THE CHANNEL OF THE GODS
“I am nothing. I have done nothing. It is all the blessings of Lord Shiva,” said Amish Tripathi, author of the super successful Shiva trilogy. I nodded along as we sat in a coffee shop to discuss the writer’s creative process. But, I couldn’t help but be a little skeptical and think of his statement as an interesting marketing ploy, the claim that his fictionalised take on Hindu mythology was divinely inspired would get the cash registers ringing. Not that he needed any further marketing till early last year, the trilogy had already made ` 50 crores and he has managed to sell the movie rights to both Bollywood and Hollywood. Divinely inspired or not, there was definitely a lot to learn from the young novelist.
“I was never creative,” Amish declared, as he sipped his coffee and I wondered a little at the exaggerated modesty. A completely ‘left brain academic type’, he graduated in mathematics, did his MBA from IIM, Kolkata and worked in financial services for 14 years.
For Amish, creativity is a parallel universe, one he is privileged to enter, and feels no need to push himself. He merely uses a few ‘keys’ to get into the zone, like listening to music that suits the mood of the scene he is writing or eating cream biscuits. He went on, “The ancient Greeks believed that your genius was a spirit that existed outside of you, and your task as a creative person was to help your genius help you. So, sometimes your genius is busy somewhere else… cool, no problem, you just start the next day.”
Amish is one of the few writers who doesn’t believe in having planned word counts for each day. “I’ve seen people work themselves into a tizzy. They worry about how many words they wrote today and how many they’ll have to write the next day to make up. But, when you start behaving like that…writing blocks become frequent. So, if some days I just write 50 words and it’s not flowing…cool. I’ll just shut down my laptop and go for a walk or read a book.”
During the course of the interview, Amish often spoke of purush and prakruti to explain his modes of working. The former represents logic and control, his primary tools for marketing his books once they are done, while the latter represents intuition and going with the flow. He believes that it’s a balance of both that brings success. But, if you attempt them at the same time, you’ll end up in a mess. For instance, when he first started writing his first book, he made chapter wise outlines, character sketches and a well- organised plan for how many hours he would write. “It was the kind of plan that would have looked fantastic in a boardroom presentation. However, like most boardroom presentations, it flopped. I got stuck because the characters weren’t behaving according to plan. I was so frustrated that I gave up and scrapped the whole thing. Then, I just surrendered and that’s when the story started flowing.”
Amish started writing the series as a purely personal project, just for himself and his family, without hoping to get it published. He feels that creativity is something you should attempt free of purpose or any specific goal in mind. “I write for myself. The benefit of people liking it is that I get to spend more time writing. But, I will never write for someone else and I will never write keeping in mind what I need to do to be successful because if I am going to do it for the money, then I may as well be a banker.”
So, what prompted a supposedly noncreative financial professional with no publishing ambition to write a book? The answer lies in Amish’s own journey with faith and religion. From an extremely devout family, including his grandfather, who was a pandit, Amish grew up with various holy scriptures. However, while he was in college during the ’92-93 riots in Mumbai, he developed an aversion to religion and became an atheist. It was writing the books that brought him back to faith and it was faith that brought him to write the books, each feeding and growing on the other. “I think I was supposed to go through being an atheist, so that I could appreciate faith as something I chose rather than just something I had grown up with. I was always rebellious, so Lord Shiva was the ideal God to pull me back into faith because he himself is a rebel and an outsider, he doesn’t dress perfectly, he treats his wife as an equal, he dances, he plays music, he smokes marijuana and enjoys bhang.”