It’s been a whirlwind, absolutely packed visit to Bengaluru for Amish Tripathi, bestselling author of the Shiva Trilogy and the Ram Chandra Series that have sold about 3.5 million copies. His latest book, Sita: Warrior of Mithila, the second in the Ram Chandra Series, hit the stands in May.
A non-linear addition to the Ram Chandra Series, Sita: Warrior of Mithila, overturns the prevailing conceptions about the Ramayana’s female protagonist just as much as it sidesteps the traditional feminist narrative. The story doesn’t attempt to see things from the point of view of a woman craving representation; it deals instead with her evolution as a human being of character: a woman of unremarkable birth who went on to become queen at a time when blood meant everything. “She was an adopted child who went on to rule the land. In a royal family, where blood is everything, it takes immense strength of character to achieve all she has. Sita’s story at the pinnacle of her strength needed to be explored,” said Tripathi.
Attempting to thrill his readers as always, the second novel is a non-sequitur addition to the Ram Chandra Series – “It’s a different story, I started it from scratch,” Tripathi announces mischievously. “Unlike the earlier series, this is a multi-linear plot; Sita is one of the main characters in the Ramayana and it’s only fitting that we talk about her journey,” he adds. The first book, Scion of Ikshvaku talks about Ram’s childhood, his apprenticeship followed by the politics that led to his exile and stops at the abduction of his wife Sita.
Still, it would be reductive to call this a tale told from Sita’s point of view, Tripathi adds. “This is the story of a crusader who wins against all odds. The story traces the beginnings of the adopted offspring of King Janak of Mithila and the ups and downs she goes through as she transforms from an orphan girl to a sword-wielding warrior, breaking barriers to become a supreme force in the land.
With recent block buster releases like Wonder Woman and Tripathi’s own book, both of which show women as more than pretty sidekicks, are we finally progressing? “Absolutely!” exclaims Tripathi, who identifies himself as a feminist. “Let’s look at the Ramayana in particular – our idea of it is based on the television series and its portrayal through the Amar Chitra Katha. These scripts were written in the ‘60s and reflect the society of those times.” Ancient original texts, Tripathi says, breaking politically dominant notions in one fell swoop, “always had empowered women. We seem to have forgotten that. It’s resurfacing once more, though.” Racism and colour divides had no place in the Vedas, Tripathi explains, referring to the portrayal of asuras as ‘dark-skinned’ demons and Devas as ‘fair-skinned Gods’. “There were colours on both sides,” he says, amused. “In fact, the Yajur Veda describes Shiva, who is believed to be a dark, Dravidian God, as being fair-skinned!”
All of Tripathi’s books so far have been based on Hindu mythology, often confused with modern-day, Hindutva-infused politics. To unfamiliar eyes, he may be seen as a right-wing supporter. He laughs and shakes his head, “I’m firmly at the centre. I think we need conversations in a democracy instead of nonsensical shouting. I support LGBTQIA rights, I am all for equality in terms of caste, gender, race and religion and I am proud to be an Indian, but if something is wrong in my motherland and needs to be expressed, I will do so. Remaining blind to our flaws won’t bring us any closer to development.”
Tripathi will be launching a collective of his essays and speeches in August later this year. “It will revolve around the Freedom of Speech in the country, about issues that I feel strongly for, like women’s rights and homophobia among other things. If you believe in it strongly, you must be willing to fight for it.”
The next book in the Ram Chandra Series, Raavan: Orphan of Aryavarta will hit bookstores in 2018. “This one will have the nuances of Raavan’s life that we don’t hear about; the musician in him, the scientist in him and the ego in him, completely out of control that led to his downfall” he says, “and as usual, I will leave clues like I always do for what is to happen in book four, see if you can figure it out!” he grins.
Title: Sita: Warrior of Mithila
Author: Amish Tripathi
Publisher: Westland Press