‘Indian Epics are Timeless’

Stories have the power to keep culture alive, believes author Amish Tripathi

For some time now, I have been thinking about the timelessness of Indian epics, and how they are still as alive as they were when they were first written. Ours is a living culture that has survived through millennia, even as other ancient cultures have faded into the pages of history.

In China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang wiped out all Chinese culture that existed before him because he wanted history to begin with his rule. Ancient Egyptian stories are located firmly in a past that no longer exists. How is it, then, that Indian culture and its stories have remained alive?

One lazy analysis can be that our stories are better. I am extremely proud of our culture and how deeply philosophical it is, like the cultures of the Greeks and the Romans. I have studied many of the latter’s texts too, and they are beautiful.

The more I have reflected on the subject, the more I have been drawn to one conclusion – in India, when times change, our stories change too. The philosophical core remains intact – the soul is never lost – but the wrapping around it changes and the story is revived for a new generation.

MYTHOLOGY MASALA

I feel mythological stories are somewhat equivalent to masala romance and tragedy to drama and war. Most importantly, however, unlike masala movies, mythological stories have philosophy too. Philosophy, in fact, lies at the core of mythology – the story is simply a wrapper to convey certain philosophical principles. In some ways, when you’re writing a mythological story, you’re also writing a romance novel, an action thriller, a philosophical text, a historical novel – all of them together, within one genre.

THE SENSE OF AN ENDING

The purpose of a philosophical text is not to give you answers but to trigger questions. In the traditional Indian storytelling style, you weren’t supposed to get a sense of conclusion at the end of a story. You were supposed to derive your own conclusion.

If a story gives you a sense of conclusion, you are much more likely to tuck it away in the recesses of your mind and forget about it. If you’re in doubt, you keep thinking and eventually begin to ask questions. This is something I relearnt through the ending of the Shiva trilogy (my first book series). The question on my mind after it was – is there a reason for the emotion of anger to exist?

CHARACTER AND LINEARITY

A story is essentially a vehicle on the shoulders of the characters. The deeper you understand the characters, the deeper you understand the story itself, and that’s the point of a multi-linear narrative – to give you a better understanding of each character, where they come from and why they do what they do. This, in turn, helps you understand the central conflict in the story. The idea is to cover the journey of different characters, and what is critical in a multilinear narrative is to pivot the story around a seminal event where all of them collide. In the case of the Ramayana, this would be the Sita apaharan. Hence, that is the main incident to pivot my current book series – the Ramchandra series – around, because all three lives change after it.

PEOPLE MATTER

People are of immense interest to me, as a writer as well as an individual. I feel that every person I meet has something to teach me, and that I should do my best to listen and learn. I read a lot and travel a lot (on holidays – I don’t like travelling for work!) and whenever my family and I are travelling, we like to travel as locals and not in a bubble where we’re only doing our kind of things and eating our type of food.

Whenever you travel, eat local food, meet local people, understand the local language and immerse yourself in the local culture. It is the best way to learn and grow. My grandfather had once told me that the moment you think you have nothing left to learn, is the moment of your intellectual demise.

– As told to Nandini D Tripathy

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