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Shiva Calling

By Deepa Padmanaban Email By Deepa Padmanaban
June 2013
Shiva Calling

While Indian mythological retellings have been popular, the success of Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy has been phenomenal, with sales topping 1.5 million copies. And now, after snagging a $1 million advance for his yet-to-be-named series, he has attained cult-like status. How did this former banker become the new golden boy of Indian fiction?

Amish Tripathi’s formula is not hard to understand, and it works well for him. “When I write, I do not care about the opinion of anyone,” he says. “No one except my family has any say in it. But once my book is published it is my duty as an author to the publisher to promote the book.”

His highly popular book series—the last title was released this year—is a mythical fantasy blending contemporary storytelling with a fast-paced plot and the archetypal triumph of good over evil. Employing a mix of mythological and fictional characters, the books retrace the adventures of Lord Shiva cast in the mould of a Tibetan immigrant and subscribe to the notion that the gods were once humans who achieved the status of godhood because of their deeds.

He employs lucid, colloquial language and his plots are absorbingly complex. His innovative marketing strategies—including distributing free copies of the first chapter of his first book, The Immortals of Meluha; a video trailer screened at multiplexes for his second book, The Secret of the Nagas; and a music album with singer Sonu Nigam for the recently released The Oath of the Vayuputras—helped catapult the books into the bestseller list.

The 38-year-old author recently made waves when he received a $1 million advance from his publisher Westland for his upcoming book series, no details of which have been announced yet. A graduate from the prestigious management school, IIM-Kolkata, Amish Tripathi worked as a banker for 14 years before turning to writing. His books, though not available yet in U.S. bookstores, can be purchased online through Amazon.

Your books have been phenomenally successful, and you received a record-breaking advance for your forthcoming book. How does it feel?
It feels amazing. Considering I didn’t even think my book was going to be published, all I can say is that this is only possible with Lord Shiva’s blessing.

Have you always been interested in mythology? What inspired you to write this series?
I have been a voracious reader since childhood. I also grew up in a deeply religious and deeply liberal family. So I learnt a lot about our mythology from my grandfather (he was a Pandit in Varanasi and a professor at Banaras Hindu University) and my parents, and the environment at home encouraged debates and a pursuit of knowledge of all world religions and philosophies. My inspiration for this series is Lord Shiva!

Why did you choose Shiva as your subject?
I wanted to convey a philosophy about evil and who better than the destroyer of evil to convey this? I have always loved Lord Shiva for he is a truly democratic god, embracing devotees and followers from all walks and strata of life irrespective of their status through birth or position in life. He is a god who treats his wife with utmost respect, is an amazing musician, and the Lord of Dance. There couldn’t be a better hero for my story!

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Can you tell us a little about your writing process? Did you do background research before you started writing?
I don’t do any research while writing. All the research happens before I write. For the Shiva trilogy I dipped into all the reading and research I have done throughout my life, through my love for reading a variety of nonfiction books and the knowledge that came from my family.

Your books are deeply rooted in philosophy. How did a banker with an IIM degree manage to acquire such a deep understanding of the subject?
I grew up in a very religious family with a deep interest in philosophy and spirituality. So I guess you can call it a good fortune of birth since I learnt much of what I know from my family. Besides, you would agree that almost every Indian is a natural born philosopher!

Religious intolerance has been growing in India. Are you cautious when you write so as to not offend anyone?
Not at all. Indian culture is about retelling myths passed down through generations orally. There are many versions of mythology such as the Ramayana that already existed for hundreds of years. So there is no better country than India to write such books. India is a deeply religious country and while there are a few extremist groups, there are also many religious liberals. Religion and liberalism have always gone hand in hand in India; unfortunately some have forgotten this culture.

There have been so many retellings of mythology in the recent past. Why do you think there is a need to retell the scriptures?
Most of the ancient myths in other parts of the world which had a rich mythology—Greece and Egypt—are now dead or part of history books. In India, however, our gods continue to be relevant and worshiped actively across the country. This is because of our ability to adapt our myths to the needs of society at that point of time. Myths form a wonderful link to a rich past and help people connect with it and use the learning from myths to deal with the issues and travails of today.

Do you think this retelling of mythology is a passing phase or there’s more to come?
Retelling of the myths has been a rich tradition in India for thousands of years. Most of the myths and scriptures we know today are retellings, interpretations that have occurred at multiple times through our distant past. So this is certainly not a passing phase. If anything, as our nation gets more confident, there will continue to be a greater interest and pride in our myths and our past.

Literary authors in India seldom achieve commercial success. Did your management background and innovative marketing strategies contribute to the success of your book?
Yes. Through most of my career I have handled the marketing function, so fortunately a lot of the lessons learned in that phase have proven to be very useful. More importantly, I have been very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of marketing experts in my family and friends. Their collective wisdom has contributed hugely to the marketing strategies we have employed to promote the Shiva trilogy books.

You’ve mentioned that you had been rejected several times before the book was finally published. What advice would you give to first-time authors trying to get their book published?
Don’t give up! We live in a free world and every human being has the right to have his/her voice heard. So believe in yourself and approach every possible publisher. If no one finds your work interesting, then go ahead and self-publish. It does not cost that much these days. And if you don’t want to do that, then post your work online for free reading. The important thing is self-expression and having your voice heard. You owe that to yourself.

What’s next for you? Will you continue writing mythology-based books?
I have four or five ideas, all in the area of mythology and history, not just from India but from around the world. But I am yet to decide which of these I will pick as my next project.


Bangalore-based Deepa Padmanaban writes about people, human rights, travel, education, and all things Indian.



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