Best-selling author Amish dropped by at the InUth office for a Facebook Live session. He is on a promotion spree for his upcoming book Sita – Warrior of Mithila. Amish is the author of the fastest-selling book series in Indian publishing history, The Shiva Trilogy, and his last book, Scion of Ikshvaku, the first of the Ramchandra series, was the fastest selling book of 2015.
Read the full transcription of the interview, here:
Somi: So where Sita -Warrior of Mithila take off from Scion of Ikshvaku?
Amish: Firstly, thank you for getting the pronunciation of Ikshvaku right. Many people get that wrong. Ikshvaku, by the way, means the one who speaks sweetly, so it’s a very lovely name.
Somi: So, what is the origin of the word?
Amish: Lord Ikshvaku was the founder of the dynasty of which Lord Ram was a king, a descendent much later. Hence, Scion of Ikshvaku – noble descendant of Ikshvaku. In the Ram Chandra series, I am experimenting with a different narrative style. It’s called a multi-linear narrative. So, it has different backstories of different characters coming to a common incident so that you understand the story a lot deeper. It’s a bit like Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Roshomon’, the Japanese movie.
The first book Scion of Ikshvaku was from the birth of Lord Ram till the kidnapping of Sita. The second book, Sita – Warrior of Mithila is from the birth of Sita until her kidnapping and the third book is the birth of Ravana till the kidnapping of Sita and the fourth book onwards is a common narrative onwards fourth and fifth. So it’s slightly complex but I think my readers like it complex.
Somi: So how is your Sita going to be different from one we know from our TV serials?
Amish: Actually, the version of the Ramayana that most modern urban Indians know about is from the 1980’s television serial. It has impacted all the versions of the Ramayana that we see till now over the last 40 years. It was made by Ramanand Sagar Ji. It was largely based on the Ramcharitmanas written by Sant Tulsidas Ji which was a 16th-century adaptation of the original Valmiki Ramayana. So, even our impression of Sita Maa is driven largely by the 1980’s television serial. If you look at the ancient versions, the Valmiki Ramayana for example, she’s a far stronger character in that version. She is a woman who knows her mind and who will do what she thinks is right. There’s another version of the Ramayana called ‘Adbhuta Ramayana’ in which there are two Ravanas and the main Ravana, the elder Ravana was not killed by Lord Ram but was killed by Sita when she took a form of Maha Kali. There’s another version of Ramayana called the ‘Gond Ramayani’ where she was a warrior. I am inspired by that version. So in my book, she’s a warrior.
Somi: Is this book going to be a fictional take on these different versions of Ramayana you spoke about?
Amish: I never claim my books are the truth, only lord Shiva knows the truth. I always say it is my respectful interpretation of stories and of culture that I am very very proud of. So, I try and present it in a modern way, relatable to today’s day.
Somi: You deviate a lot from the popular narrative. Like, Ram, perhaps in your last book, was somebody who was not very liked by his father.
Amish: And he suffered …
Somi: Yeah, he suffered and also Manthra is a rich businesswoman in Ayodhya. So, you deviate from what is popularly known. We are living in a very sensitive time. So, any kind of deviation or creative independence is not seen in a very healthy way. You saw how Padmavati was attacked, so how are you able to pull off these kinds of deviations?
Amish: The way I see it is almost 90-95% of the time I have seen controversies that emerge often they are done by the artist themselves or when someone makes a mountain out of a molehill. There are issues which may not be genuine because controversy aids publicity which aids sales. There are 5% cases where sometimes genuine controversies emerge I admit that, and I think as long as you write with respect, even if they don’t like it, they will sense that it has been written with respect. And I think it’s obvious in my books. For someone who doesn’t like my books, I am sure they will agree that it has been written with respect. I genuinely worship the Gods I write on.
Somi: Why did you choose to launch the title of your book with the Union Minister Smriti Irani?
Amish: For this event why Smriti Irani Ji specifically? All the events that I’ll do for my books or for this specific book Sita – Warrior of Mithila, all the chief guests that I am going to call are self-made women. Women who have made it on their own and not because they have the support of a well-connected family or parents or whoever. This is because the story of Sita – Warrior of Mithila itself is that of an adopted child who rises to become a warrior prime minister and then become a goddess. It takes a tremendous strength of character to rise this way. And, definitely, Smriti Irani is a self-made woman, someone who has made it on her own.
