BENGALURU: When one talks about Indian mythological fiction, one has to talk about Amish.
The 44-year-old writer from Mumbai has written the famous Shiva trilogy and the Ram Chandra series. With a nuanced take on religion and myth, Amish has recently released Raavan –Enemy of Aryavarta, the third book in the Ram Chandra series. Excerpts from an interview:
What was the trigger for writing the Ram Chandra series?
Once the Shiva Trilogy was over, I wasn’t sure what I’m going to write next. Then there was an incident where someone spoke to me about Lord Ram in a disrespectful way, which upset me.
That day I decided my next series is on lord Ram, which would be my interpretation of Lord Ram and Sita ma’s story. This was towards the beginning of 2014 and I started writing back then.
The novel was initially named Raavan – Orphan of Aryavarta. What motivated you to change it?
When I had written Ram – A Sign of Ikshavaku, Sita – Warrior of Mithila, the title of the third book, in my mind, was Raavan – Orphan of Aryavarta, because at that time the story till then gave me the impression that Raavan had been rejected by his own birth land, by Aryavarta.
So in that sense, he was an orphan. But as I started writing more of the book, I realised that it was the other way around, Raavan rejected his own land.
An orphan makes him sound like a bechaara, whereas he actually had agency. It was his decision. So therefore I thought Raavan – Enemy of Aryavarta perhaps describes the story a lot better.
What perception are you hoping people will have towards Raavan post reading the book?
The key thing is that in modern-day, the image we have of Raavan has been drawn largely from some television serials, and we have a very simplistic take on him.
Many see him as a villian with no redeeming features, just a violent, brutal man. The ancient versions of Ramayana have a far more nuanced take on him.
His negative points are not denied and I’m not trying to do that either in my book. His violence and lack of control over his temper are shown in the book.
But his strengths, his qualities are also shown. That he was a brilliant musician, he was a good warrior, a scholar, that he was a good administrator.
Those things are also shown, that he was a deep and complex man, not just a thug. Let’s see what the readers take out of it.
How has the mythological fiction genre evolved in India?
Stories about gods and goddesses comprise Puranic Katha and these never went out of fashion. They were always the most popular genre.
I don’t think Indians will ever tire of listening to the stories of our gods and goddesses. A vast majority of us are deeply rooted in our culture.
The tradition of reinterpreting our ancient stories from different perspectives was a rich tradition in ancient India and right up to the medieval era.
That is the tradition that has now been revived. There is the concept of taking the core and soul of our old stories, of our ancient stories and adding something new.
Have you ever been inspired by books in regional languages?
I’ve read various interpretations of ancient stories and they teach you different perspectives.
One gets influenced by all of them. I always say if you have been influenced by one or two books, you haven’t read enough. You must be influenced by at least 500 books.
Do you have a set writing process?
I just need two things while I’m writing: Music and cream biscuits. I eat a lot of cream biscuits we used to get when we were kids.
So orange cream and mango works as key. I might be writing a tragic scene but it really gets me in the mood.
Have you ever faced writer’s block? How did you deal with it?
Yes, last year, during a personal tragedy. There was a particular song that got me out of it. While watching TV with my brother, a song came on.
After using Shazam to find out the name, I downloaded the song and went for a walk that evening. I usually listen to a playlist but that day, I just heard that song on loop.
I walked for over an hour listening to that song again and again. Next thing I knew, I was crying continuously. I was able to write again after that.
Have you ever faced any difficulties in getting published?
Yes, when I approached publishers in 2008 or 2009, they told me my book was on a religious subject, which would not interest the main market, i.e. the youth.
They called my book a guaranteed failure. Every publisher rejected The Immortals of Meluha so I had to go ahead with self-publishing.