You cannot blame me for not trying. I had purchased a copy of Amish’s sensational bestseller ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ a long time back, before the second edition came up with HarperCollins deciding to do a reprint, and also deciding to publish the second volume, ‘The Secret of the Nagas’. The book was originally self-published, after it was rejected by all publishing houses, before it became a bestseller. The book has also the distinction being one of the earliest Indian books to market it via a youtube video. The video was really impressive.
And, I was really impressed with the idea of the book, of humanising a mythical figure, and try and reimagine the history of the elusive Harappa civilisation. But, somehow, I never got around actually reading the book. After a few of my friends gave it glowing reviews, all of them had borrowed the book from me, I decided to give it a try. Why not!
The book opens with Shiva, chieftain of a tribe called The Gunas in the Himalayas, next to the Mansarovar lake, with his battle scars and his tiger skin skirt. Soon, we are introduced to their sworn enemies, the Pakratis; there is a war, and their leader is called Yakhaya. You can guess who they are. They are the savage beings, semi-divine, not as bad as the Asuras, but bad enough. In mythology, their king is however, Kubera, the divine banker, known for his thriftiness, and he has a particular relationship with the mythical Shiva.
Then we meet Nandi, an emissary from the country of Meluha, the Land of Pure Life, who has come to invite Shiva and his tribe to migrate to Meluha, the best place on earth, like countries like Canada did years ago. We are given a hint that there is a motive behind inviting Shiva to Melhua, and that would be the main plot line of the novel. (In mythology, Nandi is Shiva’s assistant, often represented as a bull.)
Following the battle, the tribe, without much ado, pack up their staff and begins the journey to Meluha. Another battle and they reach a valley, beautiful beyond imagination, and Amish tells us that this is Kashmir, and the capital of Kashmir is Srinagar, and the river here is called Jhelum. Really. I mean, really? I thought the story is set in pre-historic times. I am sure, the pre-Aryan people did not call the place Kashmir, did they? Or called the Dal lake Dal. I don’t know the finer points of history, but I found it hard to digest the names. I had to really try hard to keep willing and willingly suspend my disbelieve (Note: British poet Coleridge’s theory of Willing Suspension of Disbelieve, where you go along with the imaginary world created by an author, even if it may not always be logical. Say, the world of Harry Potter, for example!)
I dragged on and arrived at an Urban settlement of Meluhans in Srinagar. The description is fine. It corroborates with the archaeological history of the Harappa civilisation. Then Nandi leads Shiva and his tribe to a man, introduced as an immigration officer. They have a conversation, where Nandi address Shiva as sir, and Shiva says, don’t call me sir, call me Shiva.
The scene is perfectly written, but, but, it looks like it has been copied from the screenplay of a Hollywood film. Did people in the pre-historic time speak like that, even in English translation? The idea of calling someone sir, or its equivalent in the local language, it simply did not ring true to my ears, and I could no longer suspend my disbelieve.
It’s Page 14. I plod on. I am not giving up so soon. Back in Srinagar, the Gunas are given a luxurious living quarters. The amenities are described in great details (later, Shiva sees a “cake-like object” in the bathroom to wash the body. The soap. But, look at the image. Cake-like? Did Shiva know what cake look like?) Then, Shiva is told that the tribe has been “quarantined.”
Some years ago, I did a class on creative writing (I know, I am not qualified enough to do such a course; then all of other unqualified people are doing it, why not me!), and we discussed the dangers of using modern words in a narrative where it doesn’t fit. I understand, in the novel, the Meluhans have a great civilization and they have a well developed vocabulary, but I don’t think they’d call the procedure quarantine. For, the word is very modern.
Then we meet the doctor, Lady Ayurvati, who dresses like a Brahmin. As Nandi reveres her, I imagine her as played by Hollywood actress Sigourney Weaver, from those Alien films. And for obvious reasons. The conversations still sound like they have been borrowed from Hollywood films. Ayurvati asks Shiva if he is free so that she can explain him something. Shiva says he is free now, but will charge her next time. It’s supposed to be joke. Lady Ayurvati did not smile. Neither did I. For, I was in the pre-historic milieu, and then, I got it. The joke is about money (free as opposed to paid for). But did the Gunas know about money? I thought, the idea of currency to buy and sell objects came very later.
This was Page 16. On Page 23, we have another conversation borrowed from Hollywood action films. The hero’s tribe is in danger and he wants to help, but cannot. A while later, Shiva wonders, and I quote: “What the devil is going on?” Devil? Aren’t we talking about a time when monotheism isn’t invented yet!
Then on the next page, Bhandra, Shiva’s friend explains to Shiva the Caste system that the Meluhans follow. This did it for me. All the while I was under the impression that Meluha was a pre-Aryan civilization. Apparently not.
I just couldn’t go on.