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The importance of being Amish

Amish is one of the most unusual writers around these days in India. That’s not just because he actually supports himself by writing books though that is unusual enough.

Amish is interesting because he is a genuinely Indian writer writing in English. The fountainhead of his inspiration is entirely Indian even though the language is English. Salman Rushdie also took English and reverse-colonised it, making it his own. But Amish does not care about the language in that way. It is clearly a means to an end.

 The importance of being Amish

Amish. Ibnlive

When Sita has a cat fight with Surpanakha she says “That pipsqueak Lankan stuffed this in my mouth as she pushed me into the river.” The language is not even the sort of Hinglish that’s the lingua franca of IIT-India that some of his peers have cultivated. Amish is not interested in transmutation or a new vocabulary that sounds desi not New Yorker. He is just making it relatable.

In an interview he admitted frankly “A well-formed sentence doesn’t give me a high.” We can argue whether Amish’s ideas actually deserve language that is less utilitarian and whether he sells himself short by not providing that. But Amish himself is not in the least bit bothered or defensive.

That’s what’s unusual about Amish. He is a writer who bears the self-importance of being a writer quite lightly. While all writers want their books to sell, few are as upfront about it. Amish openly talks about his marketing strategies from a music album to a trailer to giving away chapters free at a bookstore. We all know a good book does not sell itself but we all like to pretend otherwise. Amish does not. And he makes that categorically clear with candour and humility. It’s not even the fake humility that Indians are very good at while promoting themselves. As he explained in an interview with Rediff, his humility is actually “selfish”. He says he showed no signs of being a writer while growing up. He believes the Shiva books are a “blessing from Shiva” and worries that “the moment I start thinking 'Oh it is my brilliance etc' the blessings will stop.”

But what is most unusual about Amish is that in a country where taking offence is seen as a birthright he has been able to re-imagine the stories of Gods and remained largely outside controversy. There are the occasional critics who balk at the chillum-dragging Shiva who revels in the “munificence" of marijuana but they are few and far between. More dangerously Amish puts forth the idea that Gods are not born Gods, they achieve Godliness or have Godliness thrust upon them. The scientist Brahaspati tells Shiva “If there is anything that appears like a miracle, the only explanation is that a scientific reason for it has not been discovered as yet.” In a country where we are prone to react violently to any hint, imagined or otherwise, of diminution of our divine figures that can be playing with fire. Perhaps what saves Amish is his gaze which might be questioning but is never mocking. He wears his faith openly.

Yet at the same time his take on religion is very different from the intolerance we see practiced both in the name of a meat ban and in the name of protesting a meat ban. While saying violence or threat is “completely unacceptable”, he also says "I am a religious person so I like it when religion is respected. But I will not question the right of someone to disrespect religion if he chooses to. That is his choice."

Amish’s books are not just popular in India but also among the Indian diaspora abroad who find in him Hinduism and philosophy packaged in adventure that their children can relate to. But there’s a temptation to read into Amish a story of a glorious and perfect Hindu past where chariots flew, Sita kicked butt and plastic surgery was routine. That would however be missing one very important aspect. Amish has the questions but not the readily packaged answers. In the Scion of Ikshvaku, Ram Chandra has long conversations about a masculine empire which revolves around a strong purposeful leader and a feminine empire which is more about consensus. However the book says nothing about the superiority of one form over the other. It says instead these empires, and the need for them, go in cycles.

As Sandipan Deb points out in Mint what Amish is saying is this "And what if even the men who would be revered as gods were unsure about what is Right, what is Wrong? In Amish’s world, Shiva is wracked by guilt, doubt, and ethical uncertainty."

In a world where AadarshLiberals and AadarshBhakts both think they know for sure what is Good and what is Evil, that "ethical uncertainty" is as precious as the Somras the Meluhans drink. Amish’s books quietly suggest that in the end neither Good nor Evil can come as readily marked the way a Neelkanth does. Sometimes you need at least a trilogy to figure out what’s what.

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Updated Date: Sep 15, 2015 14:06:13 IST

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