Mythology is the hot ticket, the instant grosser among all forms of fiction in India today. Scholarly writing on our epics or lore is passé, making way for quickie soup versions that feed a growing horde of consumers curious about our heritage and looking for instant gratification.
Make no mistake, rewriting mythology as popular fiction is as tricky a line to tread and some writers do it with great skill and assurance: Anuja Chandramouli, Devdutt Pattanaik and Anand Neelakantan come to mind. Underlining their works with scholarly insight and methodology are writers like Arshia Sattar and Samhita Arni.
There is something reverend about the story of the gods that make their writers instantly superhuman. Despite varied subject matters, styles and content, there are deep similarities between Kavita Kane’s latest, The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty, and Charu Singh’s The Golden Dakini: The Maitreya Chronicles Part 2. Both deal with powerful women who have established dynasties that have changed the course of our culture. Both write with ease and enrich their readers and provide a delicious slice of heritage.
Kavita Kane is known for her novels around women from mythology—women we are curious about but lose the thread of within the larger narratives of epics that deal prominently with their male heroes. The biography of the young fisherwoman Matsyagandha is carved from the stories around King Shantanu’s obsession and his son Devavrat’s extreme oath that transforms him into the revered Bhishm.
It traces her ascendance and journey as the matriarch Satyavati, her triumphs at many hurdles. At the palace she is surrounded by detractors and the only ally she has is also her stepson Bhishm whom ironically she has greatly wronged. Hers is an important story because in such characters and their dilemmas, lie the true wisdom of the Mahabharata.
The writer stays with her successful formula, personalising the experiences of her characters while situating them within a rather contemporary worldview. Inventions of minor episodes flesh out the narrative. A unique perspective combined with flashes of commentary could serve the reader better.
Drawing deeply from Tibetan Buddhist mythology, The Golden Dakini is Yeshe Nam Lha who must descend to the earth as a mortal in order to fulfil her destiny of being the mother of the saviour, Maitreya. She must journey to the concealed Mount Meru in search of a suitor to fulfil her destiny. The journey is metaphorical and is replete with magical creatures.
Her nemesis is Prince Arden of the dark Asur forces. This story is reworked mythology spilling into the realm of fantasy though grounded within a specific culture and its folklore. The story is richly populated with creatures from Tibetan lore: prince, rimpoche, dakini, yakshi, demon, yogi, celibate warrior, wind horse, sorcerer, and oracle. The research is as thorough as the narrative is confident.
Fantasy demands a plethora of characters whirling at a fast pace. Charu Singh is admirably at control of her storyline and its mandatory twists and turns. Perhaps depopulating the heavy crowd could enhance the narrative.
But neither book offers bibliography or a reference chart. This addition could underline the considerable research that goes into the production of easy-read mythology such as this.