|“Right and left is a French approach. Using a right and left distinction in India in my mind is the stupidest thing,”
By Shruti Bakshi
Shruti Bakshi talks to Amish Tripathi, sharing her personal thoughts and experience followed by a transcript of the full conversation.
If someone had told me a year ago that I would one day be interviewing India’s “first literary pop-star” (a label by film maker Shekhar Kapur), I would have thought it a nice joke. The reaction may seem justified in light of the fact that a year ago, I could mostly be found immersed in financial spreadsheets and legal documents in a cozy office on a chic Parisian street overlooking the grand La Madeleine.
But following an eventful year of many life changes, I now find myself sitting in a swanky meeting room in Lower Parel in Mumbai on a bright and humid September morning, waiting expectantly for bestselling celebrity author Amish Tripathi to arrive. The author of the wildly popular Shiva Trilogy and the latest Ram Chandra series has been named among the 100 most influential Indians by Forbes magazine for many years.
In my personal experience, Amish’s books evoke a rather unusual emotion. As a reader, I fully expect a bestseller to pull me into the story; I expect to be engrossed, thrilled and generally taken on an enjoyable ride. But I do not expect to feel this one emotion that creeps up on reading Amish’s books – gratitude. Gratitude for pulling out the characters and Gods from ancient Indian texts into modern minds and making them so relatable; for paying homage to India’s great past.
Amish’s treatment of his subject is one marked by genuine humility and earnestness – if there is flair, it is not the flair of an artist (carrying that faint smell of egotism), but it is the muted flair ofbhakti. For instance, in his latest fiction work, Sita, the Warrior of Mithila, the portrayal of an independent and bold Sita Ma has reverential undertones; a delicate handling rounds off the edges of the strong character he has painted of the Mother Goddess. Indeed, his first ground-breaking novel, the Immortals of Meluha (called “archetypal and stirring” by Deepak Chopra) could only have been written by an ardent devotee of Shiva – for it takes a devotee to turn a man into the Divine (or more precisely, a Tibetan immigrant into Lord Shiva, as in the book). Amish’s devotion to Lord Shiva, coursing subtly through the Shiva Trilogy or expressed openly in some of his articles and speeches, touches the soul, especially for someone who shares it.
Despite being acutely aware that I have no idea how to interview a celebrity, I feel fairly relaxed. There’s three reasons for this. The first is the fact that through my research on Amish Tripathi, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn about the many similarities we share. We’re both alumni of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, both went on to get MBAs and then work in financial services and are both passionate about sharing India’s ancient wisdom in a relatable way (although, as I later tell him, my small efforts cannot be compared with his, which remark he good-naturedly brushed off). The second reason is the venue of our meeting, which is similar to countless meeting rooms I’ve been in over the course of my financial career. Had the venue been an author’s writing den or something similarly literary, I would have been nervous. But the familiar sight of business journals, neat notepads and sharpened pencils is comforting.
The third reason is Amish’s remarkably genuine, down-to-earth and friendly disposition, especially for someone with six bestsellers and 4 million copies of sales under his belt. Moreover, his business-like and fast-talking manner is familiar to me from my banking days and puts me right at ease. Amish is not your usual head-in-the-clouds author. He has a practical, no-nonsense air about him that makes it clear that he’s not just interested in philosophising or showing-off his vast knowledge about ancient India – he is interested in workable and applicable wisdom and in finding solutions to the issues facing the country. Yet he speaks from his heart and his patriotism and positive outlook for the country shines through unmistakably. At a time of cantankerous debates on social and mainstream media, Amish is more interested in finding common ground, stressing the need for a spirit of enquiry and reinstating the true liberalism that was one of the hallmarks of ancient India.
As luck would have it, Amish’s latest book Immortal India was released just a couple of weeks ago and proved to be a great preparation guide for interviewing him. A collection of his various articles and speeches over the years, the book gave me a thorough and clear insight into Amish’s thoughts and ideas on many of the pressing social and political issues in India in current times. It’s not often one finds oneself agreeing with someone on the variety of topics of ongoing debate in this country and I was surprised to have found myself siding with Amish on nearly every perspective expressed in this short and sweet compendium of, as I call it, “Right thinking. Not ‘left and right’, just right.”
“Right and left is a French approach. Using a right and left distinction in India in my mind is the stupidest thing,” says Amish, “because on many issues, one might find oneself agreeing with the right; on many issues, agreeing with the left. Most of us Indians are that way actually; I think the distinction is more between those who are rooted and those who are over-Westernised. That’s the distinction. Not left and right.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The conversation moves seamlessly between topics ranging from Amish’s writing process to atheism in ancient India, from the meaning of Dharma, to various issues relating to modern-day India be it secularism, religion, jobs or social issues. As we wrap up our conversation over last sips of green tea (Amish) and coffee (me), I request him to autograph a couple of his books that I’ve brought along, which he kindly agrees to do.
After spending almost an hour with Amish, I understand what sets him apart from other writers of our time. He is unusually clear-headed, keen to make a positive difference and has his finger on the pulse of the nation. A great writer is admired for the quality of his ideas and the way he communicates them but also for his ability to articulate on behalf of a mass of people. In that sense, Amish speaks for the Indian masses through his books and speeches. The masses that want to be able to cherish their rich culture and past more fully and that want India’s future to be shaped by the universal Dharmic values and ideals evolved on this land over so many millennia. For them, Amish seems to say just the right things, almost like reading their minds.
I wonder if Amish really might be a mind reader as later in the taxi, I open my signed copy of Sita, Warrior of Mithila, to read his autograph. I smile as I read it. Under the kind personalised message are words that were on my own mind and almost at the tip of my lips as we ended our conversation (perhaps a subliminal communication between two Shiva devotees): “Om Namah Shivaaya”