Amish: Humility of a Witness
Amish Tripathi was born October 18, 1974 in Mumbai, India. He grew up in the eastern part of the country and went to boarding school in Tamil Nadu, in Southern India, before returning to Mumbai for high school and college. He got his MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and worked in finance for 15 years.
Amish writes in English, and began self-publishing his Shiva trilogy in India in 2010. It is published by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. Book one, The Immortals of Meluha, appeared in the UK in early 2013, followed later that year by The Secret of the Nagas, with The Oath of the Vayuputras forthcoming in June 2014.
He met his wife Preethi as a teenager and they married in 1999. They have one young son.
Excerpts from the interview:
‘‘My books began as a pure philosophical thesis, nine or ten years ago. My family and I were watching a TV program. We discovered something very interesting. In the ancient Indian pantheon, which exists today as well, Indian gods are called devas and demons are called asuras. What we discovered in this TV program was that in the ancient versions of the religion, the gods were called asuras and demons were called devas. The exact opposite! Which started a very interesting debate in our family. If the ancient versions and the modern versions met, they’d probably call each other evil, because my god is your demon, and your god is my demon, so they must be evil. Who’d be right? The obvious answer is neither – they’re just two different ways of life. If neither of them is evil, what is evil? Is evil something bigger? Is evil something beyond this?”
‘‘I don’t think of them as three separate books. It’s one continuous story broken into three books for convenience. Before the first book was released I had the entire story clear in my mind.
‘‘For me, it’s a mix of fiction and history. Some of the historical interpretations aren’t the official ones, like the Aryan invasion theory, which in India, at least, the official historians still believe. The theory is that the Vedic people were descendants of central Asians who conquered India three and a half thousand years ago and forced the original inhabitants to move down south. These central Asian leaders became the Vedic Aryans. Many Western historians have started junking the Aryan invasion theory. They say there isn’t enough evidence to back that idea. Migrations happen all the time, but the Vedic civilization was an indigenous culture. These things are being backed by genetic researchers – if there was a massive invasion of central Asians three and a half thousand years ago, then the gene pool should have shown an infusion of central Asian genes or gene mutations. When the Aryan invasion theory first came up two hundred years ago, there was no genetic research. The research today is a pretty serious blow to the Aryan invasion theory. In India this historical discussion is heavily politicized. The left-wing guys back the Aryan invasion theory, and the right-wing guys question the Aryan invasion theory. You cannot have a rational discussion in India on this topic. If people would just look at the facts!”
‘‘My book was rejected by every publisher I sent it to. One publisher explained in very clear terms why the book had no hope. He said that it’s on a religious topic, and the youth are not interested in religion, so I’d alienated that market segment. They don’t want someone talking down to them. (I don’t think it’s a religious book, I think it’s an adventure book. It just happens to be based on Shiva, a religious figure.) The assumption was that young readers wouldn’t be interested, because religious books weren’t selling at that time in India. The second thing was that I have a different take on religion, not in line with the official version, which means the older religious people wouldn’t be interested. The third thing is that I insisted on writing in modern Indian English, which means the literary elite in India wouldn’t be interested. They like British-style writers, they’re still stuck in that era, and they don’t want modern prose. Basically I’d alienated every single reader segment. I told him, ‘I didn’t do market research, I just wrote the book.’
‘‘So I’m self-published. …”
‘‘I don’t use my surname, Tripathi, on the cover of my books. It’s a caste surname, and I’m against the caste system. I have to use it for legal purposes, obviously, but on my books I don’t use it. The way the caste system exists today is not the way it was originally supposed to be. Today it’s based on birth, which is wrong. Originally it was a hierarchy based on karma, on merit.”
‘‘Book three has now been released in India. I have various other book ideas, all based on mythology and history, some Indian, some based on Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Turkish history. I have enough ideas to keep myself busy for the next 20 years. I only resigned from my finance job after my second book. (I couldn’t tell my kid to starve because Daddy was discovering himself.) I resigned only when I realized I could meet my responsibilities with writing. Hopefully it won’t happen, but if my next book flops, I can always go back to banking. But I’ll continue writing. Even if the only people reading my books are my family, I’ll continue writing. I love it. I was 29 or 30 years old when I started writing. You are never too old to chase a new dream. I always believe that.”