Excerpts from an interview with author of the book, Raavan Enemy of Aryavarta, Amish Tripathi.
Described as ‘India’s first literary popstar’ by world-renowned film director Shekhar Kapur, Amish’s unique combination of crackling story-telling, religious symbolism and profound philosophies has turned him into an Indian publishing phenomenon, with spiritual guru Deepak Chopra hailing Amish’s books as ‘archetypal and stirring’.
The third book of his Ram Chandra Series, Raavan was released recently. Here are excerpts from an interview:
1. First of all, congratulations on this highly anticipated book of the Ram Chandra Series. What made you write on Raavan?
Thank you so much. Ram Chandra Series has five books. And the first three books are in a multi-linear narrative. Ram Scion of Ikshvaku starts from the birth of Lord Ram till the kidnapping of Lady Sita. Sita Warrior of Mithila starts from the birth of Lady Sita till her kidnapping. And, Raavan Enemy of Aryavarta conveys the tale from Raavan’s birth till the time he kidnaps Lady Sita. Raavan had to be covered in this multi-linear narrative since he is one of the three principal characters driving the narrative of the Ramayan forward. Also, Raavan’s immense talents and obvious negatives make him a fascinating, albeit troubling character to write about.
2. Do you think Raavan’s character is ‘controversial’? Is your Raavan primarily based on Valmiki’s version?
It is controversial only if we look at things from a simplistic, black & white perspective. If one sees it from a nuanced perspective, as our ancestors did, one can see that there is something to be learnt from everyone, including the so-called villain. So my version is closer to the approach of the ancient versions of the Ramayan rather than the modern TV re-tellings.
3. Staying on the version, and in the context of your Ram Chandra Series, how do you decide which version to use?
The Texts essentially work as source material, guidelines, and for inspiration. Armed with those ingredients, I just let the story flow. I genuinely believe that Lord Shiva is the creator of these stories, I am only a channel.
4. Interestingly, famous mathematician S Ramanujan had said that his village Devi comes to him in his dreams and writes all those complex mathematical formulas on his tongue with her finger. Similarly, you just mentioned that Lord Shiva as the creator of these stories helps you write. Can you elaborate?
This is something, as I am sure you will understand, is difficult to explain. If you want a scientific explanation for it, then perhaps one can say that the rational, analytical left-brain is not the only source of knowledge. Intuitive and creative right-brain can also be a source. Our ancient Gurukul system (and indeed ancient education systems around the world), focused on strengthening both the left-brain and the right-brain.
The modern education system (especially the Indian one) is devoted only to building the left-brain. So perhaps we should acknowledge the role of the right-brain as well in knowledge generation and encourage intuitive-thinking. This is a nice scientific explanation that will probably appeal to the modern rational mind.
The explanation that makes sense to me is different. I believe that Lord Shiva is the creator of my stories and I am the channel. And I don’t care if this sounds strange to a few.
5. Since you are talking about the Gurukul and the modern education system, etc., let me ask you this: you have always advocated the study of Indic texts in Indian curriculum. Have you had a chance to look at the government’s New Education Policy? Any comments?
Not yet. I am afraid I have been very busy with editing and now the promotions of Raavan-Enemy of Aryavarta. I hope to look at the New Education Policy when the promotion work for Raavan is over. But I will repeat, we must teach Indic texts in our education system. And I am not just referring to spiritual texts. There is a wealth of knowledge that our ancestors left behind in areas as diverse as Mathematics, Medicine, Navigation, Metallurgy, Astronomy, Water-management, Urban planning, Governance ideas and many others. We must study them all.
6. Noted philosophers Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee claim that the study of India and Indian texts by foreign Indologists was an outcome of Protestant debate over scriptures and overtime, but consciously, Protestant prejudice was injected into the study of India and Indian texts. Keeping that in mind, how do you sift through those biases while working on your characters?
Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee are certainly fine scholars. And I certainly have come to believe that translations and the analyses of our scriptures by many Westerners do carry many errors. Whether that is due to bias or a lack of understanding, is something that is best left to the opinion of scholars. How do I sift through these errors of Western Indologists? Well, the translations of scholars from the British Raj era are not my sources. I read Indian sources, or more often than not, have learnt it the traditional way from my family. My grandfather was a Pandit in Kashi. And my family is deeply religious and steeped in our traditional ways.
7. How much time did you spend researching for Raavan? Can you tell us about some of the texts or other material you used in your research?
I don’t do much besides reading, writing and travelling. I have also learnt a lot from my family. As I always say --- for all my books --- that one way of looking at things is that I have been researching my books for more than 30 years.
8. Why do you think people, especially young people, should know about Raavan? How is Raavan relevant in today’s world?
Our ancient culture saw Raavan, and indeed all life, in nuanced terms. And the belief was that there is something to be learnt from everyone, including those demonized as ‘villains’. But one of the key things we can learn from Raavan is the danger of an out-of-control ego. Even if you are as supremely talented, as Raavan was, if you cannot control your ego, you will become your own worst enemy.
9. Given that you write in English, do you find it difficult to describe certain words, concepts, etc.? How do you overcome those situations?
Yes, sometimes there are problems. I try my best to find an adequate English word in such cases. But in case I am unable to do that, I use the original Sanskrit term and try to explain it in the manuscript.
10. What’s next? What are some other projects are you working on?
A lot of ideas. Work has already begun. But at the same time, I would like to announce that I have started Writers Center wherein I will be hiring writers, give them a brief about my story, they will write the first draft and then I will edit it. A lot of other projects are in the pipeline and I will hopefully make some announcements in the coming months.