My women characters are strong: Amish Tripathi

Amish Tripathi, who hails from a family of voracious readers who love to debate on every subject, talks eloquently about Indian mythology, the concept of evil and how he has enough ideas to keep him going for the next 20 years! Meet him at The Hindu Lit for Life 2015.

Updated - December 18, 2019 09:53 am IST

Published - January 03, 2015 07:49 pm IST

Amish Tripathi.

Amish Tripathi.

“Now you know why banks go bankrupt — because we aren’t at our jobs and writing books most of the time!” Amish Tripathi may be just another banker-turned-writer to some but, to many, he is the guy who made the Hindu god Shiva “cool”, however vehemently he may deny it. Amish burst into the literary scene with his Shiva trilogy —  The Immortals of MeluhaThe Secret of the Nagas  and  The Oath of the Vayuputras — which went on to becoming the fastest selling series in the history of Indian publishing. The IIM graduate was listed among the 100 most influential celebrities in India by Forbes magazine. But, says Amish, he never wanted to be a writer in the first place.

With the Indian and international movie rights to his books already bagged by studios, he is ready with his next series due to release next year; “definitely before my birthday in October.” Excerpts from an interview.

You say that writing was never on your agenda. Then how did the books happen?

One day, when my family and I were watching TV, we discovered something interesting. Commonly, gods are called devas , and the demons asuras . We also discovered that for the Zoroastrian Persians, gods were called ahuras , and demons were called daevas . Their pantheon was the exact opposite of ours. Your god is my demon and my god is your demon. So who is right? Neither. There are two different ways of life; doesn’t mean that either are evil.

So the next obvious question was: what is evil? An answer occurred to me and my family asked me to write it down. That’s how this Shiva trilogy began. It is basically a 1500-page story to build my case of what is evil. While reading this adventure, I will have hopefully communicated these philosophies to you.

Are there other issues too that you have dealt with in your books?

There are many issues I feel strongly about; that I have woven into the story. I feel very strongly about women’s empowerment. We keep obsessing about religious violence, but it is not such a big problem. The real big problem is violence against women. Our society is at war with women. According to genetic science, the normal gender ratio supposed to be 99:100 (male: female). But, in India, it is now 108:100, which means in the last 50 to 40 years about 50 million girls have been killed. Nobody talks about this. In 50 years, around 11,000 people have died due to religious violence. For me this is very important. So I try and bring this across in my book. I make my women characters very strong. Violence, caste system, approach to money are other issues that I weave into the book without hampering the storyline.

What is the relevance of mythology today?

The true question to ask is: when was mythology not relevant? The root of the word mythology is the Greek word Methos . If you look at the meaning of the word today, it would be something like ‘some stories that may have had some kernel of truth somewhere and are now fanciful and crazy’. Once when I travelled to Greece, I asked an old Greek woman the meaning of Methos . She said, ‘ Methos is that which hides the truth. Your purpose is to dig deeper and find the philosophical truth that which exists within.’ You can have different methos leading to the same philosophical truth, but what matters is the truth. That was the purpose of mythology in all ancient cultures. You are supposed to hear it and then learn something from it. Philosophy in ancient times was the art of knowing how to live your life. If knowing how to live your life is important, then how is mythology not important?

You grew up in a religious household but became an atheist in between, and now you are back to being a believer. How did that happen?

I turned into an atheist in the early 1990s during my college years because of the religious violence that I saw in Mumbai at that time. I started blaming religion for it. My entire family was devout and my father used to tell me if you find religious extremists speaking nonsense, it’s the duty of the religious liberals to speak even more loudly. I was a teenager then and teenagers don’t really listen to their parents. It was the books which pulled me back to faith. As I started writing the books I slowly started rediscovering my faith.

At a time when Marvel and DC Comics characters are ruling the superhero space, your books have made Shiva a home-grown superhero.

Who I am to make lord Shiva a hero? He was always cool. My books are only a small contribution. The concept of reinterpreting and modernising myths has been around for centuries. It will be arrogant of me to think that I made him cool.

So Indian mythology has scope for stories and superheroes?

My books are based on Indian mythology and my ideas too. I have enough ideas to keep writing for the next 20 years. We have 33 crore gods, which is more than enough!

What do you think is your contribution as a writer?

Honestly, I don’t think judgements like this can be drawn in four years. You will get to know the impact of a book, a piece of art, a movie only 20-30 years later. I find it funny when even journalists review politicians in six months or five years — it’s too early.

Read the reviews of Jane Austen, for instance. She was called a crappy, useless author writing about la-di-da issues of la-di-da women, while Charles Dicken wrote about more weighty issues. Over the length of time, we have discovered that Jane Austen has been very influential. There are authors who are loved by the critics but today they are nowhere. So it is too early to judge anything.

Is this what kept you going despite your manuscripts being rejected by over 20 publishers?

Yes, of course. In my banking life, I was one of those typical MBA SOBs — hardcore and competitive; used to shout and scream a lot: I did so much work but why did I get only so much bonus; when I got promoted I thought I deserved it should have come much earlier; when I got a cabin I thought I deserved a bigger cabin… I was never happy.

When I was working on the book, I was just doing what I loved. I won’t say the rejections didn’t affect me at all. But after 20 publishers rejected me, I was like ‘Fine! I will self-publish! I don’t care if it flops. My long-suffering family will keep reading.’ I was clear that I was not going to stop. That is actually a wonderful place to be. Success will not distract you. Because success can give you pride, which is one of the worst things to have. It will fill your head and destroy you; Failure can demotivate you — that can also stop you. But if you don’t care about either, then you are unstoppable.

Do you mean to say you face no pressure at all with regards to your next book?

No pressure. Look, I am clear. When I write I don’t care about anybody else. I write for myself. I start thinking about others only once I get into the marketing phase. I write what feels right to me. If it doesn’t succeed — no problem, but if it succeeds — great. When I left my banking job, I left with very good relations with my boss. I told him that if things go bad, I will come back. I am clear about that — if my next book flops, I will go back to my job. If the purpose is to make money, I can be a banker, why write?

Does every author today also have to double up as a marketer?

That’s part of the job. A good book doesn’t sell itself. It’s the same with a good movie, a painting — it’s a fact of life. I can give you a long list of books that should have been bestsellers. They weren’t marketed, so no one had heard of it. If the publisher invests money in your book, it is your duty to make sure that the publisher at least recovers his money. You can have your morals during writing, but once you have finished you need to be a practical, pragmatic person because somebody has invested in your book. The author can state his red lines on what can be done and not. I am very clear, I won’t sell through controversy. If am closely involved I can draw those red lines.

About Amish Tripathi

His Shiva Trilogy — The Immortals of Meluha (2010), The Secret of the Nagas (2011) and The Oath of the Vayuputras (2013) — has sold over two million copies in print with gross retail sales of over Rs. 50 crores, making it the fastest-selling book series in Indian history. His books have been translated into 14 Indian and international languages. Forbes magazine has listed Amish among the 100 most influential celebrities in India. Renowned film director Shekhar Kapur described him as ‘India’s first literary popstar’. Amish is a graduate of IIM-Calcutta and worked for 14 years in the financial services industry before turning to full-time writing. He lives in Mumbai with his wife Preeti and son Neel.

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