Bursting upon the scene in 2010, Amish Tripathi has reimagined the traditional mythology of India. Starting with the Shiva Trilogy, he has created a time warp of sorts, where traditional heroes and heroines of ancient India are placed in today’s milieu. A worm hole into the annals of history if you will. And in doing so, he has garnered a huge readership eager to reacquaint themselves with a modern narrative of an ancient heritage.
With the Ram Chandra series, he enthralls his readers by recreating the Ramayana while placing it in the present day. Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku was the first book and Sita: Warrior of Mithila is the second, equally compelling sequel.
Art Forum SF, an organization that strives to project art forms from South Asia, will host Amish Tripathi in the Bay Area in a few weeks. India Currents is the media sponsor. Meet the writer on Sunday, February 4th, 2018 at 11 a.m., India Community Center, Los Coches Street, Milpitas.
Amish Tripathi (AT) had an engaging conversation with India Currents writer Pavani Kaushik (PK). Here are some excerpts.
PK: After the Shiva Trilogy and The Scion of Ikshvaku, it has been a big bonus to pick up this new book about Sita to redesign her in my mind. It is fascinating to see her portrayed this way. In a sense, it is a form of vindication for many modern women.
AT: Thank you! For most modern Indians the image of Sita has been formed by a television serial from the 1980s. But there are many versions of Sita, where she is a very strong character. In the Adbhuta Ramayan, she was the one who killed Raavan. And that is an ancient version.
PK: The popular culture version is what we grew up with. We have Devis and historical precedences in figures such as Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, and Kittur Rani Chennamma from Karnataka. We celebrate them, even deify them. But we are very happy relegating them to history. For some reason we have trouble accepting present-day examples of the Nirbhayas and Sitas who reside amongst us. Why do you think it is such a problem?
AT: One of the biggest problems in modern India is that in many ways we are actually cut off from our ancient culture. I have said repeatedly that it is a misfortune that our liberals have not realized that our ancient culture is actually our biggest ally! They have no knowledge of our texts and vast literature. What they have read is from a Western perspective. In my opinion, our education system teaches next to nothing about our heritage and culture. When we change this, we will aid the cause of true liberalism. By that I mean—basic respect; respect for women and transgender people, respect for meritocracy, and respect for the freedom of expression. These tenets were part of our ancient culture. When we use our own heroes to make this point, the impact will be far greater than to look elsewhere for examples.
PK: Your remark about modern liberals brings to mind a scene in your book where Queen Sunaina lectures Sita, who has had a rude awakening when on an adventure, she confronts desperation in people less privileged for the first time. Would you like to give Sunaina’s message to us?
AT: Queen Sunaina says “Be a liberal, but do not be a stupid liberal.” Liberalism is the Indian way—it has always been so. Sometimes, there is an assumption that anyone from a “victim” community is always good and anyone from a “perpetrator” community is always bad. This is also a bias.
PK: As mother to a little girl who is just getting out of her princess phase, your version of Sita holds a very strong appeal. Without trivializing what she represents, I would say that she is Supergirl minus her cape. Before we introduce these mythic characters to our children, it is time we reacquainted ourselves by erasing old models and by keeping an open mind so we can experience fresh, new versions.
AT: Completely agree. We have to read our original texts which hold a wealth of wisdom. I am not saying everything about ancient India was perfect. No society or individual is perfect. But the best part of ancient India is the belief that “Nothing and No one is beyond questioning.” This was considered to be the heart of a civilized society. In the Vedic era in Sanskrit for example–there is no translation for the word “blasphemy.” The concept did not exist and the word did not as well. No one was beyond questioning, not even God. Neither was there the concept of a permanent Heaven or Hell. What happened in your life was the result of your actions—karma. Everything was in your hands. God was more of an archetype, a model to learn from.