I’ve always preferred mythology to history. History is a truth that becomes an illusion. Mythology is an illusion that becomes reality, French artist Jean Cocteau wrote. This is something that has been on the mind of Amish when he chose to write on a king this time: The Legend of Suheldev: The King Who Saved India.
He heard the story the first time from his scholar friends Abhinav Prakash and Sajeev Sanyal during a conference in Goa. It was that time when he got inspired and decided to write his next book on the great king. “I think King Suheldev is the most consequential hero in Indian history that most modern Indians haven’t heard of. He defeated the invading Turkic army who were the military superpowers of the world from the 11th to the 17th century. And he inflicted such a devastating defeat on the Ghaznavid Turks that no Turkic army, from any of the various Turkic tribes, dare to come back to India for nearly 150-160 years. Such a hero needs to be talked about & celebrated!”
Mythology: A Baggage?
We all know that the mythology genre has picked up pace during recent times and many untold stories have been told by our eminent authors. This makes an enticing read that picking up a king from our own history as the protagonist who had saved India at that time! ” This word mythology is from the English language and comes with its own baggage. The Westerners believe that History is “truth” and Mythology is “untruth”. Which is silly.”
Finding the truth
Books are the pathways to find the truth. They are a reflection of something that actually happened in history. But, manipulators have kept us refrained from knowing the truth. “And frankly, we all know how much “truth” is there in the version of history taught to us by our establishment historians, who were inspired primarily by the British Raj. The word we use in Sanskrit, or any Indian language, for mythology or history, is the same: itihasa, thus it happened. I would like to make the point that even though Legend of Suheldev is classified by the industry as different from my earlier books in terms of genre, in my mind there is no difference from my earlier books.”
“All the books I have written till now are written with the perspective of plausibility, without any fantasy or magical elements. For example, the descriptions of Meluha (the Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation) and its cities are all historically accurate. So, in a sense, writing Legend of Suheldev follows the same genre as my earlier books,” says Amish.”
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Serving the purpose
His latest book introduces a character named Aslan, who didn’t have any actual existence. But he was created by Amish to serve a purpose in the story. ” There is no evidence of a real character called Aslan, I must be honest on that. It is based on my imagination and he is a character who emerged to help carry the story forward in a certain direction. And I think characters emerge in a story to serve a purpose. So, perhaps that’s why he emerged as a character. But I will say once again that there is no historical evidence of a character called Aslan, that character is imaginary.”
A hero is a Hero ultimately
It’s natural to showcase your protagonist which in this case is an honored king as a hero. It wasn’t a surprise though this question kept on popping up that whether it’s a strategy to show the protagonist as a hero or it was something else. For Amish, it’s something that drives him. He strongly believes that we as modern Indians should know about the heroes and heroines who kept our culture alive.
“Most modern Indians believe that our ancestors were weak and cowardly. When the truth is the exact opposite. Our ancestors were among the toughest people among all the ancients. Our ancestors were the only ones among pre-bronze age pagan cultures who kept alive that which is most precious: their way of life. Every other ancient civilization surrendered and was hence wiped out, usually violently. But our ancestors never surrendered and kept fighting against brutal, horrific invaders. We should know their stories, right?”
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This holds valid for the present-day soldiers who fight for their country on the borders. They also wish to be remembered. “Heroes even today – those who fight on the battlefield and on our borders – don’t expect us to be as brave as they are and fight alongside them. But they expect us to at least remember their stories and honor them. That’s what one must do for the heroes and heroines of the past as well. They don’t expect us to be as brave as they were, but we can at least remember and honor their stories. That is what I am trying to do,” said Amish.
Discovering the story
It’s pretty much an obvious thought that most of the famous writers have their own unique ways of writing the story. In the case of Amish, it’s quite the opposite. “I actually am a completely instinctive writer; I discover the story while writing as much as the reader discovers it while reading. I truly enjoy that process because while doing so, even I experience unexpected twists & turns in the story. So obviously, writing is a pleasurable, almost spiritual process for me,” he explains.
Building up the character of Suheldev
It becomes sometimes difficult to draw the characters of the story. As an experienced writer, it seemed a bit easy for Amish to bring the characters to life. It was an inspiration that drove Amish to write about Suheldev.
