Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha - A review

Dear reader,

I have always been an admirer of Indian mythology. This was one of the primary reasons I picked up Amish Tripathi's much acclaimed book (the first of a trilogy) on Shiva – The Immortals of Meluha. I had not read any reviews back then (still haven't) since I wanted to read the book from a completely unbiased point of view. The secondary reason was the 'surprise me' factor which was so eager to learn something new, discover something exhilarating and perhaps, appreciate something original. This blog, hence, is a brief summary of my observations after reading Immortals of Meluha.

The plot, for the uninitiated, is a fictional retelling of how an ordinary tribal chief called Shiva went on to become one of the most lauded Gods in the continent's over crowded pantheon. Given its fictitious nature then, it instantly allows Amish to wield the sword of creative liberty pretty frequently. He starts the story in 1900 BC on Mount Kailash from where Shiva is brought to this utopian city called Meluha which the Kshatriya king Rama has established. People there live under an extremely strict adherence to Rama's protocols of consistent moral obedience, spiritual sanctity and patriotic submission. Shiva, with his tribe called the Ganas, comes to Meluha much like a tourist visiting a country for the first time. He observes their culture, absorbs what he can and soon is administered a serum called the somarasa. As it turns out, as a side effect of this rasa, Shiva's throat turns blue. This instantly sends signals everywhere since he is now heralded as the 'Neelkanth' or a divine being who has been sent to protect the Suryavanshis (Meluhans) against the evil and atrocious villains Chandravanshis. The plot then documents Shiva's first hand experiences at trying to come to terms with this bizarre God like treatment he starts to receive from everyone around including the emperor of Meluha King Daksha, his close associates and eventually his daughter Sati. The story also brings in the other villainous tribe called the Nagas who are shown as being physically deformed at birth due to the sins of their previous birth. Joining this loathsome list of groups are the Vikarmas who are apparently cursed-for-life due to sins of the current birth. The story then essentially revolves around these four groups always ensuring that Suryavanshis are portrayed as the heroes and everyone else as beings lesser holy than they. The book ends with Shiva gaining some insight into why he is being called 'the chosen one' and learning some lessons that, I predict, will help him realize his status as 'Neelkanth' in books 2 and 3.

Now, let us acknowledge the positives first. One has to commend Amish for choosing a popular deity from the Hindu pantheon and smearing him with a more connectable and human dab of paint. By keeping him a common man and discounting the mythical aspect of Shiva's legendary tale, Amish's attempt at ensuring that the reader is able to reach out to Shiva's character is note worthy. We live in times where it is becoming increasingly challenging to relate with these characters from our vedas, upanishads and puranas so to see an Indian author take that plunge and try to rationalize unquestioned magic with deducible logic is worthy of praise. His attempts at providing a lot of new information (for instance the vikarma) and the plausible foundations for the Mohen-Jo Daro and Harappa civilizations are also well captured. The discussions about faith and science between Shiva and the Meluhan scientist Brihaspati were one of the highlights of the book considering it has been an area where I have found much interest. There are also a couple of scenes between Shiva and the Vasudeva priests which creates a thought provoking feel. So – yes. The book has plenty of interesting and creatively presented information about some of our civilization's oldest concepts.

