Book Review – The immortals of Meluha

I heard of the book from my colleague, as the first in a trilogy on Lord Shiva. Even as I heard him describe the book as Shiva’s story completely re-written, I thought I was traipsing into a dangerous, even if, interesting territory. For its tough to cope for most of us, if long nurtured beliefs, especially religious one, are challenged and up turned suddenly one fine day.

My sense of alarm eventually proved unjustified. The author does not claim his book to be factual or a slice of actual Indian history. The events in the book merely form a ‘story’. I suppose that is why the book didn’t court controversy, especially with the touchy right wing that takes offence to anything even remotely ‘tainting our culture’.

And I will not reveal much of the story in this review. Suffice to say that it talks of Shiva, not as a divine being, but actually a human being, a tribal Tibetan leader who happens to get entangled in the lives and battles of the people of the Indus valley.

The thing that appeals to me most about the book is the idea itself. The concept of Shiva as a human and not anybody divine. This is a thought I share with the author. Rama, Krishna and company, to me, are not mere mythological characters, but very much flesh and blood people of yore who have been glorified as Gods. Yes, I suppose they deserve to be worshipped for their ideals and what they left behind for the people of this country, but that does not make them any less human. Like Jesus, in all probabilities, they lived and walked on this planet thousands of years ago, crossing over to Sri Lanka to vanquish an evil king or witnessing an epic battle in Kurukshtera, as the case may be.

So the author’s prowess and imagination is laudable. What brings Shiva to Meluha, as the book begins and the course of destiny that finally takes him to Ayodhya (yes, according to this book, Rama pre-dates Shiva) towards the end, form a very interesting plot. The characters of Shiva, Sati, Nandi, Daksha, Parvateshwar  and all the other main  players are etched out well. The story is also peppered with interesting episodes and references. Like the periodic appearances of the pandits to guide Shiva. Or the philosophy that laces the book throughout – if a leaf abosrbs all colors and reflects only green, is its color green or anything but green?

Another interesting aspect of the book is how the conflict between the Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis plays out. At one point, the Suryavanshi king even  dispatches a letter to the Chandravanshi empire asking them to hand over the terrorits who attacked Mount Mandar – the proverbial final straw. And the reply they get is that there is no terrorist they are harboring and they themselves are victims of terror (sounds familiar? reminds you of any present day neighbors you know of?)
The author, Amish, is a first timer and belongs to the Chetan Bhagat/Sarita Mandanna school of writers, balancing a corporate day job with  night time literary pursuits. And unfortunately, the amateurishness is amply evident in the writing. So what, according to me, could have been a literary masterpeice in the league of The Lord of the Rings, for the sheer strength of its imagination, is reduced to the  level of a paperback fiction. Shiva mouthing dialogues like ‘I’ll teach the son of a bitch a lesson’ etc. does not help either.

But inspite of all its flaws, as the book ends with a promise of an action sequence to follow and a lot of unaswered questions, I can’t help but wait for the sequel.