It is the rare book which keeps me awake into the night, turning the pages, in a fever to reach 'the end'. And rarer still is such a book from an Indian author.
'The Immortals of Meluha' is that unusual piece of writing.
It is a book which defies classification. I think the genre it falls in is 'mythological fantasy'. Meaning you're reading a story with familiar sounding characters and concepts but, that's just the gravy.
The plot has been entirely cooked up by the author and the beauty is you lose track of where myth ends and fiction begins.
The novel is set in 1900 BC. Shiva is the young leader of the Gunas, a tribe which is constantly battling for survival in the rough and arid landscape of Tibet. He accepts the offer of a mysterious foreigner to emigrate to Meluha - a rich, powerful and near perfect empire created by Lord Ram.
Whose inhabitants are immortal.
However, the Suryavanshis - as the citizens of Meluha describe themselves - are threatened by an invisible enemy. Legend has it that 'when evil reaches epic proportions, when all is lost... a hero will emerge.'
As you might have guessed, that hero is Shiva.
A bewildered and reluctant hero.
The author asks a startling question, "What if Lord Shiva was not a figment of a rich imagination, but a person of flesh and blood? Like you and me. A man who rose to god-like proportions because of his karma."
So apart from being a thrilling and imaginative story this is a book with a Big Idea: "What if there exists a potential god in every human being??"
But, this is a subtle kind of message, more of the book involves action, imagination, intrigue. And yeah, even a dash of humour and a touching love story (Shiva falling in love with Sati - daughter of the ruler of Meluha).
Apart from story, what's interesting is the way the author has used the familiar and given it a twist. Whether it is Neelkanth, Har Har Mahadev or Somras.
I won't reveal, you should read and find out for yourself.
The interpretation of caste and the concept of vikarma is also quite thought provoking. In the 'perfect' society of Meluha all women give birth to their children and give them up to the State to bring up. This is known as the 'maika' system.
Every child is given equal opportunity and takes up a profession as per his or her natural talents. In this way the privileges of caste and class become irrelevant and a just & fair society is created.
Families adopt a child at age 16 and 'civilisation' flourishes.
Under the same system, those affected by misfortune (eg the handicapped or a woman who gives birth to a stillborn) are known as vikarmas. They have an inferior status in society and accept this as their Fate.
The logic is that it is frustation inside a person which creates rebellion and discontent in society.
There are many such ideas to chew on... many references to modern times (including terrorism and an India-Pakistan kind of intractable ek doosre ko samajhne ka problem).
So in short I would like to congrtulate Amish for coming up with a fine, very different, very India book. But one with a universal, international appeal as well.
The cover is beautifully produced and so is the promotional trailer.
It's also wonderful to see that this book, brought out by a small publisher (Tara Press) has become a best-seller (over 25,000 copies sold so far).
Apparently Amish took five years to write the book and eight months waiting for a publisher to revert, before Anuj Bahri of Bahrisons asked if he could publish it himself.
It's also fascinating to know that Amish was never religious, in fact he took pride in being a non-believer... until the certainty that there is a Superior Force just crept up on him.
And lastly, I am happy to see an 'IIM author' who has done something totally unpredictable, different, exciting.
I only hope that the holier-than-thou brigade does not one day wake up and 'take offence'. After all Shiva has been portrayed as a human being who speaks colloquially and is not always 'godly'.
That is exactly why I loved the book and why the religious types might not.
But it's a chance Amish has taken and with Shiva's blessing he should be able to face - anything.
Meanwhile us mortals await parts 2 and 3. And the movie version, of course :)