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Amish Tripathi's secrets to literary success: 'A good team, good advisers and good lawyers'

The Indian author is about to publish his next book, and explains that a bestseller is about good marketing as much as it is about eloquent prose

Amish Tripathi was a banker before he became a successful author. Courtesy Satya Gaud
Amish Tripathi was a banker before he became a successful author. Courtesy Satya Gaud

There is something to be said about the nature of a true calling, that thing so elusive for many mortals who trudge through the eccentricities of everyday life without a purpose.

Indian writer Amish Tripathi, whose cult hit, the Shiva Trilogy, made history as the fastest-selling book series in Indian publishing, believes his success is owed to writing being his calling, buoyed by savvy marketing and negotiation.

The secret to his success

One could draw several parallels between Tripathi and J K Rowling – both were rejected by numerous publishers because no one would read the kind of books they wrote, which eventually shattered records around the world – although Tripathi had a career in banking so he could afford to wait for the right opportunity.

An alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, he took more than three years to write his first book, The Immortals of Meluha. “I used to write on Sundays and during ­commutes,” says Tripathi. The action-­fantasy novel had a humanised Lord Shiva as its protagonist, who came into his own as he protected the Meluha ­people from the Naga tribe and the Chandravanshi clan.

And although the book was released at a time when mythology in Indian fiction was slowly becoming a trend (2010), Tripathi simply shot to the top, selling thousands of copies and reprints, which was unheard of in Indian ­publishing. He has remained there ever since – his works have been translated into 19 languages and he has sold more than four million books worldwide. Following the success of the Shiva Trilogy, he was signed for $1 million (Dh3.7m) for his next unthought of, unwritten book.

Modestly, Tripathi maintains he has been lucky. We’re talking over coffee at his office in Mumbai, where the walls are lined with books – written by him as well as others. There’s an aura of humility and discipline around him, two of the strongest pillars in Indian mythology, and indeed any spiritual discourse.

He has clocks in every room and every direction because being on time is crucial to him (his luck had clearly rubbed off on me because I arrived early despite Mumbai’s legendary traffic), and his official machinery is well-oiled.

“I’m very focused on good marketing and developing the business,” says Tripathi. “A huge part of my success is because I have a good team, good advisers, good lawyers. So many books I believe could have been bestsellers but fell short because their contracts weren’t negotiated well.”

His anticipated next book

Coming up in July, after a lengthy wait, is Tripathi’s next book in the five-part Ram Chandra series – Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta. It follows Sita: Warrior of Mithila and Ram: Scion of Ishkvaku, all multilinear narratives that form the ­background of the next two books, where the characters will come together in one grand narrative.

Ram, Sita and Raavan are central to the epic Ramayana and have featured in countless works of fiction. What sets Tripathi’s stories apart is the humanistic aspect of the lives and struggles of people Hindus consider gods and goddesses. These focus on love and valour, equality, humanity and the value of all life, resonating deeply among readers, most of whom have little or no scriptural or mythological knowledge apart from what’s shown in popular culture.

'Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta' by Amish.
'Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta' by Amish.

“Traditions are often equated with conservatism, which is not the case,” says Tripathi. “In India, liberalism and traditions can coexist peacefully.” This is underscored by his portrayal of Sita as a warrior, which contradicts the country’s wider patriarchal stances.

In fact, he points out a ­couple of significant details in ancient Indian literature that reflect how liberal India essentially is – such as the ­Chandravanshi dynasty being founded by a ­transgender person, or that in the Natya Shastra, Brahma rules that within the artist’s arena, dissonance must be allowed.

“I always say India’s true independence happened in 1991 [with the liberalisation of the Indian economy], and today we have a confident and assertive generation that wants to consume modern, liberal messages not from the West but rooted in Indian culture. It just so happens that my swadharma [purpose or calling] connects with the zeitgeist.”

A self-­revelatory experience

In spite of being a lifelong student of philosophy and scripture, Tripathi says it is his study of Raavan for the upcoming book that shook him up the most because of how dark it all got, coinciding with a particularly difficult period personally.

“I’m just glad the book is done; the past couple of years have been hard and I was in a pretty dark place.” One of Shiva’s most ardent and powerful devotees, Raavan was brilliant, scholarly and credited with having created musical instruments such as the ravan hatta (­the soul of Raavan’s grief) and rudra veena (the veena dear to Shiva).

I’m just glad the book is done; the past couple of years have been hard and I was in a pretty dark place.

Amish Tripathi

Some of the greatest hymns to Shiva were written by him. But Raavan was also a fierce warrior, egotistical, power- hungry, destructive and possessed of a rare sense of evil aided by his brilliance.

“He is a very interesting character; in some ways it dragged me down.”

This sensitivity to his work and the subjects he writes about has been one of ­Tripathi’s most self-­revelatory experiences. His passion and intelligence apart, that he has been on a ­knowledge ­attainment journey is clear.

These characteristics do not reflect in the larger Hindu Indian rhetoric, however, which has been growing steadily violent, and his books have been criticised for being saffron-­tinted. Tripathi simply points at facts. “Sometimes we forget the scale of our country,” he says. “We’re literally a ­continent. If you base a ­phenomenon on 10-odd cases, any narrative can ­appear true. My idea of liberalism is where no one will insist that my truth is the truth.” It’s also worth bearing in mind that while Tripathi’s characters may be mythic Hindu ones, Buddhist, Jain, Sufi and Sikh philosophies are woven into his narratives, too.

With a 25-year goal already in place, and 25 to 30 series with interwoven plots, ­characters, clues and ­narratives planned, Tripathi is at his prime. He is said to have been appointed director of the Nehru Centre in London, a prestigious post, which he neither confirms nor denies. His Shiva Trilogy has been bagged by a big Hollywood studio to be produced as a series, and he has started a writers’ centre where ­hand-picked authors are fleshing out his ideas. “If I have to write everything I want to,” he says, “I’ll never be done!”

Updated: June 19, 2019 02:31 AM

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