Then we come to the list of things I had issues with. The primary one is the pedestrian use of language in most of the daily interactions. It is unclear why the author chose to go with such 90s style college life like language when putting words into the likes of the much recognizable main protagonist. If it was done to 'connect' with the 'modern day crowd' (whoever that is) then it is not only in bad taste but also down right ludicrous. To hear Shiva say things like 'this bloody blue throat of mine!' or 'Damn it!' or 'What the...' just doesn't seem to gel with either the time frame or the personality of the character. What this did was instantly turned me off from the seriousness of the issue at hand. Whatever little emotion was building up within me for Shiva was lost immediately when he spoke like one of my college mates. The second issue I had was the over 'Bollywoodization' (for the lack of another word) of the emotion scenes. It seems to me that the author had hoped this book would become a movie some day so some of the scenes seem to be tailor made for such a situation. One sample is a seriously injured Sati lying in Shiva's lap, bloodied and muddied, and through shaking lips and drooping eyes mouthing the words 'I love you' to an inconsolably weepy Shiva as arrows whiz past them in conceivable slow motion. The only thing missing was a Karan Johar soundtrack in the background to complete the scene. And speaking of weepy, I never understood why everyone in the book is always so quick to tears! The overly emotional characters get a tad exhausting after a point specially when there hasn't been enough said to establish the need for such strong emotions. It seems that Amish has written these parts more as a reader than a writer since little else can explain the abundance of tears in the plot. Here is another gem: Towards the end of the book, King Dilipa (a Chandravanshi king) and his daughter are introduced. The daughter is presented as so stereotypically raunchy that she reminded me of Rakhi Sawant and Mallika Sherawat instantly. This, I am afraid, is not an example of good literature. Such half baked and disjointed lines were mouthed at times that the entire premise of the book was on thin ice. The other thing that I found oddly out of place and extremely forced was the humor. Some of it uses sarcasm that seems straight of a 'Friends' episode with Ross looking around the dining table and saying 'Thanks guys for the support!' while the audience in the background guffaws into a roar. As I said earlier – shoddily out of place.

As is possibly obvious from the above illustrations, Immortals of Meluha is an original, unique and relevant idea that could have been executed with a lot more literary finesse. One can, of course, always forgive Amish for being haphazard with these details considering it is his first novel and from what I have read, a product of much labor and dedication. For someone who isn't a seasoned writer this is no mean feat. But regardless of the accolades he is undoubtedly getting I do hope that from the feedback he has received he has focused more on the negatives than the positives. After all, much like his analogy of devas and asuras the naysayers are the ones who need to be attended to first. With his second book in the trilogy already out ('Secret of the Nagas') only time will tell if this series will continue to improve both in its literary and monetary worth.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5

6 reflections:

rads said...

Immortals of Meluha is an original, unique and relevant idea that could have been executed with a lot more literary finesse.

That line sums the book for me.
For most casual readers, there is always one pet peeve that we pick on and hold on to. That is our standard with which we gauge most literature, regardless of its genre.

The points you've listed would annoy me as well. Language matters and style matters, a lot. One can modernize a classic without insulting it's original essence and role it meant to play.

Thanks, I was on the fence on reading this, now I will pass.

Harjot Singh said...

The basic plot of story, Shiva being an ordinary man who has been visioned as the ultimate savior, 'The Neelkanth', holds immense potential for narrative, character building and story telling. Author Amish Tripathi has done a very good job at spinning a gripping narrative. He takes time to develop characters, sub-plots & storyline. At no point do you feel that it is being stretched for sake of it.

Deep said...

You are the first reviewer who has spoken about the extremely juvenile usage of language throughout the book. Kudos. Another issue I had was the lack of details and the pseudo-scientific explanations. Clearly the concepts were not well researched.

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Dileelok said...

Hi all, this blog i found it quite interesting and i just came across another similar book named ASURA . I found the blurb to be very interesting .dont know what it has to offer us . it is expected to be out by april i guess so lets wait and see.....
happy blogging

Neha said...

Apart from the concept, everything else is crap. According to me, the book became a best seller only because of marketing!!!
After listening to lot of praises for this book, I started reading with lot of expectation. But after a few pages, I was completely let down. There was nothing in the book till the end!! Its not the end, you need to read another book (go through another torture) to know what exactly is happening!!
The description is crap!! Especially the war. Amish has described the war in the crappiest way possible!!! The description of how the people would be at that time, the way they live, everything is crap!! He himself lacks the imagination. What can a reader imagine while reading it!
While writing a story which has taken place in a completely different time, the author should explain about the people of that time. He has to create the scene for the reader. Here Amish has done nothing like that! His descriptions are vague. You just cannot imagine the place the way he is described!!
If you don't like all descriptions, and just like the story, then you might like the book. Many of my friends are not at all bothered about the description. They just told, those things are boring!! So if you are that kind of person, then you might like this book.

 
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