“Finally crossed the barriers of distaste caused by the 'thrust-it-on' promotional drive and the ill-designed cover page of 'The Immortals of Meluha' to take the first look at what lay inside...” – I posted on Facebook the day I chose to check for myself whether it was marketing gimmick alone that made Ameesh Tripathy’s debut work an overnight bestseller.
And bang came the first comment that buttressed my skepticism - “Antara my dear, it’s a disaster, I fell for this deal and ordered both ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ and ‘The Secret of the Nagas’. The first book made me ‘LOL & sob’ at the dialogues and quality of the language used…”
Well, now that I’ve completed the book, I’ll rather liberate myself from evaluating it on the basis of its literary merit. To me - ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ owes its phenomenal success to a GROUND-BREAKING IDEA, teeming with ingredients to sell like a hot cake – of course, with the right visibility. It’s an idea trivialized by a quality of language so mediocre that the book risks being dismissed by serious readers; but an idea bolstered by marked originality, ample drama, and of course unforeseen promotion – so that it was readily lapped up by the film makers of prominence. The book, for all its appeal, cannot be called a worthwhile piece of ‘literature’, and yet for me - it has been quite a read that has significantly influenced my attitude towards history, religion and mythology.
Uh, just to provide a background on that last sentence - as a schoolgirl, history to me was EVERYTHING an undesirably imposed burden of a curriculum could be! Armed on one hand with chronological charts listing the dates of many a battle fought by many a ruler often for no good but expansion of kingdoms, and on the other hand with exam questions that invoked neither analysis nor imagination but plain memory power – history made the classic case of rote learning. What made it worse for me was the fact that the history of my country hardly brought women into the ambit of its limelight. The simple fact that the world didn’t bother to document the names of daughters in the lineages of the ruling dynasties never failed to irk me. So for all that mattered to me, I’d have nothing to do with the past and it could be happily buried away into oblivion!
What about religion and mythology? Well, the way I saw it – religiousness, backwardness of thoughts, superstitions, fasting womenfolk reciting ‘pnachali’-s for the ‘good’ of their family, over-glorification of traditions, and opposition to female emancipation– all walked hand in hand. I wanted to DROWN THEM FOR GOOD in the Mariana Trench of my apathy!
Now, being the religious illiterate that I’ve always gladly been, a book from the religion-meets-history-meets-fiction genre HAD to invoke in me either disgust or curiosity. ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ swam its way to the second group, and yes, there are reasons for that. It’s a work that endeavors to pick up the grains of centuries-old Hindu mythology, look at them with GENUINE interest through the lens of RATIONALISM, root them in the Indian prehistoric civilization, color them with the paintbrush of vivid imagination, and weave them back into a captivating tale. Ameesh, notwithstanding his linguistic poverty, rocks at that!
To elaborate, that a newbie author DARED to reconstruct the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara) as mere mortals – is an attempt worthy of applause in itself. It’s quite a bold trespass into a world way too vague, shrouded by millenniums of sedimentation of superstitions and religious sensitivity. And as I said earlier, Ameesh has more than that up his sleeve. He visualizes Shiva as a tribal chief from the vicinity of the Mansarovar Lake in Mount Kailash, Tibet – and makes him enter from outside what historians term as the Indus Valley Civilization. And mind it, this version of the Indus Valley Civilization (or the land of Meluha – as Ameesh calls it) is one superimposed by the Hindu notion of Rama Rajya – a near perfect empire, advanced in architecture, science and general intellect - where the rules of Lord Rama are the law of the land. Slowly and deftly, Ameesh extrapolates the well-known elements of Hindu myths and the archaeological data about the prehistoric civilization of the subcontinent to create the stage for his play – an India a thousand years after the birth of Rama – a world of mortals out of whom a few extraordinary ones, by means of their deed, will be later worshipped as Gods. Meluha is brought to life not only by the vivid description of the city’s planning and constructions, or the insights into the sociopolitical wisdom of Lord Rama, but also by the very tangible mentions of Sati and Daksha, Nandi and Brahaspati, the Nataraj and the Neelkanth, the Somras and the Trishul.
What Tripathy’s tale did to me on a personal level is - it made me view religion and superstitions from an alternate standpoint that goes well beyond the debate whether they, in their current forms, serve a purpose but for promoting social regression. I learnt to see them as integral products (and by-products) of the human march towards knowledge and civilization – of which an individual can witness just a thin slice in the tiny span of life. It developed in me this newfound respect for subjects like history and archaeology – not only because the study of the past provides us a perspective to the way things are in the world we inhabit today, but also because mankind has already been through diverse socio-religious, administrative, philosophical and political experiments, and their results have been put to the test of time. We can’t AFFORD to lose the wisdom we’ve already gained as a species. That a seemingly innocuous difference in the value systems (say - ‘Satya Dharma Maan’ of the Suryavanshis vs. ‘Shringar Saundarya Swatantrata’ of the Chandravanshis) of races arising from the same blood and soil can result in an ever-widening fissure of hatred and enmity – should carry a significant message for our divisive politicians.
And as I thought of it probably for the first time ever, I couldn’t but develop this overwhelming awe towards the relentless efforts of the human to form a better race.
