So I’m just done reading the Shiva Trilogy, Immortals of Meluha, Secret of the Nagas and Oath of the Vayuputras, and also Scion of Ikshvaku – which is the first book of the Ram Chandra Series, by Amish Tripathi. Yes, yes, I can imagine you sniggering. The books were out ages ago, what took you so long, you’re thinking. Well the reviews I valued weren’t positive, and I consciously kept off. But then, I have not read anything on Indian mythology and soon hope to graduate to more serious stuff. What better way to prepare the ground than the books by Amish Tripathi.
Well you are right, bad choice, but then, experience is the word one gives for their mistakes, and so I’d say, it was quite an experience! I can’t remember the last time I gritted my teeth while reading a book.
The first two books, Immortals of Meluha and the Secret of the Nagas are terrible. Amish really learns to write and develops the patience to stay with the story only in the third book, Oath of the Vayuputras. But it seems this book didn’t do too well, and not as many copies were sold as the first two books. I’m not sure what that tells us, whether we have a crappy audience, or whether its advise to Amish, ‘don’t change.’
The first two books had tremendous potential as stories, and could have been really built upon. Amish should have got himself better editors who could have guided him in the right direction. He failed to bring out rich history, coax out nuances and paint sceneries, glossing over areas that needed clarification and where readers would have enjoyed description. This ‘glossing over’ speaks poorly for the authors research team.
There were parts of the books that developed into philosophy, and a perspective on life in the Indian way. Here, Amish really came out for the ‘newbie’ he was. An older, more mature author, with a larger span of reading, and pensive contemplation, would have brought in a solidity that only time and insight can introduce – say like Amitav Ghosh or Anita Desai.
But reading these books by AT definitely uncovers the huge potential that Indian mythology offers, to delve into creatively and explore perspectives and create narratives from various angles. Why writers, especially more talented, mature and experienced ones have held back thus far is something I wonder, or perhaps they wish to refrain from quoting controversy.
So the books have errors as well, AT fails to create a visually rich and historically accurate vision of 2500 BC and then blunders majorly by calling it all ‘India’ – unforgivable. The Scion of Ikshvaku describes a helicopter, the Oath of the Vayuputras describes ice blocks that preserved Sita’s body without explaining from where they came. It would have made better sense if he had written about embalming which was a highly developed practice even then, across the world.
However, what I did like and what most staunch Hindus find unpalatable was the humanization of Shiva. This is a common practice in Hinduism and makes legendary figures and even gods so accessible, possible to identify with and emulate. Shiva is sometimes portrayed as a reluctant leader, struggling to get into the large shoes of previous Vishnu’s but taking on the burden with great poise, fortitude and uncharacteristic egalitarianism. Leadership bears heavy on all our shoulders at some point of time in our life or the other. Here is something we could learn from. I also liked how he explains the Naga’s. While many hands humans, bird like humans and ape like humans are sometimes hard to digest, that they could be deformities is very plausible.
So I must say that errors and all, the four books really grew on me, and while I promise myself, I will not be reading any more of ATs future books, I feel more confident moving on to sturdier, more accurate Indian literature.