Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why we should applaud Amish (and ignore what purists say about his writing skills?)

I admire Amish (who prefers to go by one name) and Chetan Bhagat. Not for the quality of the writing in their books, but for writing books that have got young people reading them and enjoying them and starting conversations about them.

Just today I met five young women who had come to Bangalore from Coimbatore to write the Commits entrance exam in the essay section of the test, all of them chose to write about either The Immortals of Meluha or The Secret of the Nagas, the phenomenally popular books that form part of Amish's Shiva trilogy. Each student is now looking forward to reading the final installment, The Oath of the Vayuputras, which Commits alumnus Harish Agarwal (Class of 2004) has already read and proclaimed, on Facebook, to be a must-read. "What an awesome one-night stand it was," he wrote earlier today.

Amish, who was also in the news recently for receiving an advance of Rs. 5 crore for his next series, may not score a lot of points with purists or with those who prefer their books to be a little more, let's say, literary. But he has created, along with Chetan Bhagat, a new market for fiction and fully deserves his success.


Tehelka last month published a long interview-based feature on Amish; he is also the subject of the cover story in Mint Lounge today.

Here is Sunaina Kumar writing in Tehelka about Amish's readership:

Amish found a gap between the scholarly versions of the epics, the middlebrow (Devdutt Pattanaik) and the square (Ashok Banker), writing in cliffhangers, making up plot details, including battle scenes, a tender love story, and a hero who seems to have walked right out of American popular culture. Amish’s racy, slangy prose is not above the sort of jarring scene in which Shiva says things like, “Dammit Sati! I can’t figure it out.”

Later Kumar discusses his writing:

[In] the hands of a more able craftsman, the narrative would have soared. There are ideas in Amish’s novels — new concepts, action underpinned by philosophy, relatively radical notions of a caste-less society (he has dropped Tripathi, his caste-based surname) in which women lead from the front, and a clever twist to the good-versus-evil debate. Many of his ideas deserve to be expressed better. It is Amish’s writing that lets down his storytelling, his ideas. For instance, his characters talk in a peculiar, pedestrian English, mixing generous helpings of slang with words like “gargantuan” and “plethora”. Or they talk in all caps that end in a blur of exclamation points.

Amish’s answer to critics, Kumar says, is that he writes in a style that does not talk down to a vast majority of Indians:

“I write the way I think ya… I believe in one thing ki boss I am gonna be who I am. Some people will like it, some people will not, that’s cool, but I am clear I am not going to change.”

How can you not want to know more about this unassuming millionaire author? Read the feature in its entirety here: "The Pied Piper of Meluha".

Now here's Mayank Austen Soofi writing in Mint Lounge after speaking to the author himself and also to readers and publishers in an attempt to understand the reasons for Amish's remarkable popularity:

Some novelists at least have moved into the category of fast-moving consumer goods.

And here are some relevant quotes from the article:
  • “The series gives me a different take on Shiva, and Amish’s writing is wonderfully colloquial. His Shiva uses everyday words like ‘dammit’ and ‘bloody’!” Vanita Ganesh, a college student in Gurgaon, who has already finished reading all 565 pages of The Oath of the Vayuputras
  • “Amish’s story is beautifully crafted and written in the language of the common man, and that’s why everyone is reading him.” Amish's literary agent Anuj Bahri, the owner of the landmark Bahri Sons Booksellers in Khan Market, New Delhi
  • “His books don’t interest me much, neither the content nor the style.... I like to be challenged and surprised by the books I read. Buying them is an effort to know more about spaces, places, ideas and people which/whom I know little about. We are anyway surrounded by the mundane, and too much of our own language.” Arpita Das, publisher of the Delhi-based Yoda Press
 Read Soofi's piece in its entirety here: "The sound of money".
  • Photo courtesy: Kalpak Pathak/Hindustan Times
PS: I have ordered The Shiva Trilogy from Flipkart to see for myself what the hoo-ha is all about. Afterwards, all three books will be placed in the Commits library for the reading pleasure of our students.

UPDATE (March 24, 2013): Commitscion Ankita Sengupta (Class of 2013), who now works with Deccan Herald in Bangalore, interviewed Amish for the newspaper's website when he visited the city earlier this week. You can watch it on YouTube:

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