Why, we’ve tried time and again to visualize an ideal society and to define the ideal behavior of its men and women. We’ve invented and theorized God – sometimes as a tool of unchallengeable authority and mass control, often to end anarchy and stabilize the society, to draw faith from in moments of collective or personal crisis, and also to find solace in the frightening meaninglessness of existence where the end of a life, howsoever goodly or evilly lived, is rewarded with death.
The theories have been accepted, have won hearts, stabilized, degenerated, been taken advantage of by the power-hungry, been replaced through revolutions, and a new theory has emerged to suit the need of the ages. In order to eliminate threat to hard-earned social stability, we’ve marginalized in the name of God the ones whom we didn’t know where to place in our vision of the perfect social machinery. Sometimes the differently-abled (say - the Vikarma-s of Meluha), sometimes the hermaphrodites and the homosexuals, sometimes the widowed womenfolk and sometimes innocent children born to castes deemed lowest in the prevailing hierarchy have had to bear the brunt. Rules initiated with the best of intentions have been, in the course of time, either overridden in favor of better social justice, or – more often than not, hijacked for worse.
The questions that inevitably arise at this point are – why, in spite of centuries of experiments, we humans are yet in no position to boast either of large-scale social stability or of continually-improving moral integrity? Why our parameters of advancement are so heavily biased towards technological feats that they’ve stolen the focus from sociopolitical research – although unfair wealth distribution, communal hatred, crime and corruption burn us every day?
Where did the tool of religion go wrong? What did we do to the principles of Lord Rama, Buddha, Muhammad, Christ or Guru Nanak? If making the world a more harmonious place to live in has ceased to be our priority, what is their relevance in our lives today? Have we reduced them to mere symbols of ritualistic worship – just for the sense of ‘belonging’ that a communal identity brings to us?
Probably the most profound takeaway value of ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ arises from its portrayal of the early signs of degeneration creeping into the Rama Rajya – which makes us contemplate on some of these questions. The caste system favored by Rama, as Nandi informed Shiva, was purely merit-based, where the caste-members could be selected solely through a standardized examination system. Also, to ensure equal facility to each Meluhan child, Rama is said to have introduced a Maika-Gurukul system by virtue of which each infant would be adopted by the society and reared equally while their parental identity would always be a state secret. However, as the book depicts - a few hundred years later, the merit-based caste system gave way to the birth-based caste system that continues to devastate India till date, and the children born to the nobility were exempted from the Maika-Gurukul system. The Meluhans, being strict rule followers, continued their proud adherence to the caste system as the established norm of the land - without realizing that, in its modified form, it would be slow poisoning the fair and just society visualized by Lord Rama. They couldn’t see the inherent injustice in it – which Shiva, being an outsider, readily could.
The issue seems to lie with the fact that – whenever mankind has had a prominent leader capable of guiding us to a better life, we’ve called him an INFALLIBLE savior. We’ve placed the burden of all our thoughts, queries and troubles on him – and have relieved ourselves from the responsibility of being thinking individuals. Our leaders have had lofty visions for humanity and we’ve refused to compliment them in making their visions come true - for we’ve proudly groomed ourselves into total conformity and been reluctant to go beyond the sentences they’ve literally uttered. We’ve never quite understood the need to focus instead on the essence of their teachings.
The question is – why is it necessary for us to place our leaders on a platform so raised that they’re beyond the reach of a common man’s doubtful glance? Why do we need our teachers to be rendered extraordinary by something other (e.g. a prophecy or some other form of Divine sanctity) than the merit of their vision and work? Why do simple teachings aimed at betterment of humanity ultimately become Godly theories fighting for supremacy over each other? Obviously because that’s the most sure shot way to heighten their impact and ensure mass following. But then the downside is that, by doing so, we alienate ourselves from these lessons to the extent that we lose the sense of what they’re directed at – and we shudder at the ‘blasphemous’ thought of discarding and rethinking segments of them to suit the need of the times. Over a period of time, the meaning dies out, the mass dies out; the carcass remains as a rigid set of rules to be taken advantage of by the hardliners and the power-hungry – at times contradicting what the preacher originally may have had in his heart.
Through his tale of the metamorphosis of Shiva into the Mahadeva, Ameesh proclaims that no social system, howsoever perfect it may appear, can ever be trusted to be stable enough for us to be complacent and stop thinking. A system rather NEEDS to be questioned to stop it from degenerating. Over the generations outlooks change, and so do moralities. The strength of a society, therefore, lies in its flexibility rather than rigidity; in its realization of the INTENTION of its rules; in its ability to ABSORB a bit of waywardness from the rebellious.
Books of this genre, I believe, are the need of the day – for they may help the world see religions and religious diversity as matters of great interest and study, rather than of fanaticism and fight. Now that our religious institutes are no longer patrons of science and progress, now that our intelligentsia are hardly the men of religion, now that we’re equipped enough to see through the irrationality of superstitions, it’s time that we dare to discard from our religions what’s unnecessary and extract the priceless silt of wisdom they’ve accumulated across the ages of flow of humanity.
Okay, that’s it for the day! Hoping to see some gripping messages coming from Ameesh in ‘The Secret of the Nagas’ as well. So long, dear reader, do let me know your feedback on this post, for the next best thing to a resonating voice is that of a genuine critic :-). [ By Antara Kundu ]