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.