Monday, May 6, 2019

DIVYASTRA BY NIMISH TANNA: On the Astra and Shastra of Ancient Times

"You need to understand the two types of weapons our ancient warriors used, astra and shastra. Shastra is defined as any physical weapon such as the likes of an arrow or a spear. An astra, on the other hand, is not a physical weapon but, if put simply, a bundle of frequencies."- (99)

Recipe fiction's most enticing resource these days in India is mythology. By recipe fiction, I mean that kind of novel that pulsates with the help of the plot. It does not give a lot of concern about establishing the mood. It cannot risk the loss of attention of the reader. This doesn't mean this type of formulaic writing serves to endanger the dignity of the writer in any way. Quite the contrary, the writer of the recipe fiction should be given more respect as he or she is constantly battling the urge to plunge into the most beautiful sentence construction and scene description either to create a mood or the extra satisfaction one deserves after long hours of battling with imagination. It's s risky proposition to make to a formula writer if he'd choose to write in a way to sway the reader's intellect just to leave the playing with the emotions for a time being. Reading Divyastra would give you the idea that Nimish Tanna is neither a formula writer to be questioned at the scaffold of literary fiction nor is he a complete maverick with words who creates a world without a beginning middle and an ending.
One of the many pleasures of reading a book written post-2010 in English with Indian mythology as its theme is that they remind entirely of the Amar Chitra Katha, as well as the many mythological works, read during school days. Thanks to the many comic books that served me well.
Apart from nostalgia, reading Divyastra would readily make you believe that the chants given in the book have magical power. The supernatural and the natural blend in. The mind craves to rest upon the shallow running streams of digital reality just to prove the world inside the novel a nonexistent one. It moves. It fills one's heart with fears about the hidden possibilities of ancient wisdom.
The multi-layered narrative encapsulates the very notion of divyastra, the three powerful celestial weapons namely Pashupatastra, Vaishnavastra, and Brahmastra. Shankar, the protagonist has to go back to meet his father with whom his relationship is not very smooth. Shankar did not expect to be blown apart by the events that transpire in his father's house.
Yet, Shankar finds himself wanting to listen to one of many tales told by his grandfather after a devastating turning point. Tall tales of demons, angels, and celestial weapons unveil in the oral narration of the grandfather. After facing the inevitable, it is in his grandfather's bedtime story that he tries to find solace. Contradicting his expectations once again, Shankar realizes that the story told by his grandfather is not just an exercise in imagination. Finding himself part of the story, he decides to confront the odds and makes atonement for his previous self, the self before he faced the first inevitable tragedy, his father's unexpected death.
Storytelling, as a tradition as well as a narrative technique, stays at the centre of the novel. The theme of the novel evolves from a realistic story of an existential crisis in the life of a young man in India to an inquiry of mythological wisdom. The author structures the ending shatteringly different from the expectations of a reader as the story evolves. This twist in the story concludes the book. Nimish Tanna does not use the strategies of a formula fiction to write the twist. The twist comes radically sprouting up from the oral narrative that was serving the purpose of moving the plot forward.
Divyastra is presented through three layers of different narrative strategies. The first one is the existentialist drama of a young man's identity crisis. The second is the oral telling performed by the grandfather, which in tone defies the first narrative paradigm and ushers in the awe for the writer's versatility.
The third and final layer is set up in a great hall where a presentation on modern weaponry goes on. All three narratives move parallel to each other. One layer does not have to end for the other to begin. The 'presentation' episode welcomes the readers into the novel, from the starting itself. It moves until the end of it while connecting several unrelated dots in the story into a meaningful whole.
Divyastra is published by, a foremost post-millennial publishing company. The cover does not favour the Amar Chitrakatha image from a nostalgic past. That favours my argument in the beginning that Nimish Tanna is a unique voice neither following the formula fiction nor executing the style of literary fiction. With a powerful language, a unique style and originality, Nimish Tanna is an author to look forward to. The job of the publishers with the cover and the layout of the book is commendable. The typesetting is large enough to read on a train as well as under the dim light inside the bus or railway station.
Nimish Tanna works in Auckland, New Zealand. His first novel is Moments of Truth

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