Event Vamsee Juluri brings together academia and the power of a great story in his debut novel
T here's something about telling stories on a rainy evening: cupping your hands around a steaming mug of chai and listening to the storyteller weave his magic. Lamakaan's foray into literary events replicated this experience, by bringing together theatre personality Vijay Marur in discussion with author Vamsee Juluri, to read and discuss the latter's new book The Mythologist.
It was a casual affair, the atmosphere being set with Vamsee taking the stage with a cheerful, “Hi, I'm the guy who wrote this book.” A professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, Vamsee is no stranger to the art of writing, being a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and other blogs. However, he admitted that fiction was a far cry from academics.
“I started this book, wanting to write about what's wrong with the world and the media,” he said. “It was supposed to be a new-age self-help social science book, especially post 9/11. But I also had another straightforward story to tell, so it became a novel.”
The Mythologist tells the story of P. Parashuram, growing up in the shadow of his Big Grandfather, a legendary director of mythological films. The book explores how Parashuram's life plays out, especially his internal conflict with segregating myth from reality. “To understand reality, you turn to myth,” said Vamsee. “Parashuram's reality was movies, which manufacture reality, and politics, which is also played out to form its own reality.”
The book is divided into three parts, the third part continuing the story from where the first left off, and the second being a story written by the protagonist and which forms the myth. “Book 2 came first, it was my original idea for a story,” Vamsee says. “You know, a mythological fantasy that would be allegory for bigger issues. But rather than do a Rajneeti or Raavan and retell an epic, I wanted to look at the social history.”
Vamsee clearly enjoyed adding layers of meaning to his writing. As Vijay pointed out, he also liberally uses characters like Perseus, Andromeda and Medusa as a parallel to various people in the story, even as he furnishes endearing characters like Big Grandfather (‘peduthatha') and Writer Uncle, a very typical Indian stamp of a profession on a person's name. When asked whether his academic style works out to be an advantage, he replied, “I can't make up things as much! People in cultural studies tend to get away with a lot of jargon, so I had to be careful. Blogging helped me.”
What made the event stand out was the casual approach and lack of agenda. Bits and pieces of the book were read out, interspersed with conversation on style, technique and background. Whether it was Vijay cheerfully threatening the audience that they couldn't leave without buying a copy, or Vamsee reading out how Parashuram's cousins reduced his name to ‘Pashu dhan', it was an evening of laughter and literature at Lamakaan.