'Raavan. Fathered by one of the most illustrious sages of the time. Blessed with talents beyond all by the gods. Cursed by fate to be tested to the extremes.'
This description on author Amish Tripathi’s book cover sums up what Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta is. After releasing two books in the five-part Ram Chandra Series — Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku and Sita: Warrior of Mithila — Amish’s 374- pager is about the most complex mythological character. An apparent villain like no other — Raavan.
Amish calls Raavan “scholarly in violence. He is extremely talented, a good administrator and a very good warrior. He studies the person he kills. Blood does not repulse him. If he had the right mentorship and made the right choices, he would have been a very great man, no doubt,” says the author.
A day after launching his book in the city, Amish sits down with TNIE at a café in Hyatt Regency. He was happy to welcome this fangirling journalist into his world of storytelling. Excerpts follow.
At the beginning of your book and in many interviews, you have apologised profusely to your fans for publishing Raavan a bit too late. You also mentioned that you weren’t in a proper headspace personally. Did your state of mind affect the way Raavan was conceived?
The mood of my personal life went into the book. I was in a very dark place, and Raavan is also a very dark character and it sort of became a cycle as such. My dark mood went into the book and the book’s dark mood went into me. Most artists will tell that the work that we do impacts us. So yes, it did have an impact on me and I am glad it’s over.
Was it always in the pipeline to focus on the three main characters separately before merging them into a book?
Yes. This was structured from the beginning itself. There were clues hidden in the first two books, which finally reveal itself in the third. But, you don’t realise it. By the time you come to the fourth book, you have understood all the three main characters on whose shoulders the story rides, deeply. Therefore you will understand the fourth and fifth book more deeply. Having said that, the multilinear narrative for the first three books, was a good idea, but I will never do it again as it is too complicated for a writer.
You gave Ram and Sita different characteristics, but Raavan continues to be complex? Why?
It is the way Raavan is. If you think about it, all three of them suffer. Fate is unfair to all three of them. One of the philosophies in ancient India is that there’s a price to be paid for success or doing big karma. But fate will hurt you because that’s the way of universe balancing itself. And all three of them have big karma, they don’t lead small lives. What makes them different is how they react to suffering. Sita ma’s reaction is that of determination to fight, Lord Ram’s is that of honour and dignity…the more he suffers the more honourable he will behave. Raavan’s reaction is anger, hatred…the world is hurting me, so I will burn the world. This at once fascinates and troubles the reader. He makes his situations worse by his actions.
Would you agree if I say that all the characters are pawns of two main characters of the book — Vishwamitra and Vashishta?
Maybe. Vishwamitra and Vashishta are not selfish. They live very simple austere lives. They are patriotic and committed to society. They have different concepts between each other as to what is good for society. One can’t doubt their intention, but they also have a very toxic enmity — it is also described in the Vedic texts. Are the differences because of their enmity or is it philosophical differences? We will discover in the next books.
Can we expect Raavan to be a more somber character in the forthcoming books?
I am not going to spoil the fourth book for you. But let me say that the end of this book is an opportunity for him to relook at his life.
You have explored Greek and African characters in this book. Are you tapping into other mythologies as well?
Yes. I have story ideas in mind for the mythologies of other nations as well. I want to write about them too. My biggest problem is I have too many story ideas and too little time (laughs).
What’s your process when you blend in other mythologies?
I don’t have a process. I keep researching, but not for the book. I research because I like knowledge. I absorb as much as I can. How it comes together into the book is all Lord Shiva’s blessings.
You tend to mix other mythologies as well. For example, in the swayamvar scene, Ram is tasked with looking into the water to hit the eye of the fish. Doesn’t it bother you that you are not staying true to one epic?
I am just interpreting it. What is the original truth? Many modern Indians believe there is Lakshmanrekha in the Ramayana, but it is not there in Valmiki Ramayana or Kamba Ramayana. The latter is a far more devotional take on Lord Ram, whereas Valmiki Ramayan sees Lord Ram suffering as a human. So, interpretations happen. As long as one does it with respect, and does not lose core philosophies it is okay. The only reason I wrote the swayamvar scene the way I did was because Ram was a devout Lord Shiva worshipper. To me, it didn’t make sense that a devotee would break the symbol of the god (the bow). So, I went with my interpretation.
You explain the concept of Sabarimala in the book. Sita…had references of Jallikattu. Do daily occurrences play a role in framing a book?
Sometimes it comes in. If I feel strongly about an issue and a perspective needs to be presented, which has maybe not been understood, I bring it in. I included the Jallikattu scene in Sita because many outside Tamil Nadu are not aware of the tradition. Maybe there are contests where animals are not treated well. But in Jallikattu, the human gets injured. Similarly, with Sabarimala, I look at it as a path of sanyas. It is not a gender issue. This temple has male monkhood traditions, like there are other temples which are for female monkhood traditions. I am not saying that we have to follow all the traditions, but throwing everything out is also not right. I think we as a society can reform and look at traditions in a fresh light. We have religiosity and traditionalism joined together. I wanted to use this opportunity to present the point of view.
You collaborated with Terribly Tiny Tales on Instagram to talk about the book. How was the experience?
I am on all social media platforms, but I am not a social person. Only during book launches, I become social. I just like to read, write and travel. My agency makes training videos on how to use Instagram. They even taught me how to put up a story. I am 44, I need help sometimes.
What kind of a reader are you?
I am a voracious reader and I primarily read non-fiction.
Do you follow the work of your peers?
Yes. I often meet Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik and Anand Neelakandan, and we discuss a lot. But, if I am writing on a particular subject then at that time I don’t read their books.
If you had to explore one mythical character in a book, it would be...
I believe that if you have one favourite writer, you have not read anything. In the recent past, I read Vada by Radha Vallabh Tripathi. It is a fabulous book on our knowledge system and debating traditions.
Another genre to explore
There is a story idea which is set in modern-day and uses gaming. I might write that too.
Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh and Blood Island by Deep Halder