The Immortals of Meluha – Review

Book: The Immortals of Meluha
Author (?): Amish
Year: 2010

Definitions and norms are being challenged. What was, isn’t, and what is, will not be. Aggressive change pervades our being. The flag of freedom of expression flutters and how! Everyone wants a mic and what’s more, everyone gets a mic. So, when I finished reading Amish’s debut novel, The Immortals of Meluha, I found myself facing a queer predicament. Whether to call that piece of text a book or not. Whether to call the man an author or not. Blame the blurring lines of definition.

The Immortals of Meluha
The Immortals of Meluha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Immortals of Meluha opens with Shiva watching the sun set and smoking marijuana. While Shiva debates in his mind the offer by a foreign visitor to leave Mount Kailash and relocate to Meluha you think all is well. A stage is set where Shiva, the leader of the Guna tribe, is tired of fighting the Pakratis for survival each day and he is considering moving to Meluha with his tribe to lead a new life. Chasing the dream of a life devoid of warfare “sounds so damn good” to Shiva. As he is mulling over the Meluhan’s proposal, the Pakratis strike. A short assault follows where the Meluhans help Shiva and his tribe drive off the Pakratis, and Shiva decides to move to Meluha.

When Shiva arrives at Meluha with his tribe he is awestruck by the near-perfect system of living and governance. Meluha is a place where no one is poor, everyone has food, everyone lives in identical homes, the society has excellent drainage and all the Meluhans are in the pink of health. Meluha is a land of dreams; a place where everyone would want to live. It’s the great escape. To fold mythology into this cacophony of a story, Amish explains the caste system in Meluha. Shiva is told stories of how the caste system was established by Lord Ram and it is based only on merit. It allows every individual to pursue their natural talent rather than pursue a vocation based on their inherited caste. To achieve this kind of equality, a Maika system was put into place. Now, if you read this in one go without pausing to think, it seems like a really good way to work in a society. However, once you zoom out and do some reflection, you wonder how it could ever be out into practice. While I read this, I made a mental note to look this up.

As Shiva is shown around Meluha, Amish has described a place one wishes new India could be. Shiva and his tribes are give the typical Indian treatment for a guest, where the guest is considered God. Among other things, Shiva and his tribe are given somras. Somras is an elixir of life and the reason why all Meluhans are immortal. Legend says that a man from a foreign land will arrive and when he drinks the somras it will reveal his blue throat; this is the man who will save the Meluhans from evil. On drinking the somras, Shiva’s blue throat reveals itself and he is, therefore, established as the Neelkanth Meluhans have been looking for. While Shiva is coming to terms with his new-found identity, Shiva bumps into Sati. He pursues her in a style that could have safely been used in a movie like Student of the Year. Incidentally Sati turns out to be the daughter of the King of Meluha! When the King of Meluha learns of Shiva’s fondness of Sati, he slyly nudges Shiva to pursue his daughter Sati in the hope that Shiva would save Meluha to impress Sati. He lets Shiva and Sati travel together too. This is the point where Amish goes Bollywood with his so-called book and he doesn’t stop there. This part was, frankly, the most ridiculous of the lot. A love-struck Shiva then marries Sati, but not before he abolishes the vikarma system of penance. Under the vikarma system, a person had to bear fruits of the evils in his previous birth. Amish has explained how Lord Ram established this as a logical system to maintain balance in society. Shiva abolishes this system for all of Meluha and then marries the once-vikarma Sati. The married and happy Shiva then goes on to search for what he thinks is his destiny—to destroy the evil that Meluhans face. During the course of the story, Shiva learns of the Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis. He is educated of the teachings of Lord Ram. He weighs his own beliefs against what is told to him. He doubts himself and finds courage when the Vasudevs proffer him much needed advice. And finally, Shiva goes to war to destroy evil.

The story is, by all means, a good one. The tempo is captivating as well. This piece of text has a story, pace and action. However, the writing, characterization, execution remind the reader of a Bollywood movie that could have been great and also of the strained relations between India and Pakistan. Amish has taken the modern ‘terrorist’ and set this group back hundreds of centuries ago. Why did he do that, is beyond me. To add insult to injury, Amish has made Shiva a caricature of the average Indian male. Shiva has crass dialogues, he has cheap pick-up lines for Sati, he swears in unbearably long sentences and he has the wisdom of a common man. I may not be an expert at Shiva and Hindu mythology, but somehow, it didn’t make me look up to the protagonist. Even after Shiva realized that he was the Neelkanth, he had a common outlook and language. That was the intent? Maybe. From where I saw it, greatness was being thrust upon him. I do understand that this story was meant to make Shiva look like a man trying to live up to the great destiny designed for him, but it didn’t quite work. Shiva just became a common struggler I was reading about. And the so-called book became an extended version of someone’s web log.

