Friday, July 22, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha - Amish

'The Immortals of Meluha' (Tara Press, rs. 295, 289 pages) is a debut book from Amish Trivedi, one among the lesser-hyped Indian authors, but of whom one hears highly of, these days. This book is exactly what I hoped Indian Writing in English can do. It can tell wonderful stories that not many others can conceive, stories that are steeped in mythology, history, philosophy. Stories that are fun to read, can take you on flights of fantasy and also provoke interest in all things Indian - history, culture, music, tradition. Ah, wonderful stuff! 'Immortals of Meluha' has a fantastic cover and I picked it up long ago. Wonder why it took me so long to get to it but once I got down to reading it, I was fascinated with the tale Amish told. Is telling.

The story, set sometime in 1800 BC or so, begins with a Tibetan tribal leader Shiva, who is under attack from his neighbouring barbaric tribes. There is constant strife for prime land between Shiva's tribe and the other tribes and after one such vicious attack, Shiva decides to move from this land to the neighbouring land of Meluha, on invitation of course. The barbaric tribe reaches Meluha, a well-developed, highly evolved society. Intially they are kept in camps on the outskirts where they learn of the Meluhans obsession with hygiene, are taught the ways of the land, quarantined for possible illnesses and administered medicines to cleanse them. The medicine 'somras' has its effect and brings high fevers to most and are taken care of by the efficient doctors. Shiva is told that the ‘somras’ will give them long, disease-free life, a life in which they will be able to live for long years with the vitality of their youth. But most importantly the ‘somras’ has some fine effects on Shiva that makes the doctors take him urgently to meet the King of Meluha, Daksha.

King Daksha sees Shiva's iridescent blue throat, the Neelkanth, which turns a luminous blue from the inside - a side effect of drinking the ‘somras’. Daksha explains to him why the Neelkanth is so important to him and Meluha. Meluha is a kingdom that follows the laws of Manu, Lord Ram. They are the Suryavanshis and have means to mass produce ‘somras’ which gives them an advantage over others. But their neighbours, the Chandravanshis, the less evolved, a free-flowing society that are always interfering with them have over the years been taking the help of the despicable Naga tribe, and causing severe damage to Meluha through several terrorist attacks. Legend has it that the Neelkanth would arrive and save the Suryavanshis.

Shiva has meanwhile fallen in love with Sati, Daksha's daughter. To understand the ways of Meluhans before committing to head their campaign against evil, Shiva goes around the country. He is given access to see how they manufacture ‘somras’. Shiva understands that this noble land, though dogged by dogma and stuck in laws that sometimes don't make sense to him, needs him. He agrees to be on their side, and shows considerable proof of his capabilities as a leader, a warrior and a strategist.

In skirmishes with the Chandrvanshis while Shiva is on tour of Meluha, Sati is attacked, near fatally. Shiva revives her with his love as much as a new application of ‘somras’ which until then was only perceived as a powerful anti-oxidant. He proposes marriage to her despite knowing that she is a vikarma, one with a bad fate. Vikarmas are almost treated as outcasts in Meluha. Daksha accepts the proposal of Shiva, and agrees to change the laws regarding vikarmas. The action hots up as the main centre for manufacture of ‘somras’ Mount Mandar is attacked and blown up by daivastras. In the attack Brahaspati, their chief scientist and one who is close to Shiva is missing and presumed killed. Enraged the Suryavanshis go to war against the Chandravanshis and rout them, capture their leader Dilipa. They go to the Chandravanshi capital, in their land of Swadeepa. Going by the Chandravanshi Kings reactions, Shiva is plagued by doubt - whether he had done the right thing in siding with the Suryavanshi's because the Chandrvanshi's do not appear to be the evil that he was told they were. The book ends at a place where Shiva notices that Sati is under attack and is moving to save her even as he comes to terms with his dilemma!

‘Immortals of Meluha’ is simply written, keeps you fully engrossed and makes you want to know more of what this wonderful character is up to. There is so much content and Amish has not tried to stylise it in anyway and kept his energies focused on the story telling. It is a fine story, and well told, one that is full of research into history and philosophy, leadership and administration, mythology and human nature. If this is Amish's first book I can well imagine what future books from him can bring. This is the kind of stuff I always wanted to read from Indian authors, where there is an Indianness that need not be apologetic or pandering to the West, something that many of our authors are guilty of. I hear great reviews of Ashwin Sanghi, the author of Chanakya's Chant, have experienced Namita Devidayal’s work, and I see wonderful times ahead for fiction in Indian writing. And we are just about scratching the surface. As we accept our Indianness more and more, get more honest with ourselves and our people and systems, wonderful stories will flow that bring out so many shades of us as a people.

Without trying too hard, Amish takes us through a journey of heroes, nobility, love, ambition, survival, courage, sacrifice, justice and makes your emotions rise and ebb as the young Shiva almost flippantly takes over the mantle of the legend of the mythical Mahadev, the all powerful passionate and reclusive Neelkanth. The detail with which he has stuck to history, weaving the Mohenjodaro, Harappan civilizations, the legend of Ram and Ayodhya, the societies that seem to be capitalistic and socialistic, sometimes reminding us of our history with our own Pakistan, makes great reading. From the architecture to the land, laws of Manu to economy, hygiene and medicine Amish explains the land of Meluha with great care. He ends the story at a place where it is necessary now to read the next of this trilogy. It was nice to see Gauri Dange's name in the acknowledgments; she is a fine writer, editor and wears many hats and well.

Great debut Amish! And may you write many more wonderful stories. This story has enough drama content to make a fine movie of course, and maybe once the trilogy is out, it will be.

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