Amish Tripathi's 'The Immortals of Meluha' was released in 2010 to instant bestseller status with all bookstores stacking the novel front and center in 'Recommended' section. During a visit to one such store, I had picked a copy, read through the gist on the back-cover and decided to skip it. Soon after, Amish Tripathi released a sequel, 'The Secret of the Nagas', which garnered equally glowing reviews and sales. Again I gave it a pass, already juggling a few books at the time. Then in 2013, came the final book of the so called 'Shiva Trilogy', 'The Oath of the Vayuputras'. Although it wasn't as highly praised as its prequels, by no means was it a failure. Momentum of his previous book drove sales and it too was a bestseller. At the time lot of friends and colleagues were discussing this new 'phenomenon' - I remember my Facebook feed littered with Shiva, Meluha, Nagas. Now I had to give the books a read. With high expectation and a little misgiving, I started with 'The Immortals of Meluha'. Bluntly, a more disappointing piece of writing I cannot recall. Reading the book became a macabre joke - I kept turning pages just to see when it hit rock bottom. Because the book hit a new low for me, while reading I highlighted text and took notes on the parts that didn't work. These form the basis for this post.
Jump cut to now - a #bookbucketchallenge fad spread around Facebook with people naming their 10 favorite books. To my dismay, the 'Shiva Trilogy' featured or almost featured in(judging by comments) several lists. This is disappointing on two levels - that so many people consider it a good book and that they have not read better books. While the second can be attributed to a lack of awareness or possibly access to good written material, any reader should be able to tell if a book is poorly written. I try and show with examples, what in the book didn't work and why 'The Immortals of Meluha' is inarguably a bad book.
I'll let these excerpts(in quotes) with my comments and notes that I made while reading peppered throughout the book speak for me.
The author sets the story in 1900BC but uses 'shit', 'terrorist', 'bloody hell', 'OK', 'lets not make a big deal out of this', 'hospital staff'. Amish really doesn't want to give his novel any verisimilitude.
"'You seem to be a little distracted this morning, my Lord. Are you alright?' asked a concerned Daksha. 'Hmm?' said Shiva as he looked up. 'I'm sorry your Highness, I was a little distracted'" - This is just poor poor writing
Rajasthan, India, Meluha, Tibet all existed in 1900BC?
The world the author builds is a modern world in 1900BC with hospital staff, paper and terrorists. Expects his readers to suspend their disbelief too much.
All characters speak the same modern day expressions. No archaic words or phrases. No verisimilitude.
"But in the last one thousand two hundred years we have shot dramatically ahead of everyone else" - It took them 1200 years to shoot ahead 'dramatically'?? Entire empires have risen from scratch and seen their decline in less than 1200 years!
"Meluha...is the richest and most powerful empire in India" - Author establishes India as a 'country'(a loose term in 1900BC) and Meluha as an empire within but soon says "Meluha has become the richest and most powerful country in the world by far" - This doesn't go down well at all, the author hasn't thought it through. What is India, what is Meluha. What is the significance of India in the story anyways?
"When oxygen reacts with our food to release energy, it also releases free radicals called oxidants. These oxidants are toxic as well. When you leave any fruit out and it goes bad, its because it has been 'oxidised'......causes metals to corrode." - Its 1900BC, the Bronze Age is not over yet and the author brings up oxidation! Huge, huge dent to the readers' suspension of disbelief.
"‘I have to put on record how the Somras can cure an agnibaan wound. I will present this at the medical council as soon as I return to Devagiri'." - Medical conferences and whitepapers too!
"For the first time in decades, we beat back a cowardly terrorist attack" - The author has pumped the reader with 'examples' of Meluhan greatness until this point. Now to say that they 'beat back' terrorists 'for the first time' is farcical.
"'Private Veerbhadra,' said Nandi, his tone different..." - 1900 BC India had Privates!?
"...population of more than eighty million compared to our eight million..." - Why millions and not lakhs? The author seems to be targeting an international readership.
"‘Don’t give up on me, Sati,’ cried Shiva. ‘You are not gone yet. We will find a way. I will find a way. Just bear with me.’ Sati gave up." - Read this slowly. The last three words sound like a joke!
"Tarak's famed fearsome blows on his hapless partners filled Brahaspati’s soul with dread and he came to an immediate decision. ‘I’ll assassinate him tonight. She will not die tomorrow'" - This is not consistent with the calm and collected character of Brahaspati that the author has painted so far. This happens all too frequently with all characters throughout the book.
Very uneven pacing - the turn of events leading up to the Agnipariksha is very poorly written and is abrupt. The whole Agnipariksha sequence is a poor manipulative attempt by the author to infuse a hitherto non-existent respect for women in his protagonist.
"Shiva narrowed his eyes in surprise. 'Your Highness, my position is with the soldiers. On the battlefield.'......'My Lord, this is a job for butchers, not the Neelkanth,' said a concerned Daksha. 'You don't need to sully your hands...'" - This dialogue rings so hollow! All along the book, the Meluhans wanted Shiva to fight for them but now, all of a sudden, want him to sit aside and watch the battle?
"'Does he sit on a sad height and look on idly....'" - What does sad height even mean??
"'...will injure our own men. Nor must they retreat. They have to hold their position. At least for another five minutes'" - '5 minutes' is such a modern day colloquialism.
"'Kanakhala, who had arrived in Devagiri earlier, ensured that all the preparations for the most-eagerly awaited wedding in a millennium had been accomplished.'" - Wouldn't Satis' first wedding have been the 'most-eagerly awaited' one in that millennium?? Lazy writing..
"‘Yes,’ smiled Daksha. ‘I really showed the old man, didn’t I?'" - More modern slang
The transition from the Shiva who is vehemently against the title of Mahadev to the Shiva who adopts it is too abrupt, it is so ephemeral that it leaves the reader wondering if he missed a page.
"'White light is nothing but the confluence of seven different colours....Why does that leaf appear green....physical properties are such that it absorbs the colours violet, indigo, blue, yellow, orange and red. It doesn't absorb the colour green....see the leaf as green'" - 1900BC. Newton turned in his grave.
Clearly, by the end of the book my comments were less notes and more rants.
There are good novels with ridiculous stories - 'Midnights Children', 'The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared', 'The Great Indian Novel' come to mind - but they are good not because of but despite their story. The author ensures that his written language, well-rounded characters and self-consistent narrative all combine to suspend the readers' disbelief. Amish Tripathi sadly neglects these three pillars of good ridiculous-story-writing in his book.
P.S - Despite 'The Immortals of Meluha', I read its sequels to see where Amish Tripathi took the story and whether his writing got any better. On both counts, he sorely disappointed. If you are looking for a good read, stay away from the Shiva Trilogy.