Photo Courtesy: The Quorum
“The notion of suffering: Life is unfair to everyone, especially the Indian cricket fan. The fundamental reality of life is nook. There is no escaping the reality that greed permeates every corner of this illusory world. Accepting this basic truth is the first step towards trying to overcome it. Everyone is struggling; we must try to understand and learn, rather than judge.”
As Amish Tripathi’s new book, Raavan - Enemy of Aryavarta, hits stores, we bring you excerpts from his powerful talk with journalist Kaveree Bamzai at The Quorum.
KB: He writes about a man who is a great hero, but also, his life has been portrayed as this villain. He writes about how it is so important to have a great villain in order to have a great hero. And I think that’s the point I would like to start with, that you cannot have a great hero without a great villain, despite the fact that we actually don’t have the concept of good and evil in Hindu mythology.
Amish: When you spoke of grief, there is this saying by Gautam Buddha - grief is an eight-fold path of a noble life. And the first thing in that is grief is a fundamental reality and everyone experiences it. This may sound like a pessimistic statement, but it’s actually a very liberating statement. Worrying about things is not going to take the worry away; you need to find the philosophy that gives you the motivation and drive to steer this change of worrying less and finding more solutions. Some people have more, some people have less. If you just accept it, it helps you move on.
So that’s what I was just trying to put across in that passage out there, because Raavan’s reaction to his grief is counter productive for him. Raavan was defined by his rage, and his reaction to his suffering was, “the world hurt me, I will burn the world down.” That’s not wise.
KB: But he gets a lot of counselling along the way.
Amish: Right, but he doesn’t listen. Sometimes things go wrong. If you see, even in the earlier books, both of them suffer, too. But their reactions are different. Sita’s reaction is pragmatism, which actually helps manage things. Lord Ram’s reaction is dignity, honour, which again helps him manage things. But Raavan’s reaction just makes things worse.
KB: One of the important things about Raavan, I think, is controlling the monster. That he has no control over it. Just that idea that every one of us has a monster inside - how do we control it?
Amish: In that the concept is that everyone has a monster in them, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. You notice there are guys with a fire in their belly they just can’t stop. They aren’t competing to earn more than the others; it’s to give their kids a better life. And if you think about it, it’s not even that good a life. They are just slogging 24/7. They just don’t know any other way. And what gives them that power? It’s the monster. That’s what Mandodri tells Raavan. Raavan tells her in his moments of honesty - you don’t know the things I’ve done, I’m a monster. She tells him it’s that monster that has made you capable. She tells him that you think you know me, but have you noticed that water that is too pure does not sustain fish? To sustain life, you need a little impurity. That’s what gives you a measure of duality. So she says everyone has a monster, a fire inside. But the difference between successful people and others is whether the monster controls you, or you control the monster.
Photo Courtesy: The Quorum
KB: What does Amish do when the monster takes over?
Amish: I had a huge temper when I was young. But I think I’ve calmed down. My books have changed my character 180 degrees. I’m not the banker person I was. I was a hyper competitive person back then, so one was never happy with what he has. I’m still competitive but not comparing myself to anyone. I just want to improve myself everyday.
KB: You talk in the beginning of your own personal suffering that coincided with the writing of this book. You turned to Lord Shiva.
Amish: Various things happened one after the other. Shit happens. I understood some of the Buddhist philosophies more deeply in this phase. Life is about suffering and you have to build yourself to be strong. The journey is of ‘dukh’ and the spiritual journey is how you use that to get peace. Most of Hindu philosphy, parts of Buddhism and Sikhism are that you are anandam, and you aren’t able to experience that bliss because of the negativity around you. So the spiritual journey is how to achieve that bliss and cut through the negative. I love this philosophy a lot more, how to make sense of things.
KB: You talk more about grief when a certain person dies. You talk about grief that has no end.
Amish: Yes, I say that time heals all wounds, but they lie…there is some grief so severe that even time surrenders.
KB: But Raavan also has other ways of coping - marijuana, women.
Amish: But it doesn’t really help him. These are just distractions. The entire story of his life is that he isn’t coping. Perhaps the only time in his life he tries to cope is in some art, or the raga. Otherwise he’s just trying to forget. That’s not healthy.
Sita is very critical to Raavan. She is extremely critical. Not just in my version, but many others. In the Adbudh Ramayan, she’s the one who kills Raavan. She’s a far more dominating, influential, stronger figure in our ancient versions of Ramayana, than what we’ve been lead to believe by TV series. Our messed up model of Indian education has us believe this is the model of the Indian woman, simpering, going along with things. We need to read our ancients texts to be aware, that’s all.
Audience: How can we bring our traditions back without imposing them on the younger generation?
Amish: The answer is knowledge and education. There is a real life impact of our educational system desperately trying to Europeanize our students. My favorite example is that in Gurgaon you see all these glass wall buildings because architecture students are taught western principles. A glass wall building in Europe makes tons of sense but there is a shortage of sun there, your lighting goes down, heating goes down. This is India. When you build a glassware building, what you’re effectively building is a giant microwave oven. This architecture makes no sense in an Indian environment. In our literature, we teach Shakespeare. We won’t teach Mirza Ghalib. In Maths, we won’t teach Bhaskaracharya. We don’t teach anything of our own traditions. So many Indians are taught to believe we didn’t document our own culture, which is completely false. The national manuscript mission has collated around 3.3-3.5 million Sanskrit manuscripts that have survived till date. To give you a sense of sense of perspective, the mother culture of Europe, Greece, from the number of Greek manuscripts surviving till date, is merely twenty thousand. It gives you an idea of the knowledge production of our ancestors. We had more knowledge than all of the world combined, translated 99%.