The Secret of the Nagas (Westland, pp.396, Rs.295) is the second book in the Shiva Trilogy by Amish. The Trilogy is based on the premise that Shiva was not a mythical God, but an ordinary human being who became a God because of his karma. The 3 books in the Trilogy trace the journey of Shiva from a human being to that of a God.
The Immortals of Meluha is the first book in the series. It follows the journey of Shiva from his beginnings as a Tibetan tribal leader to that of an immigrant to Meluha (the area that we now know was the site of the great Indus Valley Civilization) to becoming aware of the extraordinary destiny that awaits him and his first attempts at fulfilling that destiny. For more on the first book, you can read my review right here.
The second book begins in Ayodhya with yet another skirmish between Shiva and Sati, and the Naga, who Shiva suspects was responsible for the death of his friend, Brihaspati. Yet again, the Naga escapes. By now Shiva is obsessed with hunting down the Nagas (an ostracised community of deformed beings with extraordinary skills, power and strength), and particularly that one specific Naga.
Shiva, Sati and their entourage decide to leave for Varanasi, which has a large settlement of
Banglas Brangas, people from the eastern part of the country and the only people who have dealings with the Nagas. Since Sati has a baby (Kartik) while in Varanasi, Shiva leaves her behind in the holy city and travels with the rest of his entourage to the land of the Brangas. He discovers that though the Brangas, too, believe in the legend of the Neelkanth and are delighted on his arrival, they are not going to reveal the whereabouts of the Nagas in a hurry. The reason is that the Nagas supply life-saving medicines to the Brangas every year, and unless Shiva can guarantee uninterrupted supply of the same they are not going to help him.
In the mean time, in Varanasi, Sati is on a discovery spree. She finds out that she is related to two of the Nagas. The first one is Kali, Queen of the Nagas, who turns out to be her twin sister. Because she was born with an extra pair of hands, she was deemed to be a Naga. The second Naga is Ganesh, who turns out to be Sati’s son from a previous marriage. Ganesh was born with facial deformities (which made him look like an elephant) and was, therefore, deemed a Naga. While Sati never knew about the existence of a twin sister, she had been told that her child was stillborn. The decision to abandon both Kali and Ganesh was taken by Daksha to avoid stigmatization.
The rest of the story moves on to the confrontation with Daksha by a devastated Sati; Shiva finding the legendary Parashuram, returning to Varanasi with him; and then discovering and (rather unhappily) reconciling to Ganesh and Kali. After some twists and turns, the entire entourage travels to the land of the Nagas, where a huge surprise awaits everyone, especially for Shiva.
The blurb of The Secret of the Nagas promises that “Fierce battles will be fought. Surprising alliances will be forged. Unbelievable secrets will be revealed…” Yes, the book does deliver all that.
But in the process, the author of this book also seems to have run out of creativity in characterisation. For example, the Prime Minister of Branga wears a lot of gold jewellery. I know, there is nothing wrong with anybody wearing a lot of gold jewellery. But wait till you hear his name. It is Bappiraj (p.186). Poor Bappi Lahiri. Caricatures of him have been done to death and it is passé now to feature him in any form. Dear Amish, is this your creative best for the Prime Minister of Branga, and did you think that nobody would notice?
Not all creativity in the book jarred; I rather liked this creative curse
May the fleas of a thousand dogs infest … [your] armpits. (p.10)
But not this bit of inspired creativity—camel racing, a cruel sport which is popular in some gulf countries metamorphoses into buffalo racing in this book. But the mechanism of finding child jockeys for this sport remains the same: they are either sold by poor families for a price or are kidnapped (pp. 37-38).
There is definite improvement in the language and narrative as compared to the first book in the series. It still retains its everyday, simple Indian English, but is unfortunately, marred by proofing and editing errors, as well as unnecessary use of italics. I just wish that whoever had edited this book had cracked a whip; it would have resulted in a leaner, meaner book.
To be honest, if I did not have to review this book, I would not have read The Secret of the Nagas, because I did not like the first book of the trilogy, The Immortals of Meluha, at all. But that would have been an injustice to this book, as The Secret … is a better book than its prequel. Though tedious at times, I liked the way Shiva’s realisation that the world cannot be seen in only black and white, and that there are layers to everything that we see and comprehend comes about. Very subtly, the book does deliver a larger deeper message.
The tantalising end of the book has also ensured that I am now waiting for the third book in the series, The Oath of the Vayuputras. But before that, I would strongly recommend that the publishers, editors and author go through a Manual of Style (there are many of them) before work on the production of the 3rd book of the Shiva Trilogy begins.
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