Mighty themes of peace and mass destruction

Mighty themes of peace and mass destruction

Gods of War: Ashok K Banker Penguin, 2009,  pp 283, Rs 299

Using his fantasy novel like a Hyde Park speaker’s box, Banker spews ideas. “Peace should not be a promise we whisper to our children. It should be the natural order of things into which they are born.” Unfortunately terrorists rule: “Where an entire nation built on slavery, genocide and human rights abuse holds itself up to be the land of ‘freedom and democracy...’”

Is the answer in scriptures? “Violence and aggression have a way of finding any excuse to justify themselves. Religion is the most commonly known...” What about rationality? “That which people call science is in fact a system of belief fiercely guarded by a closed circle of believers.” But there is way. For “Time is a dwarf.” And this is not the only universe. Also, there is a path to the City of Gods, but terrible forces bar the way.

“It is true we are not one people, but if we embrace peace unconditionally, we can live as one...” Underlining that God loves us all, the book’s five unlikely heroes are a lesbian, a hermaphrodite, a straight, a Ganesh bhakt, a devout Muslim.

Gods of War takes on mighty themes of peace and mass destruction. But sometimes too great a theme can disappoint. GoW covers too great a territory. First, there’s the alien jewel in the sky. Then assault and mankind held in thrall. Then parallel worlds. Then inner dimensions. Then limbo. Then the supreme lord.

In all planes things are essentially the same, limbo may look like a circuit-board but one walks the same. One doesn’t really feel one is living the reality, except in fragments.
Next, there’s little character connect. Not because they are featureless — they’re defined to the point of caricature: The Dyke is grittily Dyke; Santosh archetypally the Ganesh bhakt; Salim, soooo Muslim; the Jap brothers, samurai minus swords. Alright, so what’s the grouse? Our five heroes, poor sods are given nothing to do. The reason they are chosen for the save the cosmos mission? Hey, they can puke out the evil nano-robots planted in them. All they do is follow Lord Ganesha, listen to the endless gyaan Banker puts in his mouth, and hide behind the hairy parts of his ganas. Plus, if all creation’s threatened why do only humans merit rescue? Have the animal helpers of The Ramayan gone extinct? 

Banker’s real hero, is the deeply loved Lord Ganesha. But can we identify with Banker’s version? Let’s ignore minor irritants, like the endless scientific mumbo jumbo. The darshan of God is potentially inspiring.

Take the extraordinary scene in The Mahabharat where Krishna reveals his true form. In that one glimpse, our perceptions are altered forever. To find Banker use the same device, is disappointing. The touch of having Ganesha ambushed and killed is brilliant. But he’s back so quick, it becomes almost Tom and Jerryish.

But what really grates is the mishmashed proselytising. When Salim, encounters lord Ganesha, the ‘false god’ fear is assuaged. Later, one encounters the Japanese god of love. But no, Ayzen Miyoo is evil, the new satan. So would the converse be ok? What if in some Manga comic the stranger Indian gods play petty demons?

One moment we are told good and evil do not exist, next moment, we are shown god besieged, millions crushed, and an acid flinging deva on the rampage.
Banker also trots out the idea; Sanatana Dharma, being a way of life, and not a religion. That’s rich. For to other perspectives, that’s the problem: six contradictory metaphysical approaches, 100,000 plus gods, and worse, Manu’s misguided strictures. This standard saffronism does the great Indian spiritual tradition disservice, for it’s distinctiveness lies in its unifying yearning for liberation, from which a multiplicity of ways erupt, accommodating straitlaced and thugee.
Great ideas, half-digested, a one-sided cross-religious debate presented with spitty-adolescent fervour, in a pulpy novel... Gods of War is a treasure trove for quotes and ideas, but as a novel it’s less than satisfactory.

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