“Not just his journey as a hero, but also his dharmic qualities, his leadership style, the way he is able to get so many different people from vastly different backgrounds and forge them together into a united army. The fact that he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his land and his people – his Lord Krishna approach to battle; he is ruthless when he has to be but always with a code of dharma; doing things which may be ruthless, but only for the greater good of his people not for his own selfish interest.”
But in his past books, he had his pains developing two of the most crucial characters – Ganesh in the book Immortals of Meluha. “He was originally supposed to be a very happy-go-lucky, jovial character, but in the story, he was emerging as a very noble but tormented and unhappy soul. So, I struggled with his pain,” he elaborated.
“Another character that I struggled with was Raavan. Raavan as a character was defined by his rage and ego. Writing Raavan made me understand the essence of anger in some ways. It was unfortunate that I was writing the story of Raavan at a particularly difficult phase of my personal life. I know some authors say that writing of pain and anger can be cathartic, but in my case, it just pulled me deeper down. Writing the story of a grief-stricken and angry man like Raavan made me even angrier and grief-stricken,” Amish continued.
Support matters a lot
For Amish, he says that the support of family and friends played a pivotal role. It gave him a real boost. ” The fact that they encouraged me and never tried to stop me, their views would have obviously mattered a lot but all of them, my ex-wife (who was my wife at that time), my siblings, my in-laws encouraged me. I think people just encouraging and accepting your ideas is such a fantastic boost,” he added.
Music to the rescue
Music is loved by everybody. For Amish, it’s his companion while writing his books. Also, he loves to have cream biscuits by his side while writing. He prefers that the music he is listening to should be in rhythm with the mood of the story he is writing. They should match.
“That matters a lot more because it gets me into the mood of the stories. So whatever mood that part of the story is supposed to be in, music should match that mood, which then kind of works like a key for me. Of course, the cream biscuits help a lot too!”
He even has been presented by many of his readers on the events with the cream biscuits so that he can write quickly.
Addressing the Core Philosophy
Amish truly believes that all his books should be and are based on a core philosophy. “The core philosophy at the heart of The Shiva Trilogy is an answer to this question – What is evil? The core philosophy at the heart of the Ram Chandra Series is an answer to this question – What is an ideal society? The core philosophy at the heart of Legend of Suheldev is essentially drawing inspiration from our great heroes and the lesson that if we Indians are united, we are undefeatable.”
“I am the happiest when they discuss my philosophies. I am not saying that they have to agree with my philosophies. They could agree or disagree and that’s ok. But as long as they think and ponder on these philosophies, I am happy,” he added.
On his future plans –
He has many projects ongoing and for him, work never stops. “I want to assure my readers that I am working on the fourth book of the Ram Chandra series and I am around a one-fifth of the way through. You know it takes me a year and a half to two years between books and I hope to stick to that deadline. I plan to release the fourth book of the Ram Chandra series, tentatively titled War of Lanka, in the 2nd half of 2021, and I hope you guys will like it. There are many other projects that I am working on. Three fiction and two non-fiction projects are being worked upon in the Writers Centre. This is in addition to the books that I will write by myself alone. So, hopefully, you will see many more books from me in the future, coming out in quick succession.”
And the Story Continues…
With “Legend of Suheldev”, the story is not going to end here and we would be seeing the story of Rajendra Chola, the Tamil Chola emperor of South India and North India and he Captured South Asia Countries present-day of India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Southeast Asia present-day of who succeeded his father Rajaraja Chola I to the throne in 1016 CE, hints Amish.
He added, “This can be read as an independent story but there is a spin-off, a story which has been linked already. A clue to it has already been given in Legend of Suheldev, which many of my hardcore readers have noticed. So that story will also come out, it will be based on Rajendra Chola, one of India’s greatest emperors, whose story, sadly, has been airbrushed out of our history books because our establishment historians have a very Delhi-centric and foreign-invader-focused bias. So, this will be my humble tribute to Emperor Rajendra Chola.”
It’s a great pleasure to have an insightful conversation with Amish! We thank him for his precious time and wish him all the best for his future endeavors!
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