Last week we reviewed The Immortals of Meluha by Amish; the same book that has been topping the fiction best sellers lists in India ever since it’s release. It’s success caught many by surprise, because it was published not by Penguin, Harper, Hachette, Random House or Rupa, but by the booksellers, Bahrisons. So today we take a closer look at the novel : what is it about this fictionalised interpretation of Shiva’s life that has appealed to the hearts and minds of Indian readers?
Faith has always been a best seller. And when faith fuses with fiction to bring to life Gods which are revered by millions, fireworks are no surprise. It happened with the “Jesus was a man, a husband, a father” Da Vinci Code. And now the same is happening with The Immortals of Meluha that tells the story of Shiva the man, who legend made into a God. For some, it is just the freshness of the plot (or relative freshness as critics cite the Da Vinci code “inspiration”) that blends elements of history and mythology with action, adventure and religion. For others it is a desire to relook at some mythological and religious sayings. Agnostics are drawn to it by hope; believers pick it up so that they can dismiss its blasphemous contentions. A few housewives confessed that they just wanted to see what the “human avtaar” of their Gods would be like . An elderly reader explained that a plot set in the context of his beliefs and religion was more appealing – “I can relate to it, understand it.” And a college student at the billing counter offered, ” I just want to see what the hooplah is all about!” Varied reasons, and yet they meshed together to make the 35 year old MBA from IIM Kolkata an instant celebrity.
The charm of The Da Vinci Code was in the seamless fusion of “believed” fact and fiction. Where did reality end and story begin, where did legend end and creativity begin – it was impossible to tell. The book did carry some important messages – respect for the feminine and the need for faith (or as some would say the power of faith), but these were lost in the intricacy of the plot and in its intrigue.
This however, is not the case with The Immortals of Meluha. Not surprisingly, while the plot and premise of the book have been much talked about, little has been said about it’s literary merit, about it’s consciously “modern” writing style that is completely at odds with the age and era it seeks to create for the reader. Many a times, it seems as if the author has juxtaposed modern day concepts on an ancient society. Disconcerting yes, but forgivable because once you rid yourself of your expectations from the plot, you discover nuances that hold great import for today’s world. For instance, after leading the “good” Suryavnshis to victory against the “evil” Chandravanshis, Shiva discovers his error. The Chandravanshis were not evil, not “terrorists” as the Suryavanshis and he himself had believed; only different. Just like the Asuras who were cast as “evil” by the Devas in their own texts (a reference to the bias of history – it always reflects the beliefs of those who pen it) . The “war against evil”, the Dharmayudh in which millions were killed were thus never battles of the righteous. They were battles between two different belief systems, two lifestyles, both of which were essential to maintain the balance in this world, to complete the world. The warriors and civilians who lost their lives were not martyrs who gave up their life for the “greater good” but unfortunate victims of the lack of understanding between two cultures that refused to engage with, and hence to understand each other.
The last few chapters of the book hold important lessons. Shiva was repeatedly plagued by doubts about the “evilness” of the Chandravanshis but at every stage he silenced his conscience by stating, “but they are evil and so this is justified.” Perhaps just like us when we view the “war against terror,” when we label innocent women and children as “collateral damage,” when we refuse to even understand the “other” because we are convinced that they are evil determined to destroy our way of life. But if the great God, the Mahadev could err, can’t we? If he could accept that he was “wrong”, can’t we? The important question, as an enlightened Pandit told a visibly shaken Shiva was not “Who is evil?” but “What is evil?” The job of a leader, of a God is not to destroy evil, but to identify it, recognise it.
Let us take another instance. Many readers going through the book will, like Shiva, believe the Meluhan society to be almost perfect. (Some though will find problems. But more on those later- in a separate post maybe) They will commend the great Suryavanshi king Daksha on the humaneness of his vision – not to destroy the Chandrvanshis but to offer them a chance to embrace the better quality of life offered by Meluhan society; to enter a society where the rich and poor are almost treated equally, where everyone lives by the law, where there are no beggars. And yet, in the end, they like Shiva will discover that no way of life is perfect; that each has its own strengths and weaknesses. What ails our world today, what causes strife and what has been the source of strife throughout history is the “Daksha syndrome.” The belief that our way of life – be it religion, political or economic system – is “the way of life” and the persistent attempt to make everyone embrace it.
They say what we seek is what we see. Perhaps, I am so caught up in the politics of our world that I find references to it in a fictionalised mythological story. But to me, the Immortals of Meluha is a political commentary with messages for our world and a hope that since they flow from the Mahadev himself, they will find greater acceptance. Be it the interpretation of Shiva’s battle cry – Har Har Mahadev as Every man a Mahadev or the valour of Sati who fights her own battles – every passage is rich in meaning and yet, open to interpretation. Therein lies the strength of this book.
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