CHAT Actor-turned-screenwriter-turned author Rajiv G. Menon set out to write a film and ended up writing a book instead
In this day and age of myths, when readers compare notes on the different versions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, Bangalore-based actor turned screen writer, and now author, Rajiv G. Menon has chosen to write about a relatively untouched subject in Indian mythology: the origins of the devas, led by Indra and rakshasas.
“I wanted to write a book on Indian mythology. I was wondering where to start because our mythology is so voluminous. But Indra, as a character, fascinated me because in spite of being a god, it is his weaknesses that are highlighted. I am an avid reader and the kind of characters I like are those who are slightly tormented, with doomed destines, like Dante,” says Rajiv, who launched his debut novel Thundergod – The Ascendance of Indra last week.
Though he graduated a mechanical engineer, Rajiv began acting in 1996, debuting in the bi-lingual film Devaraagam . He continued to act through the decade, appearing in films such as Aahaa (Tamil), The King And The Commisioner (Malayalam) and Bas Yun Hi (Hindi).
“When I started, it was exciting. I worked with some really good directors who introduced me to different facets of filmmaking. But after a while I found it restricting because I reached a stage where I was not getting the kind of films I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to do it after a point. And then I began writing in my free time.”
Rajiv then began writing screenplays for films such as Woodstock Villa and Soundtrack . In fact, he first conceptualised his novel as a screenplay.
“But somewhere in the process of my research, I discovered that I had a lot more to say than what could fit into a film. It would have been hard to get my idea across if I was to collaborate, so I decided to write a book.”
Thundergod – The Ascendance Of Indra is the story of Indra, the son of the Earth goddess Gaia and the chief of the Deva tribe Daeyus, who is guided by the warrior-sage Mitra to his destiny of conquering the kingdoms of the world. It is the first of a trilogy.
“History is almost always one-sided. So I have tried to write from a neutral observer’s point of view by first writing about Indra and the devas and then about rakshasas in my second book. My third book will be about the clash between two cultures that shows how today’s India was born. So this way I’m not taking sides between the Aryans or the Dravidians,” he explains.
From the historical perspective, Rajiv’s book can be looked at as delving into the Aryan migration to India.
“Historians talk about a race of nomadic horsemen who came to India and took over the existing culture. It is hard to place this historically because Christian history talks of civilisation post 10,000 BC, while Hindus talk of civilisations that existed many centuries before that.” And so Rajeev does not place his story at a particular time and place in history, neither does he validate the historical accuracy of his book. But he does not question those who believe that the events described in Indian mythology actually took place.
“Is history itself accurate? Most timelines that historians have given us have been proven wrong. History itself is based on assumptions. I leave it to the readers to decide whether they want to authenticate my story or call it a work of fiction.”
Still, Rajiv delves deep into Indian mythology, which, according to him, overlaps with parts of Sumerian and Persian mythology.
“Research was a difficult process because there is very little about the origins of Indra in Indian mythology, maybe because he came from somewhere else. So I had to look for accounts which appear in Sumerian and Persian myths. The character I was writing about had his roots in those regions.”
He doesn’t rule out the possibility that most mythologies converge at several points.
“I think myths come out of people and their perceptions of their surroundings and the universe, which are not very different from each other. This is why there are gods like Indra, Thor, or Zeus who are three gods from different mythologies with similar powers,” he says, pointing to Joseph Cambell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces . “The author connects mythologies and shows you the commonality of myths around the world.”
Though Rajiv’s stories and characters are inspired by myths, what he adds to it is his power of storytelling, which is influenced by the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens and Herman Melville, apart from Greek epics like the Iliad and the Odyssey .
“I try to tell the story as it sounds in my head. And somewhere along the way, writing these stories has changed the way I live my life. I used to live in a city, now I try and stay as close to nature as possible. I spend my time on a beach or going for walks in a forest. When you are writing about people who lived about 10,000 years ago, you need to put yourself in that space.”
Luckily, he observes, India offers plenty of such spaces. “India is a place that has that vibe; spirituality is in the air. And I enjoy the whole process. I think it’s what I’m meant to do, writing, telling stories.”
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