After the Shiva trilogy, it’s now Lord Ram’s turn. Amish Tripathi who made the ash-smeared, blue coloured God of the snowy mountains human and humane, has now turned his sights on Ram. Titled Scion of Ishvaku, the cover of the first book in the new series was released last week depicting a distraught Ram shooting at Raavan’s Pushpak Vimaan which is fleeing with his wife Sita in it.
The Shiva series crossed 2.2 million copies in print, and gross retail sales of over Rs 60 crores, making it the fastest-selling book series in Indian publishing history, says Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO Westland Ltd., who will be publishing the Ram series too.
Tripathi spoke with Firstpost on the new series, his career as an author and what he sees himself doing in the next 25 years.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us something about the new series and how many books will there be this time?
It is a new series on Lord Ram. The first book will be released on 22 June, 2015. The book is my interpretation of the tale of Lord Ram. If you read all my books in the series and what I will be writing for the next 20-25 years, you will notice that there is a common theme running through them. My writings cover a span of 9,000 years – the time of the Vedic race, its creation, culture and subsequent destruction 3,500 years ago. All of us are lost descendants of the Vedic people.
The Shiva trilogy series covered 1900 BC while the Ramchandra series will look at 3,400 BC. If you read the Shiva trilogy, you would know – if you are an aficionado – that I have left clues in the books for the Ramchandra series. I am not sure how many books will come out in this series. Probably, five. I have several ideas for many books. Maybe I will write 30 books over a 30-40 year period. Who knows?
Do you have to extensively research into familiar subjects such as gods and goddesses that are closely linked with Indian life?
While writing a book I do not do any research as it distracts me from the writing process. The research is done when I am not writing. I read 4-8 books a month. Did I do any specific research for Lord Ram for the series? No. I already knew much of the stories on the subject. I am fortunate to have been born into a family where my grandfather was a Sanskrit scholar and a pandit in Benares. My parents are very religious.
My knowledge of theology and religion come from them. I grew up with most of the stories I write about. It has helped that I have been a voracious reader since I was young. My favourite area of reading has been books that were never part of the school syllabus and dry subjects like archaeology, history, science, politics, economics and philosophy. Fiction makes up for only 10-15 percent of my reading.
How do you decide on a topic for a book?
I don’t select my subjects. I believe they are decided by fate. I just go with the flow. When my publisher and I signed the contract for a new series, I did not know then what I would be writing about and the publishers were aware of that. At a Literature Festival in Mumbai, a reader asked me why we use the word `Lord’ for Ram. And she went on to say some very rude things about Lord Ram. That upset me enough to write an article explaining why I respect Lord Ram, while readily accepting that what he did with Sita Ma was unfair. And I also decided that day that I will write my next book series on Lord Ram. I worked for over a year and a half for the Ramchandra series. It took a long time. The entire series is downloaded in my head. In my mind, it's just one continuous long story. The breaking into books comes much later.
In your books, the gods come to life. Do you believe they exist?
Yes, I believe Lord Shiva and Lord Ram exist. My parents and elders too believe it and I grew up in such an atmosphere. If you ask me to prove my belief, I would not be able to do that. But that does not shake my belief. I am only telling you my point of view. I'm not forcing it on you. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my books are all fiction. They are not academic re-tellings of stories. There are many stories that Indians know of and have been retold to in many ways.
For instance, most people believe in the Lakshman Rekha in Ramayan. But this concept does not find a mention in Valmiki’s Ramayan, the original Ramayan. Tulsidas’s Ramcharita Manas makes a mention of this incident. The widespread belief in this incident was also on account of the 1980s popular TV serial Ramayan, for which the source material was primarily the Ramcharita Manas. So each writer interprets or gives his imaginative angle to a popular story. This has been a rich and ancient tradition in India.
What do you set out to do while writing books on gods?
All my books are driven by some questions. In the Shiva trilogy, it was: What is evil? In the Ram Chandra series, it is: What makes for an ideal society? What are the choices you need to make to build a good society?
Tell us about your writing process.
I graduated in Maths. I was certainly not a creative guy. Before I wrote the Shiva trilogy, I did read self-help books on writing and that process did not work at all. What works for me is writing instinctively. I don’t control my thoughts; I just let them flow when I write. I go to bed early and am an early riser. I wake up around 5.30-6 am, read a few newspapers, exercise, do my puja and then start writing at 9 am. Some days the words really flow, but some days they don't. On those days I accept that and shut my laptop!
What is your favourite genre?
I read non-fiction. I read a lot to be able to pin it down to one all-time favourite writer or book. If I were to look at a relatively short period of say the last 3-4 months, I have liked Waking Up, a book by the new age atheist Sam Harris. He is a militant atheist and yet presents a surprisingly balanced and scientific view on meditation and mindfulness. He also draws upon Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. Two other books I have liked in the last few months are by Dr B R Ambedkar – Pakistan or The Partition of India; Who were the Shudras? Dr Ambedkar has, through the sheer depth of analysis, touched upon these two subjects in a remarkable way. He was by far the finest thinker of all our founding fathers. I strongly recommend that everyone should read Dr Ambedkar’s books.
Are there books you go back to again? Are there many you have left half-read?
I try not to go back to a book I have finished. The only book I read twice was Scarlet Pimpernel (by Emma Orczy) and that was when I was in school. There are books that I have not been able to read through. There are several such. But I give each book 50-100 pages and if I find that it does not measure up, I leave it.
Updated Date: Sep 10, 2015 16:59:04 IST