The reading habit: Going back to culture

| | in Big Story
The reading habit: Going back to culture

As the Baahubali film series becomes the first to gross Rs 1,000 crore, it becomes imperative to address the emerging trend of re-telling mythologies; more so in India. Author Anand Neelakantan, who recently launched the prequel to Baahubali, titled The Rise of Sivagami, around the same time as the release of the film’s concluding installment, said in an interview with The Pioneer, “The plan is to make a television series based on the novel, like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones… Baahubali is a modern day epic and I am fortunate to be a part of this story-world building. Someday, perhaps it can become an epic like Mahabharat because very few epics have been popular in India. We are too close to Baahubali’s time to understand the significance of such an epic.”

It is not Baahubali alone. Renowned names like Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Chitra Banerjee, Ashok K Banker, and many more, have revived the genre of Indian mythology by bestowing upon it a contemporary impression. Particularly the young generation — the college student or the metro reader — has taken a liking to these books. The young often admit that this genre has not only engaged them with the culture of reading but has also familiarised them with their cultural roots.

This trend was arguably started by Ashok Banker with his Ramayana series that entails eight books. Soon after, newer names joined. For instance, Amish Tripathi is an IIM graduate who worked in the finance sector before he quit his job to be a writer. Mythology has been his books’ consistent theme all these years; ever since his The Immortals of Meluha became a rage in 2010. Interestingly, The Immortals of Meluha was rejected 20 times by publishers before it saw the light of day. Today, his books have been published in Portuguese, Spanish, Bahasa Indonesian, Turkish, and in countries such as the UK, the US, and Australia. When literary agency Red Ink signed in 2013 for one million dollars, the highest ever for an Indian writer by a national company, the agency had made history.

Similar was the story of Ashwin Sanghi, the author of bestsellers such as The Rozabal Line, The Sialkot Saga, Chanakya’s Chant and Private India: City on Fire (in collaboration with international bestselling author Robert Patterson). He had self-published his first novel, after publishers rejected him 47 times! Today, he is  referred to as India’s Dan Brown.

On the other hand, there is Devdutt Pattanaik, known for his more scholarly approach to mythology. While Tripathi is known to write reader-friendly works more popular among the young readers, Pattanaik’s works have appealed more to readers following a more intellectual pursuit. However, he has also simplified his books for children with illustrations, and is now also known for his TV series, Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik. What is intriguing about his books is that his body of work has juxtaposed mythology with management. His observations about business in India is sharp, and so are his studies of mythology. That’s what makes his works a healthy approach to a unique, engaging genre.

Pattanaik was earlier a medical practitioner for around 15 years and had worked with Apollo Health Street and Sanofi Aventis. Later, he was also a business advisor for Ernst & Young.

In one of his new works, Olympus, Pattanaik moved a step ahead and likened Greek mythology with Indian. He draws parallels between Olympus, the home of the Greek gods, with Amravati of the Hindu devas. He also compares Olympian leader Zeus’s thunderbolt with that of Indra. He also likens the Greek myth of a husband, Paris — who sailed across the sea to Troy  with a thousand ships for the sake of winning back his wife, Helen — with Lord Ram avenging the abduction of Sita in Lanka. The fundamental question he raises is, “Is there a connection between Greek and Hindu mythology then?”

 Given the vast expanse of literary explorations that Indian mythology offers, it has always been a fascinating subject of study across ages. Indian mythology not only has extremely enigmatic characters but its authors have also been subjects of much debate and research. But now it is one of those times when the genre has branched out from a selective few to a much larger number of readers. Seeing more humanised avatars of the revered gods, the younger lot has started to see them in a different perspective, in a more relatable way — not distant and exotic characters. These authors are going about their tasks in a subtle and comprehensive way. Not only is it helping the readers and earning acclamation for the authors, but the publishers also seem to be laughing their way to the banks! Hopefully, at the same time, more Indian women will start exploring this genre as well, as no other time for mythological writings in India has been as good as now.  

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