As far as the language goes, Amish’s sentence construction is lethargic. His word choice is abominable. It seemed like he used MS Word’s synonym feature to embellish his language. His character build-up is non-existent. To make the writing pertinent he has sprinkled Sanskrit and Hindi words throughout. Some sentences are a direct transliteration from Hindi, and at such times one really wonders at the state of this country’s literature scene. So, there is no wonder why this ‘book’ was rejected by 20 publishers before Amish self-published it. But then again, the existence of a story in this mishmash of language is what saves the day. Again, it comes as no surprise that Karan Johar announced to make The Immortals of Meluha into a movie. The fact that this story has scenes such as Sati jumping in front of an arrow to save Shiva makes a Bollywood director’s job easy. How Karan Johar builds up the mythology and the nuanced wisdom that this story has traces of, will be the challenge.

The Immortals of Meluha is the musing of a banker who is a good story teller, but he is no writer.

For what it’s worth one must read this…er…book.

Bookhad
(11.3.2013)

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16 thoughts on “The Immortals of Meluha – Review

Add yours

      1. I love reading rants. The way this review complained about going through the book (hesitating to even call it a book) was fun!
        Though now I am sure I am going to skip reading this book. I hate bad protagonists even more than a bad story.

  1. Kya baat hai!

    Student of the year types? Really? I do remember you telling me about the Bollywood storyline, but the arrow scene still cracked me 😛

    I’m reading this definitely!
    My favourite line?

    “His word choice is abominable. It seemed like he used MS Word’s synonym feature to embellish his language.”

  2. You spoke my mind, really. I thought that the book was a very common book indeed, and maybe if it didnt boast of Shiva as its protagonist then it would have faded into oblivion. It isnt much of mythology based too, except for the characters it borrows. I had heard such great reviews about it and I was extremely disappointed after reading it. I soo agree that it sounds more like a Bollywood screenplay as opposed to Literature. Shiva’s personality didnt have anything extraordinary to capture my imagination and somehow none of the characters made me really feel for them. An extremely good idea but not well-executed. I had issues with the language too, and the dialogues didnt feel very realistic to me. Like I said, that may have something to do with the fact that I had anticipated it to be more than it was, but still I would rather read a Chetan Bhagat than this.

  3. Hmm…..no wonder he had to do so much of promotion for it……a good book sells itself…..a GOOD book…..!!

  4. There is a Quora thread where people are asked to put up the best Indian novel that they have read [1]. Out of about 150 answers, nearly 60 are about the Immortals of Meluha. That is the extent to which this book has captured the imagination of the not so well read, but educated middle class.

    The book is bad. Yet, Amish has managed to sell it to millions because he has justified their way of life and their religion in this book. Those who haven’t read much, will read this book and conclude that the caste system was in fact, good! They will also have logical arguments for it, that they have read in this book. Of course, the fact that it is a fictional piece, won’t matter at all.

    I read this book because it was suggested by a lot of friends (now mere acquaintances). They said that it would change my views about Hinduism. Yeah, right. I don’t know about ‘Hinduism’ but it did change my views about young Indians who I now understand are ready to gobble up anything that lends an air of credibility of their archaic beliefs, rituals and way of life. If you don’t believe me, check out Ashwin Sanghvi; another up and coming author who is riding on the wave of Indians who will gobble up anything that even hints at a rose tinted analysis of their way of life. I know that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but seriously, Krishna Key? Chanakya’s Chant? Abominable Alliterations? No, thank you.

    [1] This is the thread – http://www.quora.com/Indian-Writers/What-are-some-mind-blowing-novels-by-Indian-authors

  5. People who just come and wine and keep reading from Bollywood angel like this publisher has really not understood the gist of all…
    There are Strong characters if u leave some nuisances of silly jibe made by this author… Paravateshwar, VeerBhadra, Scientists, 3 Pandits – Vasudev and the troubles in mind of Sati, fathers agony and Confused Shiva… It all makes a good read if you really want to see a Transformation of a ordinary human who is so confused between right and wrong, leader v/s follwer, trusted v/s foes then this is best book…
    I wont even go bothering taking a pot shot at cheap comments made here and the big article written against the book…
    All in all its a 5*

  6. The book is not that bad as you have reviewed it. It is so simple to understand, by the way it is written that the author tried to add a tinge of modernity to the history. And according to me, the ‘mishmash’ (according to you) of Hindi, English and Sanskrit gave it a more real outlook.
    You really fail to make me understand why you didn’t like the piece, but that’s okay, depends on individual’s taste and preference. And also, what I feel is that you were being a little diplomatic while reviewing it.

    I hope you take this comment in a positive way.

    1. Sure, SubtleWriter. We understand that readers have varying tastes. However, as much as the plot was extremely engaging, the writing wasn’t as good. If he had tightened it up, that would really add to the overall quality of literature.

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