The Literary Pop Star

Amish, popularly known as the first pop star of Indian literature, is back with Raavan: Enemy of the Aryavarta. In a freewheeling chat with Vinayak Surya Swami, he opens up about mythological narratives

One of India’s bestselling authors, Amish’s latest book Raavan: Enemy of the Aryavarta, is the third in the Ram Chandra series and his sixth overall. In a candid conversation, he talks about the perils of writing with parallel narratives and his personal approach to writing a mythological fiction.

In the foreword of Raavan you mention that it took you more time to finish the book than originally anticipated. Was it because of research or the creative process as a whole?

The delay was not particularly due to the research because when I am not writing, I devote all my time to it. Either I read all I can or travel as far as I can in search of information. Personally, I was going through a difficult phase. And Ravana, too, is quite a dark character who needed to be portrayed holistically. So the process took added effort and extra time.

Ravana, is in fact, mentioned in the Puranas (ancient Hindu texts) too. Our modern interpretation of him, however, is loosely based on the shows that we see on TV and the Amar Chitra Katha books we read – both of which portray a simplistic version of him. Our ancient texts, on the contrary, paint a nuanced picture of him. So when I began writing about him, I wanted my narrative to be closer to the ancient texts.

Was there a similar reason behind changing the title from Raavan: Orphan of the Aryavarta?

As I researched for the first two books in the series – Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku and Sita: Warrior of Mithila – I came to see Ravana as someone who had been rejected by his own land i.e. the Aryavarta. But as I started digging for more information, I realised it was actually the other way round – it was Ravana who rejected his land. He had a very strong personality, so imagining him as helpless didn’t sit right by me. That’s why I changed the title of the book.

In your previous works you haven’t used a multi-linear narrative. What prompted you to change your writing style for the Ram Chandra series?

To write a story with a linear narrative, like the Shiva trilogy, is relatively easy. In a way, it was a traditionally-narrated tale of a hero and several other powerful characters who come into the story and play their part. With the Ram Chandra series, there are three principal characters – Lord Rama, Goddess Sita and Ravana – and all three of them move the story forward, almost simultaneously, until their paths intersect. I am a strong believer of the fact that every story rides on the shoulders of its characters. So, when one knows the characters well, one will definitely understand the story better. This is why I thought that a multi-linear structure would suit my narrative best. But, this narrative was only for the first three books. The fourth will take on a linear narrative as the storylines combine to flow as one.

Considering the narrative you chose to follow in this series is tough, did you hit any roadblocks along the way?

(Smiles) I am never trying this [multilinear narrative] again; it’s too complicated. When you are running three parallel narratives, you have to keep track of all the timelines simultaneously. You have to leave clues in a way that they do not spoil anything for a different storyline. My books usually have a lot of twists and turns and in this particular structure of storytelling, I had to write every twist in a way that a reader does not realise it till the next book. While this is fun for both me and my reader, the process is extremely complex.

How did you manage to remember every incident and event from across three parallel-running storylines?

Thankfully, I am able to retain almost everything in my head! I have tried to structure the different characters and their interactions in a way that they appear relevant from more than one perspective. For example, a conversation between Lord Rama and Goddess Sita will be relevant from Lord Rama’s perspective in Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku and as well as from Goddess Sita’s in Sita: Warrior of Mithila because she would be thinking something completely different from him.

Has there ever been a time where you have been worried that your books might be interpreted differently than how you originally intended? 

One of the most brilliant aspects about us [humans] is that we have been blessed with a brain. God blessed us with one so that we can use it to reason, question and form our own opinions and interpretations. As an author, I strive to just write with a clean heart and a level-headed approach. I can and always do my best to put the story across. After that, it is up to the reader who, according to me, has every right to interpret it differently.

When you fictionalise a mythological narrative, how do you imagine the characters?

Through the years, I have maintained that I am merely a witness and that there is a parallel universe that I receive the privilege to enter, and record what I have seen. I do not have the arrogance of thinking that I am a creator. I am a humble spectator and documenter of the events that I see unravelling in that alternate world.

Is that why you have chosen the genre of mythology and mythological fiction and present it with a spin of your own?

It was a conscious decision. This is actually the subject I have knowledge in. Usually an author will work on a subject he/ she is familiar with and a genre where he/ she has done research, just like mythology is mine. Not only have I studied it extensively but my family’s religious beliefs have allowed me to acquaint myself better with the matter, which is why the stories emerged so naturally. But this does not mean that I am only going to write in this area. Fortunately, I read works of other genres too and hopefully, I’ll be coming out with something different in the future.

You’ve mentioned before that you try and stay away from TV, phone and social media as much as possible. In the age of technology, don’t you feel that this is a little ‘old school’?

Even on my phone or tablet, I have a lot of books and reading material. I might be on them going through an article on a banking phenomenon or just finishing a book. But I try and stay away from social media except when I am launching a book. I realise something about social media – we spend hours scrolling through online feed and watching shows on TV but we seldom register what we see. Social media is good until a point but an excess of it appears to be a waste of time. I absolutely love to read, write and travel, and I try to dedicate as much of my time as possible to these activities. I always tell people that time is the most important commodity and also the one that is most precious, not money. Wealth has a tendency to come and go but time is something that can never be reversed, however hard you try.

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