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The Oath of The Vayuputras | Amish Tripathi

Poor magic

When I had reviewed The Secret of the Nagas a year and a half ago (“Snakes on a plain", 27 August 2011), I had said its experimentation with mythology was something new in popular Indian English writing, but that it was let down by poor editing. I held out hope that with practice and better editing, Amish Tripathi would create a truly great fantasy adventure. Unfortunately, The Oath of The Vayuputras, the latest and last book of his Shiva trilogy, is not that great book.

Three things particularly derailed my reading experience. The most glaring flaw was the plot hole related to one of the chief villains, Vidyunmali. Two chapters after he is captured, he’s free and torturing prisoners on the other side, with no explanation of how he escaped and captured the good guys.

The Oath Of The Vayuputras: Westland, 578 pages, Rs350.
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The Oath Of The Vayuputras: Westland, 578 pages, Rs350.

Finally, there was a problem that had affected the earlier books as well: clunky language and sloppy grammar. The book keeps using “may" instead of “might", and “would" instead of “will". There are also anachronisms—the word “commando", for instance, was a specific creation of the 19th century Boer War, and feels out of place in a 4,000-year-old setting, especially when other words would fit the purpose.

The poor grammar and plot holes are a failure of editing more than writing. It seems as though Westland Ltd, knowing that it has a guaranteed best-seller on its hands, has decided to be as lazy as possible when it comes to the actual editing.

The scope of imagination is so vast and ambitious, and the sense of joy in storytelling so evident, that I really wanted to like this book. But the laziness in editing and rewriting is evident, and unforgivable.

And this is a shame, because there is a lot going on in this book that could have made it wonderful, particularly the things Tripathi is willing to explore.

Sometimes an original creation is remarkable not so much because it has beautiful language as because it creates larger-than-life characters and situations that future creators adapt and retell, whether in prose, poetry, film, or any other medium. Every retelling then uses the original archetype to explore something new. We see this with fairy tales, Tarzan, superheroes—and also with mythology.

What Tripathi has done with The Oath of The Vayuputras is to retell the Shiva mythos as an ecological allegory, with somras standing in for nuclear power, fossil fuels, or perhaps industrialization in general. Somras, like all of these, comes with undeniable benefits, but it’s the people who’re excluded from the benefits who wind up with the detriments.

Tripathi’s other change, perhaps the first time this has ever been done in English fiction at this scale, is to reclaim Hinduism as a doctrine of equality and egalitarianism. Tripathi’s Ram speaks out against hereditary castes, and Tripathi fills his story with prominent female characters.

This is, of course, an incremental sort of progress. Tripathi only wants to challenge the idea of hereditary castes, and not of caste itself. And for all the female characters, The Oath of The Vayuputras stops just short of passing the Bechdel test. Sati has a long conversation with her doctor Ayurvati about cosmetic surgery for her battle scars, and the responsibility she feels for her defeat in battle, but the conversation does sidetrack into how Shiva sees Sati’s scars.

This sort of outlook is welcome for its intent, and for being practically unique in the landscape of English popular fiction. Much like Tripathi’s writing, it is the practical implementation where it fails.

Click here to read a Lounge profile of Amish Tripathi.

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