In a tete-a-tete with Junglee, Amish, author of bestselling books, The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, talks about dabbling with music in the 90s, Karan Johar’s film adaptation of his book, his myriad sources of inspiration, and most importantly his upcoming book- The Oath of the Vayuputras. Here’s a look at our exclusive interview with Amish.
What inspired you to choose Indian mythology and religion as the basis of your trilogy, and why Shiva in particular?
I know it may sound strange, but I really think the subject chose me. I’d written absolutely no fiction before The Immortals of Meluha... I didn’t even want to be a writer. So, to me, the fact that I’ve written these books is a blessing. And as far as ‘why Lord Shiva’ is concerned, when I started writing this book, it began as a philosophical treatise on the nature of evil. Then, it got converted into an adventure, to convey that philosophy. And if I had to write an adventure to convey that philosophy, then who better to be the hero, than the destroyer of evil himself- Lord Shiva.
Hundreds of thousands of people have read your books, and they each define them differently, how would you describe the books in the trilogy?
If you ask me to summarize, the story is based on a premise: if you believe that Lord Shiva, was a real, historical character, who lived 4000 years ago, and because of the grandeur of his adventures, people started thinking of him as a god. Therefore, this story is a fictional adventure based on a man called Shiva, who lived 4000 years ago. And through this adventure, I’m trying to convey my understanding of Lord Shiva’s philosophy.
Did you ever plan on publishing the trilogy as one single book, or did you always intend to write three separate books?
When I first started writing, I thought only my family members would read the book, I didn’t think it would be published. So, I wasn’t thinking of whether I would publish it as three books or one single book. Having said that, in my mind, they’re not three different books. It’s one continuous story, that has simply been divided into three books, for convenience. Before The Immortals of Meluha was published, I already knew the entire story, right down to the last line of the third book.
Tell us a little about what readers can expect from your third book, The Oath of the Vayuputras.
Anything I tell you might spoil the book for you. But what I can say, is that evil will be taken out of the equation and that there will be a lot of violence. It’s the culmination of a battle against evil, and it definitely won’t be a walk in the park.
Shifting gears slightly, how do you feel about Karan Johar making a film based on your book, will you retain creative control? Is it hard to let go of something you spent years creating?
Karan is going to be producing the film. I think in this case, it boils down to finding a producer you trust; and then going ahead and trusting that person. You can’t make a film through democracy. While it’s a great way to run a country, democracy is not a good way to make a film. I have creative consultancy rights, but I do appreciate that the final decision-maker will be the director of the film.
Will the film be based on all three parts combined, or only The Immortals of Meluha?
If we make a film of all three parts put together, it’ll be a 35 hour long film! Even the first book alone, if translated word for word into a movie, will be a 7 or 8 hour long movie, which is a seriously long film. So they’re definitely going to have to adapt it.
What’re you more excited about, the book or the movie?
Definitely the book, at this point of time. Once the film is close to release, I’m sure I’ll be excited about the film.
Now that the trilogy is complete, what do you plan to write next?
There are various story ideas that I have, and they’re all in the mythology and history space. I haven’t decided which one of them I’ll pick up next. So, let me see where life takes me.
You have an unusual background for an author; being a management professional, how does it feel to be writing, and how has the journey been so far?
It’s been surreal. It’s not just about the management background; throughout my life, throughout my younger years, I never really wanted to be an author. When I was young, I was more of a sports guy. I used to do boxing, gymnastics, cross-country running, those kinds of things. The only creative thing I did then was, be the lead singer of our band at IIM-Calcutta. In my studies, I was academically inclined, and most academically inclined people of my generation chose to study either engineering or science, and never chose arts. So I graduated in Mathematics and then went on to do an MBA. I am a voracious reader, right from my younger years, but I tend to read more non-fiction books. I read books on history and philosophy. So there couldn’t be a worse person than me to write fiction books, and yet, here I am. So… it feels like a strange dream.
It’s fascinating to know that you were part of a band, during your college years. What kinds of music do you like?
This was a college band in the 90s, so we mostly played popular Hindi songs… Kishore Kumar was a huge favourite. In English, we mostly played Rock. I love music, and depending on my mood, I listen to everything from Western Classical to Indian Classical, to pop, to old Hindi songs, to Acid Rock in the 70s, to World music… anything that catches my fancy. Except Rap, because I don’t think that’s music.
What’s the most inspiring or touching compliment you’ve received about your writing?
A compliment I received from a fourteen year old reader; he sent me an email saying he used to think Lord Shiva was his grandmother’s god, but after reading my book, he thinks Lord Shiva is the dude of the Gods. But, while it was very sweet, the way I see it, who am I to make Lord Shiva cool… Lord Shiva was always cool. My books are only a very small contribution to his innate coolness.
Do you find mythology from other countries and cultures interesting as well, could these be the basis for future novels?
Yes it could. I’m especially interested in the mythology of ancient Mesopotamia, the myths of ancient Egypt- of Isis, Horus, Osiris, and Ma’at, the mythology of the Greeks and Romans, ancient Chinese myths. All of these are beautiful, deep, allegorical myths, not just stories. There’s a lot to learn from them. I do have a few ideas, based on ancient Egyptian mythology, some on the mythology of Anatolia (Eastern Turkey), I might not write on all of them, it all depends on how these ideas grow and progress.
The success of the Shiva trilogy has led to a huge increase in interest in Indian mythological fiction, are there any other authors in this genre that you enjoy reading?
There is no question of a revival because our myths never died out in the first place. It’s only in English language publishing that there’s been an increased popularity of the genre. In regional languages, it was always popular. English language publishing was a little cut off from the real India, so there appears to be a ‘revival’ in the mythological genre. Mythology has been a part of our culture, for thousands of years; it’s a part of our genes. My books are simply a continuation of a really rich tradition.
There are many authors, in this genre, who are far superior to me. Mrityunjaya by Shivaji Sawant, which is a Marathi book, Mahasamr from U.P, Parva by S.L.Byrappa- a Kannada book, are brilliant. I also like reading David Frawley and Diana Eck, who are western authors in this genre.
What book are you reading right now?
I tend to read 2-3 books simultaneously. Currently, I’m reading Shahnameh by R.K.Karanjia and Dipavali Debroy’s Padma Puran.
When you aren’t busy writing, what do you like doing?
I love reading, travelling, spending time with my family, listening to music. What else is there to life?
Has travel ever inspired your writing?
Of course. When you travel, you have to immerse yourself in the local culture… you eat local food, mix with the local people, listen to the local music… everything you see and learn, is stored away somewhere in the back of your mind, and emerges when needed. For instance, in The Secret of the Nagas, the description of the gates of Branga, was inspired by the system that was followed by the Greek Corinthians, to transport ships. You never know what information leads to what inspiration. The way I see it, every place you see, and every person you meet, is an opportunity to be inspired.
Any advice to aspiring authors?
Few people are lucky enough to be able to make a living out of writing, so I’d advise you to have another job. Secondly, if you have a job on the side, you don’t have to compromise on your writing, right? Because you aren’t writing to pay the bills at the end of the month.
When you write, write from your heart. Don’t care about what editors, publishers, critics, or even readers, might think. Once you’ve written the book, you’ll have to figure how to market it. So at that time, you should be pragmatic. But you shouldn’t compromise on the book itself. It has to be written with a pure heart.
To pre-order your copy from sellers, visit: The Oath of the Vayuputras page on Junglee