Despite the booming success of books on mythology, it is but seldom that one comes across a title penned with a comfortable understanding of facts and the ability to convince the readers at the same time! It is interesting to note that while most of the media and the critics have been full of praise for almost anybody, who pursues mythology as a genre, there have been few attempts to weigh these titles on the basis of their content and seek a parallel connection between other titles from the genres. What is also discouraging is the fact that there have been even fewer attempts to judge these titles on the scale of their dimensions rather than merely flooding them with praises on the basis of the profile of their authors and the success of their previous works.
Consider the recent titles The Seeker by Karan Bajaj from Penguin Books India and Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish Tripathi from Westland books.
The profile of Amish Tripathi is decorated with countless credentials besides being the bestselling author of The Shiva Trilogy, his writings are said to have redefined the way mythology was looked at in the Indian publishing space. But should we merely judge his latest, Scion of Ikshvaku on the basis of his profile and shower our praises? Karan Bajaj, on the other hand, is not as popular a name as his counterpart but does that make The Seeker inferior to Scion of Ikshvaku?
If you thought that popular writers like Amish Tripathi and Chetan Bhagat sell in large numbers solely because of the quality of their books, it is perhaps time to think again! The marketing of their books largely depends on the success of their previous titles say for example, The Shiva Trilogy had already established a favourable ground for Tripathi’s Scion of Ikshvaku. Besides the marketing budgets of these so-called literary heavy-weights are huge! Social media campaigns, public appearances, free chapters, trailers and teasers, endorsements by popular celebrities and even front page advertisements in newspapers are sold out before the release of their books. Welcome to the corporate world of publishing!
The buzz around Amish Tripathi’s latest offering gained ground months before the actual release of the book and as early as January, Tripathi chose the populous stage of Jaipur Literature Festival to release a video trailer of his forthcoming book. This was followed by a massive social media campaign, before a tie-up with Amazon India and free distribution of a chapter from the then soon-to-be-released Scion of Ikshvaku. On the day of the release of the title, The Times of India carried a full front-page advertisement of the book and thus a larger audience of readers was exposed to what turned out to be a "disappointment" by the bestseller.
This first offering from Tripathi’s Ram Chandra Series is highly didactic, comprehensive of the author’s personal ideals narrated by the protagonist Ram. While the basic skeleton of the plot revolves around the same story of the great epic Ramayana of a Prince sent on a 14-year exile and his princess being kidnapped by the demon king Ravana, Tripathi has made several diversions from the original script. In Amish’s version, Ravana defeats King Dasaratha on the day Ram was born and Ram encounters Ravana once again at the swaymvar of Sita followed by a war, where the demon-king is defeated by the Ayodhya Prince. Given that it is a fictional interpretation and Tripathi has called it Ram Chandra Series instead of Ramayana, these fictional diversions were expected but on most occasions Tripathi fails to convince his readers. The constant narration of Ram’s ideals and the dilemma between the masculine way of life and the feminine way of life dominate the first title from the series and blunders like an attempt to contemporise the novel by exploiting the sentiments around Delhi gang rape, fail to satisfy the curiosity with which the readers picked the title.
It is also disappointing that the author has purposely increased the length of the title by his didactic narration and the readers are left utterly disappointed when the first book from the series ends early, as soon as Sita is kidnapped with the words of Jatayu, "Lady Sita…must be saved…Vishnu…Lady Sita…" Amish Tripathi had earlier announced that his Ram Chandra series will be a series of five to six novels. Why Amish, why? In the end readers are left disappointed that the author has chosen to come up with five to six books in the series and make more money when he could have summed it up in three and earned the respect of his readers like he did from The Shiva Trilogy.
Released almost at the same time and with less noise and lesser promotion was The Seeker by Karan Bajaj. Bajaj’s is a special story, of a Wall Street banker who, after the death of his mother, sets out on a quest to find the cause of human pain and suffering and travels from the freezing Himalayas to the scorching heat of a hidden ashram in South India. It is interesting to note that Bajaj’s Keep off the Grass released in 2008 followed by Johny Gone Down in 2010 but the author’s latest came after five years. Earlier, in an interview to this reporter, Bajaj had said he took this break to improve and refine himself as a writer and when one reaches the end of The Seeker, he is left overwhelmed almost certain to agree with him. The transformation that the Wall Street banker undergoes in the book is vividly described and towards the end the author seems to have reached a conclusion that one does not need to go to the Himalayas to find answers, if he can be at peace with himself amid a crowd or in isolation, he is certain to find those answers.
Towards the end of the book, the Wall Street banker turned Yogi, "didn’t curl his fingers on the scorching yoga mat to avoid the stinging, burning sensation on his fingertips. His fingers and toes baked in the heat, turning pink and blistered, causing pain to his body, but his mind remained unaffected". The author writes, "It was as if the part of his brain that processed discomfort and pain as bad had reduced; it was still there, just not as active anymore."
The author conveys with a comfortable ease of words that life is meant to be lived and sufferings to be experienced, not run away from and once a man turns a Seeker, as the Wall Street banker does in the book, he will still see the bad, feel the pain but the part of his mind that judges those sights and sounds as inconvenient or unpleasant will be quiet. He will accept life in every form that comes alive before him. The offering keeps the readers engrossed till the last page and the readers are almost never tempted to skip pages, barring a few moments of "strictly-professional" yoga lessons.
Despite less noise and lesser promotions, The Seeker turns out to be more engaging, convincing, realistic and highly readable than Amish Tripathi’s Scion of Ikshvaku, which in many ways is an attempt to exploit the goodwill of the author’s fans by unnecessarily extending it into a series of five to six books. Promising offerings like The Seeker serves as concrete case-studies for our authors and goes a long way in reminding them that at the end of the day the ink of your pen matters more than the pennies spent on promotion of your book. Write a readable account before you promote it to your readers!