Stories from yore

Rising popularity

Stories from yore

The recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival saw myriad topics and ideas being debated and discussed with enthusiasm by the  authors and audience. While there was a wide variety in the potpourri of themes, the growing fascination with mythology as a genre was evident with the prominence accorded to it.

Amish Tripathi, Anand Neelakantan, Anuja Chandramouli, Madhavi Mahadevan... these were some of the high-profile names who were present at the Lit Fest who regaled the crowd with their stories. The numbers were proof enough that Indian literature in English is increasingly grabbing eyeballs and the one genre that is helping it rise above the rest is historical fiction.

“These kind of books are quite popular now,” says Harika Vankadara, a young professional who is a regular at the Lit Fest. “I have read the works of Devdutt Patnaik, Anand Neelakantan, Amish Tripathi and so on. I especially loved the ‘Shiva Trilogy’ by Amish; the way he characterised Shiva and turned the entire story on its head was amazing. That is one of the reason why I like the books coming out of this stable nowadays. Instead of perpetuating notions of their divinity, the authors bring Gods to the human level. There are a lot of contemporary ideas mixed with these stories now which gives an entirely different bent to the narrative.”

Sezel Lalwani agrees. “During the interaction, Amish talked about how he felt that writing mythology was kind of like pop culture nowadays. In fact, he said a line which I loved — ‘believe in the truth which gives you peace’. It is true; mythology is basically truth from different angles.”

There are indicators for surge of creators and consumers dipping into the cornucopia of Hindu mythology — popular guest appearances by Chhota Bheem at birthday parties, headlines that announce Baahubali’s roaring box office success; over four million YouTube views for Sujoy Ghosh’s short film, Ahalya, and the indisputable place of honour that such books have in almost every bookstore in the country.

“I have never been a big fan of this genre but it is hard to ignore it’s increasing popularity,” adds Sezel. “The language is very contemporary and the themes are also very interesting. It is no more just about the lead character. There are different versions, told from the viewpoints of different characters, and is increases our understanding of what could have happened.”

Irrespective of the medium, creative people have always fallen back upon Indian mythology to carve success stories, says Anand Neelakantan, literary sensation and author of bestsellers ‘Asura — tale of the vanquished’, ‘Rise of Kali’ and ‘Ajaya — roll of the dice’. “It is a fascinating subject with an increasing number of teenagers, college students and young professionals evincing interest in this genre now. These stories were part of our oral tradition and every time someone narrated a story, it got changed. Which is a reason why we have over 316 versions of the ‘Ramayana’ itself. This is one of the reasons behind the admiration; there is always something more to read.”

Talking about how readers are eagerly lapping up age-old tales, Anand adds, “There are no grandparents in modern households who can recite these stories to children. So books are now serving this purpose. And mythology has been a favoured motif through the years for any growing medium. Regional language, television serials, movies — they all concentrated on this topic that has been a bestseller for over 5000 years now. So it is natural that Indian English, which is evolving as a language now, also follows the same path.”

It is not just the magnetism of the unknown, there are many lessons to be learnt from these stories too, vouches Tharun Jagadari, a professional. “During the Lit Fest, there was a discussion around the story of the mouse merchant; a tale of how a man built an empire from a dead mouse. It appealed to me no end; there was an account of how trade used to work back then, the rules of business and so on. Being a Management student, I am always interested in reading such stories which teach life lessons that are not found in textbooks.”

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