‘So, like this dude had, like, a big cool kingdom and people liked him. But, like, his step-mom, or something, was kind of a bitch, and she forced her husband to, like, send this cool dude, he was Ram, to some national forest or something… . Since he was going, for like, something like more than 10 years or so….. he decided to get his wife and his bro along…. you know…so that they could all chill out together.’
Many of you would have come upon this popular retelling of the classic Ramayana, which is now famous on many social media platforms. The point of this amusing snippet was to point out a ubiquitous phenomenon in Indian literature today – retelling of mythology.
At Bookish, we regularly review the latest books published by new and experienced authors alike, and this trend has been prominent for sometime now. More and more authors are taking upon themselves the task of reinterpreting classics and mythological figures, and giving us modernized versions of them. For a relatable example, look no further than the Shiva trilogy. I, for one, was quite surprised by the portrayal of Sati, which was pretty different from the bedtime stories that I’d grown up listening to.
So what’s behind this trend? Are we just running out of new material and turning to tried-and-tested founts of wisdom for new stories? Or are we reconnecting with our roots in a new way, opening up our imaginations to what might have been? I’d like to believe that, as a culture, we are now able to accept our gods and heroes in a more human light. Younger readers prefer their heroes to have shades of grey – human passions and weaknesses, flaws and idiosyncrasies that humanize rather than deify them. That we’re able to understand the how and why of mythology in a more rational way, instead of acceptance through unquestioning obedience or fear is interesting and, I believe, a positive development.
Author Devdutt Pattanaik is famous for his logical and simple depiction of the figures in ancient lore, and he goes so far as to state that mythology can be used as a tool to foster better business practices. This points to an interesting transition in the place accorded to mythology in our lives – from a means of remembering what has passed, to an almost textbook-like material which is very real and offers us something concrete that is very applicable to our daily lives. Ever wanted to be like Arjuna or Bharat? Well, maybe you just could be!
Another reason for the popularity of this genre could be that these tales are so firmly embedded in our consciousness that their familiarity alone provides comfort. Add to that a plot twist or a different version of familiar events, and you have a potential bestseller! This combo of the known and unknown gives us ample scope to analyse, dissect, and criticize – which is what most good books do.
So will this continue? Are we going to have more and more wannabe authors taking to obscure ancient texts in a bid to make a name for themselves? In light of the success that the present ones are enjoying, there’s a good chance of that happening. Would it be such a bad thing if that happened though? Well, it depends on how skilled the interpretations are. For every success story, there are also a handful of books that didn’t make it big, inspite of having tried out the same basic formula. While it lasts though, let’s enjoy the kaleidoscope of insight that this genre provides!
Interested in the topic we’ve touched upon? Explore this genre with a couple of great books – Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, and Shashi Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel. To take a peek into what motivates authors to weave such twists and tales, read this interview with Ravi, the author of The Crystal Guardian series.