
of time, yes, I was still an atheist.
Writing that philosophical thesis
itself slowly started pulling me
Did the profits make you a believ-
When I was writing there were
no profits. It wasn’t even being
published. In fact, my first book
was rejected by every single pub-
lisher it was sent to, and I had
written one-third of the second
book as well before the first book
was released.
Why is there so much secrecy
around your latest book?
Good point. I think we should
ask my publisher that. I think it’s a
part of the marketing strategy.
The Shiva trilogy is being adapted
into a film. Do you think writers
run the risk of creating books for
cinema rather than readers once
screenplays are chiselled out of
When I amwriting my books,
in my mind it’s actually much
more real than a movie. It’s like
there’s a parallel universe, I get to
enter that universe and I record
what I see. So the world that I
write about, the characters in
there for me they’re as real as you
are. In fact they’re even more real
because I feel all their emotions, I
laugh with them, I cry with them
so they are far more real than a
movie can ever be. I am not sure a
movie actually impacts it in any
You told me your deal with the
publisher is a pre-emptive con-
tract and they paid you for the
next book before you began writ-
ing it. Does that influence your
decision to write what you write?
Not really. Because some five
months after that contract, I still
wasn’t sure which subject I was
going to write. Finally the decision
was taken at a lit fest in December
2013 when an incident occurred
which actually upset me quite
deeply. And I was so upset that I
wrote an article in the Hindustan
Times at that time as well on that
issue. And that day I decided I am
going to write on Lord Ram. That’s
how actually the decision was
taken for the next book series.
What was the incident?
Someone came and spoke to
me and said some things about
Lord Ram, which I thought were
very unfair.
And I was upset by those views
to be honest. And if I look back
right now, perhaps that incident
was meant to happen, to force me
to make up my mind that this is
the subject I should write on.
Was Ram’s decision to subject
Sita to “agnipariksha” (trial by
fire) to test her chastity in the face
of rumors harsh and sexist?
What I would suggest is wait
for my book, for my interpretation
of it.What I will say, though, is I
worship Lord Rama and even a
devotee of Lord Ramwill not say
that what was done to Sita Ma
was correct. The perspective on
that article was essentially this – if
you live a life of laws, what are the
challenges of that kind of life. That
it may be good for the society that
you lead, it may not be good for
your personal life.
You’re avoiding my question
about sexism.
My point in that article was to
look at him holistically.We have
had leaders who have given their
family more importance than the
country.We have such leaders as
well. They aren’t ideal too, right?
So I think the entire perspective is
to see the challenges of someone
who is Maryada Purushottam,
which is an ideal follower of laws.
Are you a devotee writing the
“Scion of Ikshvaku” or someone
who is also critical of Ram?
I would say that you look at it
as a person who is a devotee. I
wear that with pride. I am very
proud of our traditions. But I
think part of our traditions is also
to learn from the stories of our
gods.We’re supposed to use our
minds to make up our own opin-
ions. If God didn’t want us to use
our brain, then he wouldn’t have
given us one. You don’t have to be
a hater to learn something; you
can be a devotee and still learn
Howmany books are you writing
in this series?
I’m not exactly sure at this
point of time, but probably five
Do you plan to write on LGBTs
and how they were treated in
ancient India?
If you look at our past, LGBTs
were not oppressed in ancient
India. The Mahabharata itself has
examples, Shikhandi for example.
And they had a right to live out
their lives the way they choose to.
And this wasn’t considered nega-
tive in ancient India.
We’re increasingly seeing an
assertive Indian right getting
books such as Wendy Doniger’s
“The Hindus” effectively banned
in the country. If historical narra-
tives can be banned, do you think
retellings risk touching a raw
If you want to write books like
this, there’s no better country than
India to do this. And don’t take
this the wrong way, you do know
that 95 percent of the controver-
sies that happen are actually cre-
ated, they are not genuine contro-
They are created for the sake of
publicity. So if you yourself avoid
controversies they don’t happen,
and that’s one of the realities of
India. The second thing is to be
honest, and I am a very proud
Indian, but pride should not blind
us from our faults. I’m not saying
India is perfect, there are things
that can be improved. But I’m not
sure freedom of expression is that
much under peril in India.What is
the worst that happens if some-
one does not like your book or a
movie in India.What is the worst
that happens? Someone will file a
court case against you? You can
fight that case.
If you have enough money,
enough commitment, you can
fight that case. Someone will burn
a poster or someone will break a
glass. That’s the worst that will
happen. No one lands at your
house with an AK-47. That doesn’t
happen in India. That happens in
Europe, that happens in the
Middle East. Doesn’t happen in
– Reuters
Amish Tripathi on his New Book ‘Scion of Ikshvaku’ and Retelling the Ramayan
“Today I’m a
deeply devout
person. Like I
said I grew up very,
very religious. I
turned into an atheist
in the early 90′s. I
was an atheist for
10-12 years and
writing the first
book”, “The
Immortals of
Meluha”, actually
slowly brought me
back to faith.
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