Book lovers in India lap up myths with a makeover

Wed May 1, 2013 1:07am EDT
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By Sankalp Phartiyal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Mriganka Dadwal knows everything about the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic that tells the story of warrior-god Rama and the abduction of his wife Sita by the powerful demon king Ravana.

But the journalist-turned-entrepreneur says she would love to read the epic from the point of view of the vanquished Ravana - and now she can.

With several mythological tales getting a modern makeover and imaginative retellings crowding bookshelves, Dadwal and millions of other urban, educated Indians who prefer to read in English have more choices than ever before.

The trend spells good times for bestselling Indian writers such as Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi and Ashok Banker, who are wooing readers with characters cast in a human mould amid a masterful weaving of mythology and suspense.

"They talk about Indian mythology, they talk about stuff which has hitherto been unheard of," says Dadwal, 32. "It's different from the palette which was already available."

Vernacular writers had recast myths before, but the Indian publishing industry was skeptical of the demand for such fiction in English. Like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Tripathi was rejected by a series of publishers before finding unexpected success with the first book of his Shiva trilogy, which recounts the exploits of the Hindu deity of destruction.

"The Immortals of Meluha" became a publishing phenomenon in 2010 and spawned two sequels. The trilogy sold more than 1.5 million copies in a country where a print run of a few thousand copies is good enough to be considered a bestseller, and a Bollywood adaptation is also in the pipeline.

Not surprisingly, the banker-turned-author was offered a million-dollar advance this year for a new series, and he hasn't even finalized the topic yet.   Continued...

Indian author Ashok Banker pauses while talking about his debut film "Beautiful Ugly", to be released later this year, during an interview with Reuters in Bombay June 19, 2005. REUTERS/Adeel Halim