Think of the words Karma and Shiva and I bet the next image in your mind would be of a really old chap on Aastha channel giving an excruciatingly slow and boring lecture to really old people (who surprisingly seem to be listening to him intently). The word adventure does not really seem right sitting next to those two. But (fortunately) thats changing.... With the advent of books like The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi. We talk to the author and find out a little more about him and the book.
The Immortals of Meluha is the first installment of the Shiva trilogy. The book is set in 1900 BC in what we call as the Indus Valley Civilisation. According to the book, the inhabitants of that period called it the land of Meluha. Meluha is supposed to be a near perfect empire created many centuries ago by Lord Ram! Check out this neat trailer to get an idea what the book is all about..
I was very intrigued when I saw the book in a store and picked it up. The concept is classy and something I haven't read before. The language - easy and the kind I can relate to. Although I can never imagine people of that time saying 'Bloody hell' like a Brit. But then, I also cannot imagine Lord Shiva defending the habit of smoking up!
Anyways, I was impressed enough to want to talk the author, Amish, and learn more about him and book. There was one thing I really wanted to know. Like mega really! How the 'bloody hell' did he come up with the idea?
"It began during a conversation between my family and me. We were watching TV together and there was an interesting historical programme being broadcast. We all know that for ancient Indians, Gods were called Devas and Demons were called Asuras. What we don't know is that for ancient Persians, Gods were called Ahuras and demons are called Daevas - the exact opposite of the ancient Indians. This triggered an interesting conversation. Maybe if the ancient Indians and the ancient Persians met, they would probably be calling each other evil - because one person's god was the other person's demon. Now both the groups cannot be right can they? So who is evil? Both the groups? Neither? But what can't be denied is that evil does exist. It rises again and again. And it has to be destroyed. So I started writing a philosophy book on it. Then my brother and sis-in-law gave me some good advice that readers will be more interested in a grand adventure where the philosophy happens to come across with it rather than a pure philosophy book. And hence I started writing the present novel with a hero whose journey conveys the philosophies I want to talk about. And since the story is about the destruction of evil, who better to be the hero than the destroyer of evil himself, Lord Shiva!" - was Amish's detailed response. And thank god he didn't go the philosophy book way!
About his childhood, Amish, tells me that he spent it in three places - Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai. Coming from a close knit family that includes ("mom, dad, and four of us siblings, including a twin brother who is 12 minutes elder to me"), he believes his up bringing was pretty liberal with respect to religion. Amish loved to read, "I would read the newspapers my dad would get, loads of books, comics, even the paper that the bread came wrapped in.. I was a little obsessive!" (Even I like reading, but that's a bit too much :P )
Surprisingly, earlier he wasn't much into writing, "I was more of a sports person as a kid, and took part in gymnastics, boxing, athletics etc. The only creative thing I did was that I used to sing: I sang for our IIM-C band when I studied there... everyone thought my poems were terrible! Only my wife liked them. But she is too sweet a person and likes anything that I do!"
Anyways, it would be pretty obvious that to write such a book one would need sound knowledge about the subjects involved. "I got the idea around 5 years back. But it took time for the story to develop.", was Amish's reply when I asked him how much time he spent on the R&D process, "In fact, another way of looking at it is that I have been researching this book for the last 25 years! Because I have always been deeply interested in history and have been a voracious reader all my life.". Amish swears by Graham Hancock’s Underworld. Other sources of information were his Grandfather (teacher and a Pandit) and the Amar Chitra Katha Series!
In keeping with the current trend of Indian authors educated in the most awesome colleges, Amish is a product of IIM (Kolkata). Which means he must be having a pretty profitable day job! "It takes a lot of time to write a book. And a job in insurance also keeps one really busy. So one has to find time. I would normally write on the back-seat of my car on the commutes to work and back. This was one place where the slow traffic of Mumbai helped!"
His job keeps him very busy, he has got a book to finish... and yet he takes time out to interact with his fans on Facebook! When I asked him about that, he said, "Well I enjoy interacting with people who have liked the book. And Facebook allows that with frightening efficiency!". This interaction also leads to greater amount of feedback and sometimes harsh criticism. Everybody seems to love the concept but there are a certain sections among the readers who are not particularly fond of his writing skills and can be quite vocal about it. Amish says, "Well, I say ‘thank you for your feedback’ to all the people who try to improve me with their criticism. I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I need to take feedback honestly and sincerely to keep improving. But if the point is specifically on the modernity of the language, I don’t intend to change that. Language is a means to an end. The end in the case of a fiction book is to tell a story. If the language makes it easy, then the language is doing its job. If the language is too difficult and ends up making the story slow, then it is not doing its job. And the best way to make the language easy is to use words that people use every day, not trip them up with some classical words for which they would have to rush to the dictionary". Point made :)
Amish is currently working on the second installment of the Shiva Trilogy. ETA for that is a little less than a year. Thats the part I hate the most, waiting for the next book in a series :(
Traditionally in such 'interviews' the interview-ed is asked to give a parting message. And that is exactly what I did.....
"If I have to repeat a message that is inherent in The Immortals of Meluha, I would say that we should judge ourselves and each other only by our karma, our deeds. We should ignore caste, religion, sex, background or anything else that a person may have just been born into. It’s only when we forget the background that is an accident of birth and focus on our karma will we achieve our true potential as individuals and as a country. What will make India a great world power once again is not our heritage or history, but our actions today."