That's epic!

Sunday, 30 March 2014 - 8:15am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Mythological narratives are getting a major upgrade with science fiction and fantasy writers injecting them with strong doses of reinterpretation and realism, finds Daniel Pinto

Writers are ushering India's myths into the realm ofspeculative fiction such as sci-fi and fantasy. One such writer isUS-based entrepreneur and IT professional Ravi V whose The ExiledPrince, the first in his Crystal Guardian trilogy, was releasedrecently. The series, told from Rama's point of view, begins and endsin the British Raj and seeks to seamlessly connect magic, futuristictechnology and the mystical Crystal of Creation which is critical tomankind's survival."The series explains events that happen in Rama'slife and the reason why his name sounds in every corner of thiscountry," says Ravi.However, the writer, who spent three years researchinglegends before embarking upon the series, maintains that he isn'tretelling folklore.

"My series is not the Ramayana; it just usesthe tale as a vehicle to deliver the plot. The book would be auniquely presented perspective with twists and turns in the sciencefiction format, and as one reads between the lines, the lateral plotwill present itself".When one mentions the marriage of science-fiction andscripture, the seminal comic series Ramayan 3392 AD which wasenvisioned by filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and self-help guru DeepakChopra comes to mind. The series, which started in the now defunctVirgin Comics in 2006 in the US, details the exploits of Prince Ramain a post-apocalyptic future where mankind is plagued by Ravan,depicted as a transhuman entity.Shamik Dasgupta, the writer of the series, reveals howthe characters in his universe differ from those in myth.

"Wemade them more realistic and instilled real modern human emotions inthem — except Ravan, who is a synthetic being. Rama doesn't havegreatness bestowed upon him.From the beginning he has to strive andfight for greatness, he has to prove himself in this postmodern,savage, dystopian world, and it is not easy, not by a long shot."Dasgupta credits the series for revolutionising the artof graphic novels in India. "It is true that Ramayan 3392 AD isresponsible for the emergence of modern graphic novels and comicbooks in India, with high caliber art and intricate storytellingmeant for all ages and not just kids."Another sci-fi work which is injected with a heavy doseof mythology is The Guardians of Karma. The novel, penned by MohanVizhakat, CTO & EVP of Manappuram Finance Ltd, fills the voidthat is India's prehistoric past with a saga that sees two advancedcivilizations, the spiritually inclined Dev Lok and theall-conquering Daityan Empire, face off.

"The idea germinated few years back while readingabout the apparent disconnect between Indian mythology's rich legacyand the lack of any tangible archaeological evidence to support it.This got me thinking that if the myths had any shred of truth, theymust have been long forgotten or misinterpreted, either because ithappened so far back in prehistory that no records have survived orpossibly because all such evidence must be deep under sea ever sincemuch of the habitable world during the ice-age became submerged,during the deluge following global ice-melt," says Vizhakat."The book also explores the age-old wisdom of thescriptures from the perspective of modern scientific analysis,especially considering latest advancements in the fields ofrelativity, quantum mechanics, dark energy and biocentrism,"says Vizhakat who added that he relied heavily on mythological themessuch as the destruction of the demonic realms of Tripura depicted ashi-tech, free-floating cities.What is it about the golden age of yore that makes itsuch a haven for anarchronistic technological advancement?

"Anythingrelative to ancient Vedic mythologies can be looked at from thescience fiction point of view. It is known that, the father ofnuclear bomb, RJ Oppenheimer had quoted the Gita and has mentionedthat he may not have been the first to know about these atomicweapons. Take the Brahmastra; it is said as a source that can destroyworlds, like a nuclear weapon. But then these legends used to firethem from a bow and arrow! Did that technology exist or was it purelyfiction? We can't really say, but it does make a fantastic storyand that spawned imagination of several creative geniuses across theglobe," says Ravi.The Aryavarta Chronicles, a series by KrishnaUdayasankar, a lecturer at at Nanyang Business School, Singapore, isanother example of a "genre-bending" fantasy books look at thepower tussles in the titular kingdom in India's distant past. Thoughit reimagines the Mahabharata, there are supernatural elements.

But,that's not to say there's no sci-fi. "Utopia is supposed to be theultimate aim or achievement of humankind and science is the tool thatwill get us there. This is the premise of the story. An order ofscholars, the Firewrights, believe that their science and technologyis the means to peace and prosperity until things go wrong and theirweapons became a cause for terrible bloodshed," she explains.She happily categorises her books as fantasy. "Fantasystories have a structure or flow that fascinates me – most of themare stories of an age, that show, in their own way, revolution andchange. It is this element that fascinates me, as also the fact thatthere is a certain sense of dramatic growth and transformation thatcharacters go through – as though the story is their journey. Ifeel quite thrilled when readers place The Aryavarta Chronicles asfantasy, the reason being that I think there is the same sense ofmythopoesy, the creation of a story-world distinct and complete initself, not unlike Tolkien's Middle Earth," she says

Elaborating on why she chose to keep things real, shesays "Both religion and mythology have been, and still are, usedto legitimise or justify social elements that range from irrelevantto downright reprehensible. So, the attempt to demystify ancientstories is like a quest for a more believable truth, an attempt tomake these amazing characters and stories more 'real.' I want tobelieve that things were not always the way they are now; thatequality, compassion and reason were things heroines and heroesfought for – and that's what makes my stories fantasy."

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