It was a pleasure to interview Amish Tripathi, the author of 'The Immortals of Meluha' (reviewed here), who seems to have aced the art of story telling and captivating the attention of the readers right from page one of his first book. The second book of the trilogy - 'The Secret of Nagas' is already in the bookstores.
'The Immortals of Meluha' is among the shortlisted books for Vodafone Crossword Awards 2010.
- How did the plot originate? Was it an iterative process? Was it inspired by any particular thought - the Hindu trinity or the current state of affairs in our country and the whole world at large?
It all began as a pure philosophical discussion while I was watching a TV program with my family. In the program it was shown that in ancient Persia, Gods were known as Ahuras and Demons were called Daevas, contrary to what Indian mythology is based on. Obviously, if the ancient Persians and the ancient Indians had met, they may have called each other evil, because one person's God was another person's Demon.
While having a discussion over this topic, the first obvious question arose - 'Who is right?' - Both? Neither? The answer is neither is evil. Its just that the thinking is different. Which then led to other questions - 'What is evil?' and 'How to identify the evil?' This triggered the idea to write on the philosophy of evil. But later, following the suggestions of my brother and sister-in-law, I transformed the philosophical writing into an adventure, a thriller. The hope was that along with an engaging story, I may be able to better communicate the philosophy as compared to a pure philosophy treatise which may be boring for many.
While writing, there were instances when I felt that it was going nowhere but a timely sane advice by my wife - 'Don’t approach it with the arrogance of a creator but with the humility of a witness' brought peace in my mind and I started experiencing the story coming to me rather that me searching for it. I could feel the blessing of Lord Shiva while progressing on this journey.
- What all research went into this project?
For the historical parts, I did not specifically read any book. But I have been a voracious reader throughout my life,so another way of looking at it is that I have been doing the research for the past 25 years. I love to read history books, even the ones which people find very dull and drab.
For the mythology and religious parts, I learnt mostly from my family. My grandfather was a pundit and a teacher in BHU, my parents are very religious people. My family has always encouraged very liberal perspective on issues - religious or non religious. The interesting discussions and debates in my family educated me a lot about religion and the logic and reasons behind many beliefs.
- What prompted you to pick Shiva and not any other God? What was it about Shiva that influenced you to make this choice?
I see it as Lord Shiva picking me rather than the other way round. I wanted to write on the theory of evil and who better to be the hero than the destroyer of evil Himself - the Mahadev, Lord Shiva.
- There are many instances in the book when the readers experience the 'Wow!' feeling and personally for me one of those was - Har Har Mahadev episode. I am sure you must have received great appreciation for this particular part. Could you please share your experience of writing that scene? Did it invoke the similar kind of euphoric feeling when you were penning it down?
Thank you! I was searching for a good war speech, something that could convey the philosophy of Lord Shiva and at the same time, be rousing. Nothing apt was coming to my mind. One day while taking a shower, the Har Har Mahadev idea occurred to me and I actually started crying. I came out and immediately wrote it down. And this part was not written sequentially in the book when it actually happened. The idea just came to me and I wrote it down and I knew this conveyed the essential message of Lord Shiva - Har Har Mahadev - Har ek mein Mahadev - All of us are Mahadevs.
- The second book of this trilogy is already in the market and I have read some very nice reviews of the book. Which of these two has been more fulfilling and satisfying experience for you and why? In your opinion were there any lacunae in the first book which you tried to improve in the second?
For me - both the books were satisfying. It is essentially one story and just for the convenience of the readers, it has been separated into three parts. The books are not independent by themselves. But I hope I have improved in the second book.
I have no qualms in accepting that the portions which are satisfying for readers are the ones which are blessed by Lord Shiva and the ones which are not upto the mark are due to my inability to do justice to that blessing. So I hope I have been able to overcome some of my shortfalls, which would make the second book, perhaps, a better experience for readers.
- Some people have natural flare for writing, in your opinion how much of this skill is acquired and how much is it a derivative of the basic nature of an individual? (I love to ask this question to the authors and enjoy varied takes on this aspect)
I believe that every skill can be learnt. But there are two parts to it:
The 'What' part - the idea/philosophy that you want to convey. This is not in the hands of the author. He doesn't control it. It's a blessing. Some authors call it the product of their muse, some call it the generosity of a superior force. In my case, I call it the blessing of Lord Shiva.
The 'How' part - which can be learnt, the words, the phrases and the language that are used to give form to the 'what' part. The mode of conveying the idea can certainly be polished and refined. This is certainly in the hands of the author and regular practice will help him improve.
I think, specifically for fiction writing, no author can be so arrogant to claim that everything is a result of his genius/creativity. Because if that were so, we wouldn't have cases of writer's block.
- Who does Amish want to be recognized and remembered as - an accomplished author, a mythologist, a historian or any other title?
As a Shiva bhakt and a good family man. That is the core of who I am. I am lucky to have a good family and should do all to keep them happy. Everything else is secondary.
- What was your reaction when you came to know that your first book is among the shortlisted books for Vodafone Crossword Awards 2010. Which is your favourite book among the competitors?
It is nice to have a book shortlisted for the Crossword awards. I am quite happy. Personally, I really liked Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi and Connect the Dots by Rashmi Bansal.
- What next after trilogy?
I have many ideas. I want to write on Lord Rudra, Lord Manu, version of Ramayana, version of Mahabharata, on Akbar, on Egyptian mythology, on Anatolia.
I enjoyed reading Banker's version of Ramayana. He has gone to the source and has narrated it with modern perspective in an engaging manner. Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik is an interesting commentary on Mahabharata.