It was about three years ago that I received a call from someone named Amish. He introduced himself as an alumnus of the business school I had gone to, said he worked in insurance, and had written a novel. So would I read it and give my comments? A few days later, his self-published book, Shiva: The Man The Legend (it had apparently been rejected by every publisher he had approached), arrived by courier. I was intrigued by the basic premise—that Shiva was not a god, but a flesh-and-blood man who came to be revered as a god, and was finally claimed by the Hindu pantheon.
What I found was a clever mix of mythology and imaginative leaps from the smattering of facts we have about the India of 4,000 years ago, wrapped in a gripping tale that combined lots of action with deep yet accessible philosophy. The central character of Shiva was endearingly human, a marijuana-smoking uber-warrior who uses expletives like “Goddamnit!” and “Shit!” and goes all weak-kneed when he falls in love. I found the book hugely entertaining and when Amish called next, I put him in touch with a literary agent whom I’d met in a bar a few months before.
Some months later, Shiva was published as The Immortals of Meluha, the first part of the Shiva Trilogy, and went on to be a runaway success. Now comes The Secret of the Nagas, the second part of the trilogy. And the second part is arguably the toughest to write, since it’s at the centre of the arc of the plot, where the trajectory could very easily flatten out. The writer has to keep the momentum of the first part going, while setting up all the pieces for the finale, scattering around a few clues to tantalise the reader enough to stay with the storyteller for the full journey.
But Amish does not disappoint. Mysterious hints dropped in Immortals get explained, the scale widens by several orders of magnitude, and the nature of Shiva’s quest becomes more complex, even as its ultimate goal becomes much more fundamental.
The story: Tibetan warrior-tribesman Shiva arrives in Meluha (which is the name by which ancient Mesopotamian texts refer to the Indus Valley civilisation), land of the Suryavanshis, who are obsessed with order and structure, living strictly by the edicts of Lord Ram. The yang to the Suryavanshi yin are the Chandravanshis of Swadeep, who believe in freedom and individual choice. Shiva is recognised in Meluha as the Neelkanth, who, according to legend, would one day appear to destroy all evil, and become a Mahadev, the great god. The Suryavanshis believe the Chandravanshis to be evil, in cahoots with the Nagas, people born with physical deformities who have been exiled by the Suryavanshis, and made their home in the vast and deadly Dandak forest south of the Narmada. Shiva is initially flabbergasted by the new role thrust upon him, but gradually accepts it, while being secretly counselled by the Vasudevs, a mysterious Brahmin sect set up by Lord Ram.
Soon, Shiva realises that people often confuse “different” with “evil”. The Chandravanshis and the Nagas are merely different, not evil. Evil is a concept so vast as to be nearly incomprehensible to human beings, which draws them to it to serve its purpose. Yet evil is also inextricably linked with good, with the greatest evil coexisting as a complement to the greatest good; the Neelkanth’s role is to take evil temporarily out of the equation when it threatens to annihilate good. Yet, as Shiva fights his way towards his goal, evil remains, chameleon-like, and The Secret of the Nagas ends with its hero—and the reader—getting only glimpses of the actual war he is a part of, one being fought for the future of India between covert ancient cults and belief systems.
Like all good fantasy writers, Amish has been able to create a well-detailed world with its own geography, history and mythology, and he adds a quirky charm to his tale with dashes of modern science—the somrasa that the people ingest for an incredibly long and healthy life is actually a powerful anti-oxidant, the Vasudevs communicate their thoughts through radio waves using high temple spires as transmission towers. The Secret is furiously packed with action and intrigue, and leaves the reader guessing how it will all end up. For that, we will have to wait for the third and last novel about Shiva’s quest.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT