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A tale of migrants and myths

In his new novel, The Mythologist, San Francisco-based Indian origin author Vamsee Juluri has captured the inner chaos of a young migrant in the US who has grown up in the movie studios of Chennai with dreams of grandeur.

books Updated: Jun 21, 2010 16:40 IST

In his new novel, The Mythologist, San Francisco-based Indian origin author Vamsee Juluri has captured the inner chaos of a young migrant in the US who has grown up in the movie studios of Chennai with dreams of grandeur.

"I feel that of late literary fiction has become more concerned with social and political relations than with the inner turmoil of characters. So while (the protagonist) Parashuram's social background is somewhat unusual, it is his inner life of myths and fears that bring this background to life for me," 41-year-old Juluri, who teaches media studies at the University of San Francisco, told IANS in an email interview.

The story of The Mythologist revolves around Parashuram, who after a mediocre tenure in a boarding school, returns to his grandfather's world of shared tinsel dreams in Chennai.

But as life begins to edge towards despair, a woman AK breezes into his life. A glib wheeler-dealer, she leads Parashuram out of drudgery to the US. Then the 9/11 happens and Parashuram is stranded in San Francisco - like thousands of Indians. A divine coincidence stops him from jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. And he finds that at the hour of crisis the only lifeline to connect to his roots is his pantheon of mythological tales - the stories of the gods and goddesses he had heard in childhood in the mega movies of southern India.

"I saw Parashuram's predicament basically as a psychological one as much as a social one," Juluri added.

Hyderabad-born Juluri, an international voice on contemporary Indian sociology, media and geopolitics, has authored two books, Becoming A Global Audience: Longing and Belonging in Indian Music Television and The Ideals of Indian Cinema.

The Mythologist too draws sustenance from the Tamil and Telugu movie industries.

Juluri, who has spent some of his childhood in Chennai, has vivid memories of visiting the sets of some "grand mythological and historical epics being made at that time".

In the book, the southern euphoria over cinema comes alive through young Parashuram's ambition to play Lord Krishna in the movies.

Parashuram dreams of being "hero-worshipped by his fans every morning outside his mansion in Banjara Hills" and setting the world right in the manner of a true southern demigod.

His desire to be a movie star is propelled by the cult standing of a "big grandfather - the biggest myth-maker and movie-maker" modelled on M.G. Ramachandran or MGR, the Tamil matinee idol-turned politician.

Juluri said the overall story of his novel played on the "mythological legend of Medusa".

The novelist admits to "references to stories and re-tellings of various legends in the novel from the Mahabharata".

"At a somewhat philosophical level though, the idea of truth, which was such a big predilection in Gandhian thought, does appear as a central concern in the novel," Juluri said.

Juluri said he always wanted to write fiction. "My first book was a study of music television audiences in India, and my forthcoming book aims to show how Indians think about themselves through their cinema."

" The Mythologist was in some ways more challenging to write than these projects because I really did not conceive of it as a novel first. It was just an idea, about Medusa as a metaphor for something, and in time it grew into a story. Now, I feel quite at home in fiction and non-fiction," he said.

Juluri is currently working on a novel called In the Last Days of Banjara Hills, - the story of a college dropout told against the background of the great rock formations of Hyderabad - and the subsequent real estate boom that destroyed them. He is also writing a book on Indian cinema.