A godsend for your PlayStation
The second book in the Shiva trilogy by Amish, The Secret of The Nagas, shares many of the characteristic fundamentals of the first book, The Immortals of Meluha. It is a complete reinvention of mythology, using names and terms revered by Hindus, but with few connections to the established path. Thus, this, too, is a cross between an adventure-thriller and a random imitation of Amar Chitra Katha but based 4,000 years ago. This peculiar hybrid can take the risk because the author, Amish, knows that the evocation of names such as Shiva, Sati, Kali from the Hindu pantheon will immediately connect with the Indian reader. Shiva’s dreadlocks and tiger-skin pack a powerful mystique without the need to construct a new super-hero. Amish exploits the cult of Shiva maintaining he was a “man” worshipped by his contemporaries because he continuously rescues a failing world. Few modern readers would be familiar with the Vedic, Puranic or later mythological texts and would unquestioningly absorb many of the prescriptions Amish makes in his novel — after all, the first book was a fluid page turner. But could mixed-up mythology necessarily create good literature or even a good story a second time round? And does abandoning research for invention about a world which probably existed 4,000 years ago always create a bestseller?
While Shiva in Amish’s books is nowhere as passionate as the original mythological figure, the complicated intrigue that plays out in The Secret of the Nagas detracts from the strength of Amish’s Shiva in The Immortals of Meluha. The Shiva we pleasantly encountered in The Immortals of Meluha, shared all the attributes of the “divine”, but is moulded into a modern man who does not hesitate to lace his language with less-than-divine epithets, for example, “What the hell?” Even the chapter where “dance” is referred to makes it appear more like an item number. Yet it worked extremely well in The Immortals of Meluha.
However, in the second book Shiva loses some of the sheen of a renaissance man (if one can use that term for someone who lived 4,000 years ago) and appears as a Salman Khan-type warrior minus the wholistic fervour of an Ardhnareshwar or the grace of the Natraj, who destroys and creates. While I compliment Amish for re-casting mythological figures imaginatively, at times the plot of The Secret Of The Nagas is far too dispersed with too many characters who remain unexplored. In the prequel, Amish had set a racy pace — with Shiva being sought out by a civilisation that was in danger of being wiped out. In the second book, as Shiva tracks down the Nagas to avenge his brother’s death — he leaps all around “India” (a term unknown 4,000 years ago) fighting “ligers” (a cross between a tiger and lion) and other Amish-generated enemies.
The Secret of the Nagas, thus, is more like a computer game (and, indeed, one of its remarkable qualities is that it is a very visual tale) and less like a literary exercise.
Right from the moment that Shiva and Sati (his wife) engage in skirmish with a Naga — and find a Naga coin which will lead them to his land — we know that various levels of escalating dangers will be set for the intrepid couple. They will fight all kinds of weird and wonderful foes for no discernible purpose till they hit the jackpot. Meanwhile, I did get a little concerned about some socially disturbing metaphors. For instance, the very fact that the Nagas are the enemy (initially) and they are “deformed” sends out a questionable message about those who are physically challenged (this is exactly what Hindi cinema used to do. That Sati is an untouchable is a great concept, but the interpretation is that she is so due to her misdeeds in a previous birth.
So while Amish is giving a modern re-interpretation of our glorious gods, he might also be, unconsciously, reinforcing certain prejudices. It will be interesting to have a dalit reading of the book in case I have been oversensitive in my own reading.
However, following the amazing success of the first book, one has to admit that Amish has managed to touch a very popular nerve — even though he might have blithely transposed fairly modern customs like Rakshabandhan 4,000 years ago!
Amish took over the marketing of his first book and made it a success — there is a lot to be learnt from his brilliant handling of the sales campaign (in fact, I urge my own publishers to check it out online). Apart from celebrity endorsements, there are slick online videos about the book, complete with background music.
If this series does for mythology what Harry Potter did for children’s literature, then I am sure Lord Shiva will shower his blessings once again!
Kishwar Desai is the author of Witness the Night. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org