The first book of the Shiva trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha seemed like a mythological Bollywood fantasy novel that takes one of the most powerful Gods of Indian mythology and portrays him as a mortal man. While the concept of portraying that mortals augment to be Godlike through their deeds, is commendable indeed. But the author takes some familiar characters from our mythology and paints a whimsical version of Shiva’s life that I found amateurish in many ways. The attempt to link up the modern way of life into the old era is quite like linking the Old Stone Age man to Project management principles.
The story, set about 4 millennia ago, revolves around a tribal chieftain in his early 20s, who migrates to a region called Meluha, where the Suryavanshi clan are in dire peril. The mighty river, Saraswathi, is slowly drying up. And they are at war with the Chandravanshi clan. To make matters worse, there is a rogue outfit called the Nagas causing terror attacks. The Nagas are described as a race of deformed humanoids with astonishing martial skills. This reminded me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
There are a few things that I found to be a bit disturbing, like the usage of modern day slang and jargon that was perhaps non-existent those days. Shiva swears quite often and it was quite upsetting to read phrases like “Ditto, Oh Hell, Dammit etc.” I couldn’t imagine the Supreme Lord describing an enemy soldier as a “son-of-a-bitch”.
The author perhaps has been inspired from Hollywood too. During the war, Shiva commands the soldiers to make a tortoise like formation; they work on a Spartan strategy to confront the Chandravanshis, while they pass through a narrow pass. All these things reminded me of the movie 300.The plot and the settings describe many situations and terms, as if they were living in the current era instead of four thousand years ago. I almost expected Shiva to pull out his laptop to chart out the course of war and plan his new strategies. Even if I read the novel independent of the Indian and mythological contexts, I still found the story line and the plot, trying to build a connection between a Tribal nomad and Organizational behavior.
However, the storyline and plot reminded me of a romantic Bollywood movie that is set between alongside the strained relations between India and Pakistan. The author has used the modern term ‘terrorist outfit’ and dated this concept hundreds of centuries ago when terrorism and extremism were unheard of. Similarly, the depiction of the Somras manufacturing facility seemed to me as a portrayal of a nuclear reactor, and its destruction by the Nagas reminded me of the secret nuclear facility in Iraq that was bombed during Operation Desert Storm by the coalition forces. There are many more modern terms scattered through out the book like “foreign office, “immigration executive, immigrants kept in quarantine, doctors with “field-work experience.” At one place, a soldier is addressed as “private” which made it seem like it had American GIs too.
The author should have done more homework on the customs of that era, the existence and timing of the various Indian Gods in the Hindu mythology, so that the readers could connect in a much better way with the story. Sprinkling some Sanskrit and Hindi words throughout the novel does not make it realistic. Just giving the entire plot a real feel is not enough, unless the plot makes sense too. The dots are all there but they don’t seem connected.