July 05, 2019

COOKIES, CREAM AND STORYTELLING

Amish Tripathi is a best-selling author who has launched his fifth book, and that is only the tip of the iceberg of the man behind the books

WORDS: ANINDA SARDAR
PHOTOGRAPHY: GAURAV S THOMBRE
HAIR MARLIN MORIS MAKEUP: SANKET BORKAR
ENSEMBLE: DEEPAK SHAH FOR MORE MISCHIEF

MARCH 2010. A MAN ARRIVES FROM A PLACE unknown and completely changes the course of history. Amish Tripathi arrived on the scene with no known literary antecedents and blew readers away with a mindboggling retelling of mythical tales of Lord Shiva. He recast the ancient god as a mortal who arrived from the mountains around what we now know as Tibet and transformed our country. His debut book titled ‘Immortals of Meluha’, the first of the Shiva Trilogy, went on to sell 1,00,000 copies. For a man who took on the onerous task of creating a mortal out of a god and succeeded spectacularly, Amish is refreshingly unassuming and surprisingly approachable. Not to forget, shockingly practical and grounded for someone who is a literary superstar.

Believe it or not, we bond over… wait for it… cream biscuits. Much to the chagrin of the missus, I have a mild addiction to cream biscuits. Apart from the fact that cream biscuits taste a hell of a lot better than plain biscuits, they remind me of my childhood when I would steal them out of grandma’s tin. And that is where I discover the common ground that lies between Amish and me. “I munch on them when I write. I don’t know why but cream biscuits inspire me. Not because of their taste but because they serve as a link to my childhood days,” he says with an impish grin. In a flash the usual veneer of formality that accompanies all interviews is replaced with the ease of a casual conversation.

Green t-shirt with golden zipper `8,000; black jeans Amish's own; Micheal Kors watch `20,495

The next 20 minutes is spent discussing various cream biscuits, packaging from the old days, biscuits that are no longer sold and biscuits that you get abroad but not here. Not yet, anyway. By the time we are done, I have a very clear idea of what would be a good birthday gift for him. But where did it all start for the man who had trained to be a business professional and was heading the marketing department of one of India’s most prominent banks?

“It was actually meant to be a philosophy that revolved around Shiva and the definition of evil itself. But my family said that rather than write it like an academic discourse, I should explore the idea of creating a story, while at the same time exploring the questions that I would have posed in these,” he says. “The idea of writing a story actually came from my sister and my twin brother.” It really was an experiment at the beginning that became the start of what would eventually see the bored banker become a happy author who has just released his fifth book titled ‘Sita, Warrior of Mithila’ and is writing his first non-fiction work.

But what leads a man born in this digital age to go back to the borders of pre-history to craft his stories? A self-confessed voracious reader, Amish’s tryst with mythology goes back to the days of his childhood. “Stories tend to appear in an area where you have knowledge and thanks to my background I have a fairly good knowledge of mythology,” says the man who grew up in a middle class Brahmin household listening to myths of the old gods and was introduced to Hindu scriptures and mythology quite early on. “Besides, mythologies communicate stories beautifully and India is a country where mythology isn’t a subject of anthropological or historical debate but also lived and breathed every day,” he adds, his eyes twinkling.

Mythology, especially its retelling where gods are relegated to become mortals be it Lord Shiva in his first trilogy or Ram, however, is risky business in an increasingly intolerant India. Our great nation, once known for its tolerance and acceptance of all things supposedly foreign, is now quick to take offence at anything that doesn’t toe the conventional or accepted line. Yet, not a single controversy surrounds the man with that old typewriter, posing for Gaurav at the India Photo Studios in Mumbai. It strikes me as odd and I make a mental note of asking him about it.

Blue-black panelled shirt `5,000; black trousers `7,500; Seiko watch `14,950

Asking anyone about controversies they might rake up isn’t the easiest thing on the planet for you never know how they will react to your questions. It goes surprisingly smoothly with the down-to-earth Amish. It’s almost as if literary stardom hasn’t touched his ego at all, forget inflating it. “I have never faced any controversy till date with any of my books. If you approach any subject, however controversial, with love and respect then chances are it will be accepted well. In any case respect for different truths is the Indian way,” he says with a conviction in the Indian way that seems out of place and somewhat impractical in the turbulent times we live in.

