Decoding Indian Mythological Fiction

JU News Desk
Published: February 2018

The past few years have seen a number of new trends emerging on the Indian literary scene. Here is a take on Indian mythology genre that has caught the fancy of the Indian book-lovers.

When Chetan Bhagat burst on the Indian literary scene like a Christmas surprise with ‘Five Point Someone’, it did not take many others time to go into the mode that clearly screamed, ‘make hay while the Sun shines’. Not one to sit on its haunches, the publishing industry churned out one campus romance after another.

Just when the Indian readers were tiring of vicariously living like an MBA or an IIT student, like the first whiff of spring entered, Amish Tripathy with his Meluha trilogy, a new take on the myths and the complicated labyrinth of mythology. What happened next was a repetition of the Bhagat times, only this time around the subject and its treatment was very different. The market has been flooded with tales spun out of the heroes and heroines of the yesteryears, which until now were a part of the oral traditions.
Let’s take a look at some of the winners.

Karna’s Wife and Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane

Like in the cinematic themes that seem to be favouring women-centric stories, Kavita Kane sheds the spotlight on the lives of less ordinary women from our epics. The women who were marginalized when men took the stage, find a voice through Kavita.

While both books are works of fiction and have taken liberal literary license in telling the stories, there are certain points that need a mention. ‘Karna’s Wife’ deals with the story of Uruvi, a woman who wasn’t. Karna had two wives, Vrushali and Supriya. There never was any Uruvi. In the book, the real wife, Vrushali gets pushed back as Uruvi takes over the reins.

The book is interesting and highlights many of Karna’s feats. The language flows effortlessly and it is a light read. Kavita Kane, however, has a knack of writing paragraphs about an emotion when a few sentences would have been sufficient.

‘Lanka’s Princess’ brings Surpankaha, Ravan’s infamous sister to the center stage. The book gives a deep insight into her character but doesn’t differ much from what Ramayana has portrayed her as- a lusty, self-serving woman. We can now comprehend why she manipulated Ravan to start a war but the version, though told from the Asura angle and no doubt a refreshing change, still makes out Surpankaha as a villian, albeit with more shades of humanity and it’s failings.

The flow of the story is crisp and the characters stay with you much after the book is finished. As with her other works, Kavita Kane has a tendency to flog the same horse of emotions till it breathes it’s last. I personally skipped a few paragraphs every time someone got angry or sad in the book and nowhere did I lose the thread of the story.

The Ram Chandra Series by Amish Tripathy

The first amongst the series is ‘Scion of Ishvaku’. Amish has cleverly connected his Meluha trilogy to this one but honestly, the cover has a man shooting a supposed helicopter. If you judge a book by its cover, and surely most do, else we would not have that adage, this one needs serious reconsideration.

The story of Ramayana has been convoluted and twisted beyond any recognition. There is of course his fascination of ‘Som Ras’ and an absolutely redundant Nirbhaya-type case which doesn’t win him any brownie points. The second book, ‘Sita-Warrior of Mithila’ has a tighter narrative and Amish has exercised a better control on character development but that is the only positive.

The narrative of the book is haywire and without any proper research. While the field of fiction is largely up for grabs and any stretch of imagination is acceptable, Amish Tripathy really pushes the boundaries of what is believable. The third book coming out next year.

Myth =Mithya by Devdutt Pattanaik

This is the first book by the author that I chanced upon. This one is akin to a fast food experience in the great Indian mythology. Much has been explained in short, succinct paragraphs. There are images and diagrams as well that accompany some of the text to drive home certain points. Some of them are unnecessary but then who are we to judge?

The author has not embellished any story in this book. Little snippets of information about the history of our gods and choosing the interesting bits make this book instantly likeable. A personal favourite was the story about Dhruv or the Pole Star. Most book lovers will find it a riveting read. Mythological fiction is a genre replete with hidden mines. To bring a novel experience to the audience, while keeping your facts straight and to repackage an oft-repeated tale is a mammoth task. While each author has found his/her niche audience, there are clearly some who do it better than the others. The upside of having so many writers of mythological fiction is that the readers have a plethora of choices at their disposal. ‘Spoilt for choice’ takes on mythical proportions no doubt!

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The retelling of Mahabharata hasn’t found a more justifiable platform than the one offered by this author. Told from the perspective of Draupadi, the book weaves together many incidents with comfortable ease and a simple beauty that good prose can bring forth.

To be able to narrate a story that has been told a million times and still be able to maintain the interest of the reader requires a special kind of talent, one that Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni possesses in ample amounts.

It is a fun, light read- a crash course in Mahabharata from a different view point. The book comes highly recommended in most book clubs.