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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