"I NEVER FACED ANY CONTROVERSY WITH ANY OF MY BOOKS. IF YOU APPROACH A SUBJECT WITH LOVE AND RESPECT THEN IT WILL BE ACCEPTED WELL"

But it is pragmatism that defines the man behind the author. Asked about how it must have been going from a stable banker to the uncertainties of authorship, he laughs. “I only resigned from my job after my second book when my royalty cheques became bigger than my salary. After all a man has bills to pay, does he not?” His take on his past life of a banker is also typically pragmatic and without any signs of regret. It was a means of earning money, a job that paid the rent, the bills and his son’s school fees. “It wasn’t particularly exciting, but then again I didn’t expect it to be,” he says, almost dismissively.

Peach mandarin collar shirt `6,000; cream military jacket `25,000; blue jeans Amish's own; Micheal Kors watch `20,495

The next thing that happens takes me completely by surprise. My colleague, friend and singer Sandra decides to play DJ and puts on Queen’s We Are The Champions. As if on cue, Amish starts humming. Turns out he was the lead singer for his college band back in his IIM Calcutta days. Here again we find common ground. He likes Abba, so do I. He likes Queen, so do I. It is quite amazing how easy life suddenly becomes when you strike a chord with the person you’re interviewing. We again get sidetracked from his life as an author and digress into an alternative world where we talk rock bands, college fests and in the time honoured traditions of two people from an earlier time, generally reject new age music as rubbish. There are exceptions of course and we both agree that Harry Styles isn’t so bad. We are new fans of Harry, his introduction having happened through his eight-year-old son, mine having happened thanks to my 10-year-old daughter. Another common ground.

Back to work, I ask him about his choice of mythology for his second series of which his latest release is a part. Why Ramayana? Doesn’t the Mahabharata offer a greater variety of characters, a deeper complexity of plotlines where several seemingly parallel themes seem to merge to become the epic that we know of today? “If you really delve deep into the story of the Ramayana, you will realise that the variety of characters is as much in this epic as there are in the other one. And as a tale it is no less interesting or captivating than the Mahabharata,” he tells me.

"THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS TO PROTECT YOUR OWN TIME. IT IS VERY EASY TO GET DISTRACTED INTO DOING OTHER THINGS"

His easy going nature and the freely flowing conversation would almost lead one to believe that there are no real challenges that Amish has to battle. That isn’t true of course and the usual challenges of any individual in Mumbai plagues Amish too but the one that he chooses to highlight is unique and unexpected. “Once you start doing well as an author, the biggest challenge is to protect your own time. It is very easy to get distracted into doing other things,” he says. As a result, you will never find him on any newspaper’s society pages. The only time he agrees for interviews and promotions is when he has just launched a book and he mostly agrees to them out of a sense of duty. “It is my responsibility to my publisher to make sure that I do everything to make the book sell. After all he deserves returns on the investment he has made in my writing abilities,” he says. Typically Amish. There’s always a twist in the tale.

Blue-black panelled shirt `5,000; black trousers `7,500; blue waistcoat `10,500; Seiko watch `14,950

Speaking of twists in his tales, he tells me that absolutely nothing has been planned in his books. His writing is instinctive and the flow is either natural or not there at all. “I am an instinctive writer. I don’t plan my stories at all. They just flow. Sometimes I get an end without a beginning or a middle in my head. Then the task is to logically reach that end but all of it has to come to me naturally. It cannot be contrived,” he says.

There is more casual conversation between proper interview-esque questions and I discover a common love for history, especially war history. The latter also explains the lucidity and accuracy with which he is able to describe action sequences in his books, right from his debut book. The day is spent talking to each other in a manner that is less an interview and more a casual banter. All too soon we realise he has to leave. We exchange numbers, pose for a few group photos and then it is time to say goodbye but we don’t. Amish never does things you expect him to. Instead, he gives a hug and says, “Until next time.” It catches me by pleasant surprise for I hadn’t really realised that through the day our casual acquaintance had grown into something more akin to an easy camaraderie. I smile. Indeed, Amish Tripathi is a fascinating man. No less fascinating than his books.

Accessories: (watches) CT Pundole & Sons, Pune Eyewear: Lawrence & Mayo Stylists: Mitalee Deshpande & Pooja Shah (for More Mischief) Typewriter courtesy: Lovell Prabhu Shoot coordination: MD Production Assistants: Shourya Jain, Sandra Edmonds, Sudhir Gavhane Behind the Scenes Photography: Vishnu G Haarinath Fashion Direction: Corina B Manuel

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