Courting Controversy

Posted on June 26, 2015

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Writer, and former journalist with CNN-IBN, Amrita Tripathi on her second novel, The Sibius Knot, and urban India. By Reena Karim

When Amrita Tripathi was included in the line-up of authors who participated in ‘Words on Water’ literary event a part of the Festival of India in Thailand, she was introduced as the youngest writer on the panel. I suppose this could work to her advantage, given that she has accomplished so much, but the young writer feels the title doesn’t say much about her.

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Professionally speaking, Amrita is a celebrated writer — currently promoting her second novel — a former senior news anchor with CNN-IBN, and magazine columnist, all of which she feels makes great labels. However, at heart, this vivacious 30-something feels she is just a storyteller. After eleven years at CNN-IBN, Amrita decided to transition and started working for a public health consulting firm called Global Strategies. Aside from her full-time job, which she loves, she also takes time out to pursue her other love, writing — and hopes to become a full-time novelist someday.

Earlier in May, she arrived in Bangkok to promote The Sibius Knot, a controversial book that
deals with the devastation of adolescence and adulthood.

So what is the Sibius Knot?
The Sibius Knot is my second novel and the title of the book is something that is invented in the book. It is a knot where everyone and everything is interconnected. It’s taken from a mathematical term called Möbius strip. In a nutshell, the book is about a group of young people in the 90s who are marginalised and come from broken homes. There is a lot of drug and sexual abuse in their past. They think they are in a battle against the devil, which of course is a metaphor for internal demons. It is a sad tale of their lives, and also of how they come through it. It’s a powerful story of redemption and love

Where did the inspiration come from?
As a reporter I covered health issues, specifically mental health, and even abuse. I was doing a piece-to-camera once and went into this neighbourhood. According to the statistics we had received, one in four families in this block had experienced some form of sexual abuse. In India there are a lot of things that we don’t talk about. There is the taboo, but just in general, people are not comfortable talking about the prevalence of abuse and how to deal with it. Until my generation, people weren’t aware that you might need counselling. In our parents generation, there was no question of going for therapy, let alone talking about depression. In the book, I focus on the 90s, because I think it was the decade that changed a lot of things for India. Society opened up much more, cable TV influences, etc. People who grew up in that time thought they had all this knowledge, but they didn’t even know how to ask for help when they need it, or what to do when their friends were derailing. These topics are very essential to my book, which is why the book is quite dark.

Your book is set in Delhi and Delhi is getting a lot of heat for its street violence. Was this intentional?
Yes, I think it was. When you hear about the brutal bus rape incident, it is shocking and depraved, but you realise that such incidents happen. People are now openly talking about these issues. There has to be some soul searching. There is an everyday fight against sexism and misogyny, but that is not enough. Some of this makes an appearance in my book, because these are things that I find all of us have to grapple with, wherever we live, whether its random aggression, violence etc. Delhi is such a power centre, but there is also an underbelly of things that you don’t know or want to know about. These second-and third-hand stories were some of my influences. The book focuses on the youth of India in the 90s.

What defines urban India?
Another theme in my book is this jaded older generation and the younger ones who are somewhat less cynical. But then that is part of being young, you feel you know everything. They are driven, ambitious, also self-aware. Which is a good thing, but then again these are upper middle class kids. But this is the society I am moving around in and this is what I know. I think these kids are very open, much more self aware than we give them credit for. I think it’s very refreshing. There is also much less tolerance for bulls***. They are more empowered in many ways than earlier generations.

Why is your book considered controversial?
The book is very colloquial. It’s very young. One of the things that I talk about in the book is of people overdosing on drugs. It is not what you expect to read and it is definitely not a sanitised version. It’s very gonzo in that sense, except that is it not written in firsthand account. I guess those are issues that you don’t expect to read about in books.

Do you think your book would appeal to an international audience?
I feel like it could to an English-speaking audience. I know people talk about the 70s and 80s, but it was the 90s when things really opened up worldwide, the music and the culture. But then again you were exposed to these things only if you were very privileged and lucky. Some of the issues I discuss in the book are of alienation, isolation, and being marginalised, and these things transcend boundaries. In terms of commentary and certain issues, I think the content will connect with people on some levels.

Courting Controversy

The Sibius Knot
Hardcover: 184 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Language: English
Available on amazon.com
http://www.amritatripathi.com

Author Amrita Tripathi, photographed
at the Rembrandt Hotel Bangkok

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Posted in: People