Somi: We will take a question from our reader, Avinash Sharma. He wants to know if Vedic people oppose cow slaughter?
Amish: I know there are people who claim that apparently, the Vedic people eat beef but I have not come across any such things, at least in all my readings. And it’s clear that cows are respected in an ancient way but meat eating was there. That is there in the text, not beef but other types of meat yes they did eat. In today’s context I feel, we have to make democratic choices on what people should do and I am a believer in live and let live.
Somi: Another question from the same reader. How different is the status of present society as compared to Sita in ancient times?
Amish: We need to learn a lot from our ancestors on how women were treated and today sadly their status is not as good. In ancient times it was very different, in ancient times women were given respect. In ancient times, we had women rulers, women traders, we have women rishikas – women rishis. There are hymns and Vedas written by women rishis. Rishis are sort of the equivalent of prophets and messiahs of the Abrahamic phase. So, it’s like having a woman prophet and that is the kind of culture India had. Show me any other culture which had women prophets those days.
Somi: Yeah but those stories are not in the mainstream.
Amish: Because we don’t teach anything of our ancient culture in our education system, which is why people don’t know. If we teach all this, liberalism would automatically get engendered. Regrettably, our establishment and our liberal elite in the last 70 years have not realized that our ancient culture is actually our biggest ally. They haven’t realized it because many of them have not read any of the text. It is easier to have an impact on a liberal issue when we say that it is actually a part of our ancient culture rather than saying this is coming from a western school of thought. So even fighting against the caste system, for example, all I have to do is to point out our ancient example. Who is the original writer of the Ramayana?
Amish: So was he born a Brahmin? No. Ved Vyas who wrote Mahabharat, I’m sure is a title, his original name was Krishna Dwaipayana and he was born to a fisherwoman. There’s another example – Satyakama Jabali Ji who was a maharishi and was the composer of the ‘Jabali Upanishad’. He was the officiating priest of Lord Ram. Officiating priest is one who actually does your yajna, it’s a very senior post and he was born to a single Shudra mother. He did not even know what his father’s name was and nobody can. So should we quote these examples?
Somi: Absolutely. We should quote these examples.
Amish: So just put is a part of our education system.
Somi: But Amish all these examples would not undo centuries of caste-based injustice inflicted on a certain section of people?
Amish: I am not denying that. We must accept the injustices that happened in the last few centuries and us as a society has fallen from our ancient standards and we need to rise again. I am a highly patriotic person but it does not mean we become blind to areas that need to be improved.
Somi: But one must also under that the representatives of Hindu culture, people who have taken it upon themselves to protect Hinduism are not liberal. They are constantly talking about some great inventions we made in the past. Also, the way they talk and approach issues are quite threatening. There is a little bit of otherisation in it?
Amish: How I would approach this is that the solution is for the centrist to actually bring our culture out. The solution is actually as simple as that. And because I am not a part of left-wing extremist or the right-wing extremism, the vast majority of India, we are centrist and we should bring our culture out. I always say that. Actually, just let people read our ancient texts that are it. The solution will be found.
Somi: And how do we do that?
Amish: Sadly, we don’t teach our text, we don’t teach our language because to learn the ancient text you need to know the language. You need to know Sanskrit and you need to know classical Tamil and you need to know classical Telegu. So then, they should be translated by Indians then or they could be westerners but who are alive to the Indian way, who approach it from a position of like I said, love. And they must be made available to everyone.
Somi: There is another question from our reader that do you find traces of homosexuality in Ramayana and Mahabharata period? If yes, then what was the society’s perception of them?
Amish: I am not aware of any of the major characters but one side story that was there is the story of Ila, for example, lady Ila. It’s an ancient story. Our country in ancient times was called ‘Ila Varata’ it is named after her. She was the daughter of Vaivasvata Manu and she was the founder of the Chandravanshi clan and she later changed into a man and had children as a man too. So these things do exist and like I said in India there was an approach of liberalism and of live and let live. We even had an atheist in ancient India, among the nine major schools of Indian philosophy one was clearly an atheist. Charvaka was an atheist, the Sankhyas, and the Mimansas, by the modern definition were atheist because they believed in the Vedas but they didn’t believe in God. So by the modern definition, they were atheist and no one attacked them and there was no violence against them. There were debates of course. But there was an attitude of ‘live and let live’ which is liberalism.
