Mythology 101

My parents take family time very seriously and for them family means any relative who is at a 100 km radius from home. Friday evenings are dedicated to this task. Uncles, aunts, grannies, grandpas, nieces and nephews and all the relatives-in-law get together and an intellectual debate begins.

Last Friday the topic was the existence of God. When asked for my opinion, I said, “I don’t relate to those stone heroes sitting on shrines looking very wise and sometimes scary. My world is quite different from theirs and I like to keep away.” On hearing my proclamation, one of my many uncles, an avid reader, suggested I read a trilogy by ‘this Indian bloke named Amish.’ (He was raised in Sussex and hence spoke like Harry Potter’s brother.)

Saturday morning all three books were on my kindle and I turned to the first page of the first book—The Immortals of Meluha– at 11 am that morning and the last page of the third book—the Oath of the Vayuputras– at 4 am Monday morning. I describe the series as—the guide to mythology for the skeptical and the dubious.

In the first book, Shiva- the brave and just leader of the Guna tribe, but a man nonetheless– is introduced along with other mythological characters. It deals with his struggle to find evil and destroy it. In his pursuit to give his tribe better standards of living, he is lead to the city of Meluha where the Suryavanshis reside. Certain events lead the Meluhans to believe that he is their savior and that he will solve all of their problems. The uncouth barbarian from Tibet is overnight turned into a living God due to the faith bestowed on him by the people and their king owing to his blue neck. This is the part of the story that reminded me of Shakespeare’s saying—some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Shiva suffered the latter in the beginning of the story and hence, I empathized with this barbarian who the world now worships in many forms.

The other two books in the trilogy—The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputras—see Shiva travelling to different parts of India and interacting with the different tribes in the search for the answer to the question—what is evil and when does good become evil? Personal drama unfolds and scientific logic and reasoning of the different ‘miracles’ is explained well by Amish.

The coining of the phrase ‘Har har Mahadev’ by the protagonist answers my question about God. Roughly translated, it means everyone is God. We have both good and evil inside us. To my inquisitive mind, this reasoning seemed just and fair. Shiva is a revolutionary of the old age. He not only answered the questions mentioned above but also heralded a new age—an age dominated by reason, logic and humanity. He believed that traditions are good as long as they don’t hinder progress and knowledge.

This to me, is a man, who was truly great. Amish’s explanation of why these men and women became Gods is a very reasonable one. There are no voices from the heaven, the dead coming back alive or mysterious creatures in this series. It is simple facts.

One would be awed at the Indian society of that time. It was progressive in its thinking and scientifically very advanced. My pride at being an Indian has increased ten folds after reading those books. The sewage system, warfare technology, health care, education, break-up of the society and division of labour was exemplary. One would have an impression that our society was nearly perfect.

My greatest admiration of these books come from the fact that it leaves no room for wishful thinking. Spoiler alert—Sati, Shiva’s wife and reincarnation of Shakti, a.k.a. Durga, dies in the end. One would expect that since it is mythology retold, a miracle would happen and she would be brought back to life by her husband- the Mahadev. All the suckers for happy endings would face huge disappointment on that account. Those who die never come back—that is Amish’s premise.

Coming to the technicalities of the books, the language is simple and it is rich in imagery. Since the story spans vast regions of India, Amish has done a good job in describing the terrains and the topography. I could almost see a movie in my head while reading it. Plot and storyline is strong and wins most of the battle.

I wouldn’t go to the extent of calling Amish the Tolkien of our time, but I would say that his work helped me see these mythological characters in a different light. Whether or not this series makes you dwell on the larger question of life, it is undoubtedly a populist page-turner. Looks like I have my uncle to thank for this revelation.


Tiger and Leo– a love story

Tiger and Leo met on a flight. Tiger- 5’2 and Leo- 5’11, both were taking the last flight- a Jet Airways, ATR- out of Hyderabad to Bangalore. Tiger had had a long day and by God’s grace- grace which was not to last long- had all the three seats to herself. Leo was the last to board the flight and it was to him that she had to give up one of her seats.

Yes, she was irritated. But the irritation was lessened by the fact that he was well-built with a fashion sense- a trait rare to find in Indian men. He seemed to be in good humour and she could see that he kept looking at her through the corner of his eyes. She was pleased. After all, women wear their vanity on their backs all the time.

She pretended to be lost in her book but Leo was not fooled.

“So you read,” he asked.

Isn’t it obvious? — She thought. But, at least he was trying.

“Yes, I really enjoy reading,” she played along.

“Jeffrey Archer is one of my favourites. I love the way he captures your attention in the very first line,” he went on.

Well, not bad— thought she– a guy who looks like a US marine, has a fashion sense and reads. This flight is going to be fun—she smirked in her head.

They spoke about the book and other trivial things- their habitats, food habits, life stories and so on. Both had gone through rough patches and were looking to better their lives. Their 45 minutes together were over. They exchanged business cards and parted ways with—let’s keep in touch. No one wants to seem too eager on the first meet.

In stories such as these, technology is of vital importance. In the old times, it was a pigeon carrying letters. Pigeons were replaced by postmen and subsequently, letters were replaced by emails and postmen- by the internet. In the second decade of 2000s, there is Whatsapp and skype that comes to the aide of lovers.

