Mythical fiction in India feat Nilanjan Choudhury


We talked about mythical fiction in India last week.

So what is the future of mythical fiction? Is it here to stay?

Today mythical fiction in English has high market value. Saw all the marketing behind Amish Tripathi’s latest Scion of the Ikshvaku? Writers like Ashok Banker, Devdutt Pattanaik, Anand Neelakantan, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Ashwin Sanghi, Amish Tripathi, Rajiv Menon,  Kavita Kane, Krishna Udayshankar, Samhita Arni and Nilanjan Choudhury have recreated and reimagined the world of myth.


I talked to IIT and IIM graduate, Nilanjan P. Choudhury whose debut novel Bali and the Ocean of Milk received wide crinilanchoudhurytical acclaim and was a brief best-seller.   There he uses a myth as the premise of an otherwise contemporary tale.  While he is familiar with the rich mythical fiction of his mother tongue Bengali, he talked about the mythical fiction in English that he found appealing,” It was Ashok Banker who started the trend with his Ramayana series. R.K.Narayan is another favorite.”

Nilanjan Choudhury believes that myths are here to stay as India is not ready for something as radical as a contemporary sci-fi tale in the league of Star Wars. Myths fall into a framework that people are comfortable with and people identify themselves with various mythical characters- there’s a King, a Queen and a Demon that suits each type of individual. So now, there is room for a retelling and a re-creation of the old stories to suit new times.


Reminds me of the novel that became the staple of all titles in India: The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor- again a retelling of the Mahabharata using a contemporary stand point. Lots of fiction has emerged by juxtaposing the new with the old.

Mythical fiction is escapist. The west has their fantasy genres and Gen Y has gaming—mythical fiction survives in India because everyone wants to escape into a fantasy world where Good prevails over Evil.

Bali and the Ocean of MilkEnglish arrived at the playground a bit late, says Choudhury. The myth was retold as we saw in Part 1 of this mythical sojourn. Neelakantan mentioned how English writers of mythical fiction in India could never make the cut while the Indian language writers could. Choudhury explains why,” Obviously as native language speakers, these writers could take more liberties with the language. Writers were part of communities who treated their gods and goddesses like family members. They were all on this long journey together and they could be playful. There’s a lot of satire in regional language literature which is absent in English mythical fiction in India. It’s far too serious and everyone is playing it far too safe for obvious reasons.”

Choudhury has shifted genre for now. The Case of the Secretive Sister is his second novel and the first adventure in the Chatterjee Institute of Detection series. He feels that intelligent satire focusing on the epics may be a challenge, be it in the creation or the reception of it, but there’s no ruling out him visiting this space again.

Looks like mythical lore won’t be a thing of the past and will probably become the next big thing in Bollywood cinema land. Good stories never can come to an end.



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