'Flawed, Complex Characters Make Fine Stories': Amish Tripathi on His Book Raavan, Enemy of Aryavarta
On the cover of Amish Tripathi's latest book, Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta, the surname of the author doesn't appear because he wants the readers to judge his books by his stories and not by his caste.
In fact, Amish, who often retells tales from Indian mythology, holds that in ancient times people's varnas (castes) were determined by their karma (deeds) and not by their birth.
While this may not be the common belief about the Hindu caste system, Amish has rarely adhered to 'popular narratives' of Hinduism. Through his fantasy novels, the author has always explored subaltern perspectives to approach religion and brought forth a rich, liberal and pluralistic history of Hindu culture, which unfortunately gets ignored amid the cacophony of rigid Hindutva supporters these days.
Talking to News18.com Amish said, "I have had readers come up to me with different interpretations of mythology and religious texts, and I think it is very natural."
"It isn't just my version though, there are many ancient versions of Hindu texts, which vary. For example, the Ram Charitra Manash is different from Valmiki Ramayan. In the original Valmiki Ramayan, there is no mention of Lakshman rekha, but it finds a place in Ram Charitra Manash, which is a more modern version of Ramayana." he added.
Earlier this week, Amish launched Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta, which is the third installment of his wildly popular Ram Chandra series. Unlike the previous two books which centered around protagonists like Ram (Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku) and Sita (Sita: Warrior of Mithila), who are considered to be human incarnations of Gods, this book tells the story of Raavan, the infamous villain of Ramayana.
The author, however, holds the view that there is more to Raavan than his villainous traits as he delves deep into the mythological character, who is generally shown in a negative light, in most adaptions of the Hindu epic.
"What makes Raavan interesting is the fact that he is not just a thug," said Amish. "He is not a wild man, unlike many of the villains we see in modern stories. He was a scholar and a brilliant musician. He was genuinely a deep and complex character, which makes him an intriguing protagonist to write about. Flawed, complex characters make for fine stories, don't they?" asked the author. Amish's Raavan is a well-read and accomplished man, but he too has violent tendencies and a massive ego.
After he wrote his first book, The Immortals of Meluha (2010), most Indian publishers rejected it stating that books on mythology fail to appeal to the youth, which is the main demographic of the book market. But, in the last decade, Amish and his legions of young fans have proved that theory wrong.
"We often tend to underestimate the Indian youth," said the author. "The common perception is that they do not want to be connected to their culture, but that is not true. I believe, that the youth want to be deeply connected to their roots but no one is giving them the tools, because our education system today is still very Europe focussed rather than India focussed," he added.
Amish pointed out that it doesn't help that there aren't many reference points in the popular culture about our history and ancestors for them to follow. "The shortcomings is not that of the youth but of those people who are running the education system in India, and those forming the public perceptions," said Amish.
"Essentially, the demand to read books related to ancient India was always there, the supply was never there. I am lucky that I happen to supply it to them," added the author.
Amish, as an Indian English writer also appeal to a vast international audience, who are learning about Indian mythology and history through his books. "The messages from our ancestors are so wise, that you will find people across the world are listening," said the writer.
"In the west, there is a false dichotomy. You have to pick between traditionalism and liberalism. As a result, people in the west, or in the Middle East, are either very rigidly traditional (sometimes even fanatical), or they are so liberal that they have no traditions to root them. But in India, we can be traditional and liberal at the same time. You don't have to make a choice and that gives you the best of both worlds," he added. It is this mix of traditional and liberal values of Hindu philosophy that makes his work appealing to many across age groups and countries.
While religion is a sensitive topic in India and any comment on Hinduism that does not go down well with the Hindutva brigade on social media platforms is capable of stirring arguments and debates, Amish has somehow, in the last decade managed to circumvent controversies, and oppositions. The author believes that the primary reason for it is everything he writes about religion is well-researched and taken from ancient Indian texts.
"The philosophies that I speak of are based on texts that I have read, written by our own ancestors. So, I don't see why there should be any controversy." said the author.
Raavan, Enemy of Aryavarta, written by Amish has been published by Westland Publications. The book costs Rs 399.