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Divine intervention

books Updated: Jul 02, 2010 22:58 IST
Rajiv Arora
Rajiv Arora
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The Mythologist
Vamsee Juluri
Penguin
Rs 299 n pp 271

The Mythologist opens with the desecrating scene of a ‘god’ contemplating suicide. Let me rephrase that. It begins with a confession of Parshuram, our deity-in-distress narrator: “As a child I was a god… The truth is, I was only almost a god.” As he stands on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, dithering on whether to give into or give up on his seemingly infallible past, Parshuram’s life flashes before his eyes as if to help him make up his mind.

Parshuram, the scion of mediocrity, was born when the great Indian parental habit of naming children after gods was in vogue. But instead of adding to the crowds of Rams and Laxminarayans, he was stamped with the title of an offbeat, non-fancy, axe-wielding avatar of Vishnu. Pedigree, however, comes to his rescue: “I, Parshuram, was almost Krishna.”

After being a makeshift Dhruva once, all that Parshuram aspires to do is to play Krishna in his producer-director ‘Big Grandfather’s’ epic biopic — not for anything else but to be on the right side of the camera, to become a superstar revered, loved, feared by all and, above all, to execute the divine plan of his existence: “That was to have been my destiny. A god for six crore people, even more… By the time I grew up, I would have been many gods, and many heroes.”

The more Parshuram is certain of ‘what could be’, the more he is shaken by ‘what is’. Vacillating between the two, he stumbles on the dark spots of modern history — and falls victim to almost all of them. While the Emergency stalls the movie-making business, pushes him into politics, (almost and often) into love, out of the country and into matrimonial ad writing, the 9/11 attacks leave him stranded without a valid passport but with a ‘benefactress’.

Reality trashes every myth Parshuram weaves to escape reality. It forces him to scuffle off the pedestal that his ambitious monologues help him climb. But he takes these swings in his stride. And he makes sacrilegious observations on the way (“I realised we were a people whose temples do the work of lawyers and therapists”), vows to trust his own sense of discretion (“I will not believe anything anyone tells me again”), and calmly returns to being “porlocked” (a metaphor for interrupted genius).

‘Book Two Myth’ intensifies Parshuram’s struggle of hovering near Truth and without cutting oneself off from the umbilical cord tied to Power. The attempt to establish an equilibrium through a parallel Panchatantra-like narrative at least brings Parshuram’s myths closer to reality. But the fable is far from being over.

Back to the Golden Gate bridge and the confusion, the tale has more twists than a raging twister. I, the reader, am left with one smothering question: what if all of Parshuram’s myths were, at least, almost true?