Somi: Another question from Mayank Mohanti that can you shed light on the technology that the vayuputras in your books used to communicate with each other?
Amish: That is based on the radio wave technology in thoughts of the modern day. So I can’t say that there is evidence of that in history. Having said that, because we spoke earlier of claims of invention etc, there were actually some things that we did invent but when we have an absence of knowledge. So the Pythagoras theorem was actually discovered in India before Pythagoras did, it was discovered by Baudhayana Ji, so many of these things have to be taught, they have to be brought out.
Somi: There is another question from one of your readers. You write somewhere in your book, “There is your truth, there is my truth and as for the universal truth, it doesn’t exist”. So, his question is what is to be believed by the man who doesn’t hold an opinion. I think what he wants to ask is if it is possible to have an opinion or know the truth without actually being influenced by someone you have actually read or followed. So in that sense, truth always gets vitiated, no?
Amish: Truth gets vitiated only by attachment. If we think that my truth is the truth and your truth is wrong, there is a problem. But if you accept that actually everyone has a right to their own truth because truth itself is influenced by the attitude of the observer and if you accept that then actually it becomes much easier. This is genuine liberalism. As it is written in the Rig Veda, “Truth is one but the wise men speak it as many”.
Somi: So what about empathy? I don’t know if we are deviating from the subject but what about empathy? If we are going to say that my truth is my truth and your truths are your truth and sort of agree to disagree, where does empathy come into play? Where is the compassion for another person’s truth?
Amish: Empathy is coming from your position on truth. Empathy can change when your interpretation of truth changes. It’s a fine thought. Just think this over but empathy comes from you realising that actually god exists within all of us, which was the ancient approach, not just in India but the ancient approach across the world, at least most of the world. So in ancient India, Brahman was the divine force which was there in everything, in all human beings and in all plants and trees, in the river. Everything had a divine force within them. Empathy comes naturally. You empathize because you see god in another person. You know the root of the word Namaste is? It means I bow to the god within you. That’s the root of it.
Somi: Could you explain our readers the difference between mythology and religion? There is a reason I am asking you to do so.
Amish: The problem is the limitation of the English language. First of all, mythology shouldn’t be confused with the Hindi word Mithya as the root of the word mythology is a Greek word called Mythos. The Hindi word Mithya means untruth. The Greek word ‘Mithos’ means something which hides the truth. So mythology is a story that hides the truth. We never use the term mythology in India. We call it ‘Pura Katha’ or ‘Pauranic Katha’ which is old tales. So we should approach mythology from that perspective of mythos. That it’s a story and the purpose of which is to teach you some philosophies. That’s the way to approach it.
Somi: And religion?
Amish: Which you can apply to your life. Religion, of course, the root of the word religion is again a Latin word I think it’s called Religa which means something that binds. So if you approach religion as something which you bind to the divine it’s positive but you approach it as my religion is true, your religion is wrong, then it’s attachment, it’s ego, then it becomes negative.
Somi: We do have that approach that my religion is superior to yours. The reason I wanted you to explain this to the viewers is often religion and mythology meet at a crossroad. Lord Rama, who is a mythological character is also a religious hero for the saffron brigade. They are fighting for the cause of making a home for Ram and his right to stay in a disputed structure. And because mythologies are stories, we do not know how factual it is. But in religion, we are ready to kill each other. So somewhere there are contradictions.
Amish: Again fighting for religion comes from ego when you say my religion is superior to another religion. Except for Mathematics, no subject can claim to have a hold on one truth. This includes history. So we have to have the humility to accept all points of view.
Somi: We’ll take one last question is there near possibility of your novels that it may be adapted into a super Bollywood flick?
Amish: Yes there is and you will see an announcement in a month or two.
Somi: Oh that’s great news so on that note we’ll end the conversation. Thanks a lot
Amish: Thank you. My pleasure.