As expected, they started texting and texting and texting and texting- to such an extent that Tiger got a lecture from her teenage daughter- a Panda- on how to live in the present.

A month later, they met on their first planned ‘meeting’ at an eatery. Tiger was in Bangalore with Panda for a conference. She left Panda in the hotel and disappeared for 5 hours, almost giving Panda a cardiac arrest. That day Panda understood what it would be like to have a teenage daughter who went on a date with a possible axe-murderer. Their meeting was all laugh and joy. Again, they parted ways.

Another month passed by and the texting and skyping reached its peak. Relationships, in my limited experience, have a growth curve. It starts with a bang and reaches its peak and then, with time, fall down at a steady state. This was the peak in their relationship.

They decided to ‘date.’ The venue was Samarkhand. Both were as nervous as kids going for prom. They met and hardly ate; just yapped the night away.

A week later, they were off to BR Hills—the deciding trip. ‘Whether to take it forward or not’- was the agenda. They lived on a tree house- their natural habitat, and discovered that they could live in harmony without eating each other up.

Tiger told Panda, “This is it.” Panda replied, “Go ahead kid, live your life.” Tiger met the mother lion and Leo did the same. They moved in together and subsequently tied the knot. The ceremony was presided over by all the animals of the animal kingdom.

Panda moved in with them soon after and now, Tiger, Leo, Panda and Panda’s two daughter live happily. I can’t vouch for a ‘happily ever after’, but they are happy for now. That is how this unlikely love story began.


The French Love

Blue eyes, brown hair and the French air;

He was straight out of Mills and Boons.

Saw him first mixing tequila with vodka.

He dealt the cards with expertise

As if they were friends from old.

The scene was set,

The curtains up,

The music—ZAZ.

We argued:

The English were cold;

The Spaniards spoke from the heart;

London was a bore;

But Milan was his whore;

Caviar was disgusting;

But ratatouille felt like home.

It started gently:

His hand in mine;

The battle of wits;

The battle of hearts;

It was to commence at last.

I asked him meekly- will it last?

‘Je ne sais pas,

But I love you…for now.’

That was all I was to get

No empty promises;

No plans for tomorrow;

No roses in satin;

Nothing but….just love.

Love that lasted a moment,

Disappeared with the fading moon.

Something that tasted like spirits

And made the head heavy.

Something that encouraged smiles,

Conversation and delirium.

Something warm,

Something pretty,

And something very French.

How am I to ever forget that night?

That night I met my French love.

The funny thing:

I left the morning after without a note,

Knowing it won’t last.

Cafe Bonheur

Verona in Christmas is a treat for the soul. Twinkles, warmth, yellow lights, Santa caps, woolen mittens, snow flakes and resounding carols from the nearby church. There was a cup of hot chocolate with hazelnut flavor on the oak table in the Café Bonheur. It had been sitting idle for a long time waiting to be tasted, to be touched by the tongue; to feel the warmth of a human. Waiting- it just waited patiently. After about 30 minutes of this arduous task, the woman in grey brought her well-manicured fingers to it.
She had been sitting and contemplating- something that was commonly seen in Café Bonheur. People who were tired of the rush and hurry of the streets came to rest. It was the oasis for the weary traveler. There was something in the very air of the place that inspired retrospection and reflection.
Her name was Eva. She had wrinkles around her once-pretty face. Her laugh marks were almost extinct and there was a song playing in her head- ‘Between the Bars’ by some American guy whose name she couldn’t remember. These days her memory had gone weak. She needed to think a lot to remember where she put her overcoat and muffler. Once she had forgotten to pay her electricity bill and had to survive without a heater in the winter for about a month. But she didn’t mind. She rarely got angry or irritated.
Her eyes gazed into the warmth of the fire place. The fire was beautiful; the patterns of the flames reminded her of the lover’s embrace and ecstasy. It was a happy memory she remembered. One such winter night, a lifetime ago, she was also like the fire- in Pierre’s loving arms, below the Christmas tree. The year she couldn’t recall and the time of the day was hazy. All she knew was that it was yellow and warm. She could smell the chocolate cake and the wool on her back. Yes, she was happy.
She heard the wooden door of happiness being gently pushed open by another’s hands. She wished the passerby a similar peace of mind. A husky, rusted voice spoke to the counter man and asked for a hot chocolate with hazelnut. There was something in that voice. The chocolate had come out as ‘shocola’ and the ‘h’ was missing from the rest of the words. Eva was intrigued. For the first time she felt curiosity after ages. She turned her neck slowly to glance at the passerby.
Those eyes were honey and the laugh lines were almost extinct from the man’s face. For a heartbeat, the hazel met the honey and the warmth came back into the cold souls. It lasted a heartbeat only. They looked away and Eva got back to admiring her fiery lovers and drinking her hot chocolate. The old man lingered around for a little while longer. He didn’t touch his drink; just kept looking blank as if there was an invisible curtain between his eyes and brains. He saw yet didn’t see. After sometime, there was another push of the door and the gentleman with honey eyes was gone.
And so life carried on in café Bonheur of Verona.