Friday, June 1, 2012

Virtual Book Tour of Vasant Dave, Author of Trade Winds to Meluhha

Navigating through Controversies in writing Pre-Historic Fiction

No other ancient culture is mired with multiple controversies as perhaps the Indus Valley Civilization. Almost any aspect that you examine, there are polar differences. For someone who writes fiction based on the ancient culture of Indus Valley, these disputes carry a lethal potential of branding him. While some authors and artists love stirring up controversies, or creating one where none existed, I am among those timid writers who prefer to steer clear of heated discussion.

The bitterest is based on Nationalism – one between Pakistan and India as always. Since much of River Indus flows through Pakistan, and two of the biggest sites Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are located there, a certain section in that country tends to establish an exclusive right on Indus Valley Civilization.

After the Partition of 1947, the Archaeological Survey of India rushed to find sites which it could call its own. They discovered innumerable small sites along the dried-up bed of the mythical River Saraswati, now the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra. But ASI's biggest discoveries were Lothal which had a port, and Dholavira which had two storm water channels. My protagonist Samasin, a Mesopotamian youth on run, visits all these places in the novel.

Running almost neck-to-neck with it is an argument springing from Religion and Mythology. The Hindus relate Indus Valley with their ancient scriptures, the four Vedas. Amish Tripathi, an author whose two books are selling like McDonald Pizza in India, imagines Shiva not as God but a sort of Superman in the Indus Valley. His approach is based on a seal discovered at Mohenjo-daro. It depicts a squatted man surrounded by wild animals. The most familiar portrayal of Shiva is in a similar yogic position, meditating. One of His many names is Pashupati, Master of Animals. So the person whose image is engraved on the Mohenjo-daro seal fits in perfectly.

In Trade winds to Meluhha, I have transformed that unknown man into a more realistic character of Yotai, an ascetic. I have made him give a hint about what to expect in the narrative. He had prophesied self annihilation of the Indus Valley race by two deadly venoms – one the people would consume by craving, and another they would contract by lust.
A somewhat related with Religion is the existence of domesticated horse in the Indus Valley. Carbon dating of the earliest seals depicting a horse puts them later than 2000 BC. That interferes with the periods of the Vedas and the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata that the Hindus would like to believe, because the horse is an integral part of all those scriptures. In order to prove that the animal existed much earlier than 2000 BC, Jha and Rajaram manipulated an image of a much older seal, turning a picture of a bull on it into a horse. In response, Witzel and Farmer wrote an article entitled 'Horseplay in Harappa' exposing the hoax! In my novel which is set in 2138-37 B.C., there is no horse in Indus Valley till the character of Captain Paravar carries a foal from Mesopotamia.

The language that the Indus Valley people spoke is as big an enigma as their script. One school of scholars believe that it was Sanskrit. On the other hand, research by Dr. Asko Parpola and Dr. Iravatham Mahadevan indicate that it was Proto-Dravidian from which four present South Indian languages viz. Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu have descended. I accepted their reasoning and used Tamil lexicon to create characters' names and to tweak site names so that they sounded like those in Southern India.

In some cases, the author of fiction cannot avoid looking partial even if s/he tries hard to remain neutral. In case of doubt, s/he is forced to select one possibility and move on with the plot. At the end of the day, it is for the readers of fiction that he is writing, not for the academicians.
Trade winds to Meluhha by Vasant Davé is available as e-Book in various formats from the following web-sites:

FaceBook page of the novel at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Lea, for giving me the opportunity to address your readers. I'd be happy to answer any questions either about 'Trade winds to Meluhha' or the location of its setting, i.e. the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.