Get, set for the past

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 24 June 2017

Best-selling mythology writer Amish, who was in the city, speaks eloquently on the India that we read and discover in his books. He talks about our ancient past which was far more egalitarian.

On a simplistic level, Sita — Warrior of Mithila — is a reinterpretation of the consort of Lord Ram, giving her character more heft. However, the subtext is deeply political. Not the petty, narrow political wheeling-dealing, but debating the ills that we grapple with, offering us the egalitarian point of view which was the hallmark of our ancient past. 

‘Imbalance’ is the core of Amish’s second book in the Ram Chandra Series. And, to address and correct the ‘imbalance’ are the two protagonists and also Vishnu-in-partnership, Ram and Sita. This version tells Sita’s story beginning from the apaharan and then going back to her birth and gurukul, discussions with Guru Vishwamitra, and her skill of archery and wielding the lathi. The warrior in the title is clearly justified and challenges the popular image of Sita as a meek and submissive woman.

In the book, it says that most of our history is oral. And, it is so because it can be changed to suit the changing circumstances of society. So we ask Amish, in which stage of history was Sita’s popular image conceived? 

“In the original Valmiki version, Sita is not a warrior. But she is a very strong character. She is very clear about what she wants, she is very clear about what dharma is and will fight for it. The ancient versions of Puranas and the epics tell us that there was equality between men and women. The versions that were written in the late medieval period and onwards painted a less equal relationship. I think that happened because when a society suffers from a lot of violence, it tends to become patriarchal. And, India has faced a lot of violence for the last few centuries,” explains Amish.

He goes on to add that societies become patriarchal because women can compete with men in almost every area, except in the area of violence. “That is because they don’t have too much of testosterone and their bodies are smaller. So they find it difficult. The Arab world today is patriarchal. But 1,200-1,300 years ago, they were actually quite equal.

The Arab world suffered a lot of horrific invasions. Turks and Mongols who destroyed us, went and destroyed them. The Arabs haven’t had independence for more than 700 years and since there was a lot of violence, they have become more patriarchal. We have been a peaceful society for the last 70 years, so it’s time we revived our ancient, more equal society,” he adds. 

Equality and meritocracy, the recurring debate in our present socio-political system, finds voice in Sita. These are the issues which Amish is passionate about and so they are woven into his stories. Says he,

“The stories that I write may be set in an ancient era, but I write of things that I am passionate about. And, I am passionate about India. I love my country. To me, true love also means that you point out things which are wrong and have to be improved. We have to speak about the ills which ail our society. I don’t believe in the present caste-system hierarchy based on birth; that’s against our ancient culture. And, so is the inequality between man and woman and inequality between people who are born here. I believe that anyone who is born in the country and wishes to do something for its progress, is ours.” 

That’s what the partnership of the two Vishnus — Ram and Sita — also hopes to achieve through their rule. So, who in the present day, can become those Vishnus and lead us on the right path of idealism and pragmatism? 

Amish declines a straight answer saying that he has never worn his political beliefs on his sleeve. On being pressed, the authors of The  Immortals of Meluha, says, “I never comment on politics and I don’t support any political party openly. But I comment on social issues and  I am passionate about India. I believe that we are a lucky generation; it’s not very often that we see a country of this scale rising. We are a lucky generation that’s going to see it and even be a part of it. We will all make our contribution towards it. It’s a privilege.” 

In ancient India with which Amish has an affinity, even if the countrymen had differences of opinion, they were welcome because the ultimate goal — the good of the country — mattered.  “Accepting someone’s strengths and weakness is a nuanced approach. That’s the ancient Indian way. That’s how it should be now” he says.

This approach also reflects in the book and the way his characters are etched. Ravan, the third book in the Ramchandra Series is already being written. And, will try to show Ravan as a complete person — his intellect, his strength, warrior skills and his fallacies. “The biggest lesson that we can learn from Ravana is to keep our egos in control. In Shaivaite Purana too, a nuanced approach towards Ravana is seen. We can’t be simplistic and believe that Asuras are all dark skinned people with horns. That’s not how Asuras and Devas were described in the Puranas. Asuras were fair-skinned, while the Devas were dark-skinned too. Lord Shiva is touted to be a Dravidian God, but he is fair-skinned. Lord Ram and Lord Krishna are dark skinned. No one is completely black, or white,” Amish makes a point. 

So in the next book, do we see him making the biggest revelation — that Sita is Ravan’s daughter? “No...No. There is a Malaysian version that says so. But at least I have not come across any Indian version that says ‘Sita is Ravan’s daughter’,” he clarifies.

But, Amish tells us, and everyone who has read the second book will know, that he has left clues for us to guess Sita’s identity and parentage. “Go through the text and think of Sanskrit roots of various names which hint at deer. What does Mrigasya mean?” Ponder over this readers and you will know if you cracked it when the book on Ravan is out in 2018!

The author can be followed on Twitter @riceandpickle

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