The Immortals of Meluha is an Amar Chitra Katha comic book in novel form. The heroic men in this fantasy novel talk in exclamations, jumping from action-packed sequence to ponderous exposition like disconnected comic-book panels. There are “audible gasps” and “unyielding grips” aplenty, and family-friendly cries of “Oh bloody hell!” when stress gets the better of the otherwise equanimous protagonist.
The book, written by first-time author and Mumbai-based finance professional Amish Tripathi, has become a publishing wunderkind—selling 25,000 copies in a month since its release in March. “We’re into our fourth print run now, which will bring the total number of copies to 30,000,” says Anuj Bahri, owner of publisher Tara Press.
Its success is not hard to pin down. Tripathy takes a familiar Hindu mythology framework and throws in a bit of alternate history (Meluha, or the Indus Valley Civilization, is the land of Ram Rajya). The book dispenses with detailed world-building, choosing a conversational prose. It mostly works as a quick read, not as a work of speculative fiction. Parts of it smack of Hindu right-wing ideas.
The Immortals of Meluha: Tara Press,398 pages, Rs295.
With its unflappable Ayn Randian heroes (the author cites Rand as a strong influence) and epic “us-versus-them” battles, it arrives as a flag bearer of a tradition 30 years too late. In the midst of grimy urban fiction a la China Mieville and dark, post-pastoral Tolkien of the Richard Morgan and George R.R. Martin kind, its fantasy machinery is outdated.
The success of The Immortals of Meluha, however, proves that this really doesn’t matter. The book, finished sometime in 2008, spent eight months in publishing limbo. “Amish approached me to be his agent for the book, and we waited and waited for a response from the publishers,” Bahri says. “After eight months, I asked Amish if I could invest in the book and bring it out ourselves. He agreed.” Bahri says the book’s reputation spread purely through word of mouth, and the concentrated, almost corporate-style social media campaign to promote it helped. Twitter, a website, a Facebook page and a slick video trailer were all produced, and Tripathi made sure to respond to every query or fan mail he received. “I get about 75-80 messages a day through the Internet,” Tripathi says. “It’s all over, 65-year-olds telling me the book changed their relationship with God, 20-years-olds calling it an entertaining, Bollywood-style script.”
Both comparisons are plausible. Tripathi says the book started out as a book of philosophy on the “nature of evil”—traces of this proto book are still visible in the large chunks of pop-philosophy exposition scattered through the first 150 pages.
The script is indeed Bollywood, with regulated doses of melodrama, romance and swashbuckling action. The book also contains thinly veiled allegories to “modern” concerns—terrorism, caste and religious extremism. There are no deep insights into any of those issues, but their presence helps extrapolate Meluha’s world a little better, and give it the kind of timeliness one associates with Chetan Bhagat.
The success of the book has already made Tripathi expand the work into a trilogy—with the second book, The Secret of the Nagas, planned for release by December. Tripathi is cautious when you ask him about the success of the book. “I don’t think I’ve come with anything particularly new,” he says. That may be true, but in combining old-school fantasy with older-school lore, it’s a perfectly packaged piece of pop mythology.