An ambitious project that has been visualised with meticulous care and written with commendable panache.
It is raining mythology, one suspects, and a quick glance at the current literary scenario only confirms the suspicion. Rajiv G. Menon’s Thundergod: The Ascendance of Indra (Book 1 of the Vedic Trilog) is the latest on this scene. The cover, a snazzy affair in blue and silver depicting a rippling-with-muscles hero confronting a fanged monster, promises high excitement (of both the worldly and celestial kinds). To give the author credit, the reader gets much more than he/she ever bargained for.
The valorous and virile Raja Daeyus is leading his men across the vast sandy stretches of the Karakum Desert when he catches the eye of the Earth Goddess Gaia. Descending before him in all her raw beauty, she unites with Daeyus even though, as an Elemental, she is forbidden from consorting with humans. The result of this prophetic union is Indra, who is destined by the powers-that-be to go forth and unite the sons of Aditi. Unknown to anyone, the unholy union is watched from afar by the moon goddess Ishtar residing in Susa, who immediately starts hatching malicious schemes to annihilate the little boy.
The young Indra, protected by supernatural powers and guarded by the warrior sage Mitra, grows up in a vortex of treachery, conspiracies, tribal incumbency and splintering loyalties. He is betrothed in childhood to Sachi, the daughter of regent Vasu. On attaining adulthood, Indra finds himself claiming his childhood sweetheart’s hand in marriage but losing her love in an unexpected twist of events. Baffled and heartbroken, he sets off to conquer distant kingdoms of an early unmapped world. Having aligned forces with his brothers of blood oath, Indra — along with Agni, Vayu, Varuna and Soma — embarks on a military campaign that stretches from Euphrates in Asia Minor to Harappa on the Indian subcontinent. It is a journey pitted with danger and obstacles and every kind of test for human endurance.
This is a story of unbridled flamboyance from a debutant author who chooses the broadest canvas to work upon. Menon’s strokes are bold and vivid but backed by meticulous research and an in-depth study. Every possible pyrotechnic is present: swashbuckling action, bloodshed, amorous dalliances, heroics, cowardice, devious conspiracies, fluctuating loyalties, dirty politics, man-beast confrontations, the works! The resultant flare is, to put it mildly, spectacular.
Indra, as the protagonist, is an out and out alpha male. He fights a rogue lion with his bare hands, has a glad eye for pretty women and ploughs down entire sections of the enemy with his two-edged sword. His companions, likewise, are brave and likeable men; though not much effort is made to flesh out the tertiary characters. Though Menon names Indra’s brothers Agni, Vayu and Varuna after the elements, at no point does he underline or explain the connection. One hopes that matters will be clarified in the sequels. Menon handles the character of his testosterone-charged protagonist in a mature manner. Indra could have easily swept through the novel as a man of awesome perfection but the author refrains from bestowing on him that distinction. Instead, towards the end, he depicts Indra’s moral deterioration in a wholly convincing manner and also lays open the possibility for redemption in the sequel.
The stifling gender roles (males uniformly macho and women relegated to being merely ornamental) and mindless bloodshed need a bit of mindset programming on the contemporary reader’s part but it is easy to fall into the spirit of things. There is an abundance of fantasy — the blood-sucking Pisacha, skies opening up and offering portals to the heavens, a giant snake guarding the water resources of the earth, trees that bend their branches offering fruit, telepathic conversation, exotic moon and earth goddesses — to delight the young reader. Yet, amorous escapades are described in graphic detail making for very adult content. All of which makes one wonder about the age group the novel is targeted at?
By the end, as Indra finds himself firmly ensconced in swarag, there are innumerable loose ends waiting to be tied up and the reader gets a welcome opportunity to gather his/her breath before the sequel is unleashed. Thundergod: The Ascendance of Indra; Rajiv G. Menon, Westland, Rs. 295.