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The Faults in our Heaven: Exploring the Quest and Fissures in Utopia-Dystopia with Special Reference to Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha (2010) and American T.V. Series The Good Place (2016-2020)

 


 

The Faults in our Heaven: Exploring the Quest and Fissures in Utopia-Dystopia with Special Reference to Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha (2010) and American T.V. Series The Good Place (2016-2020)

 

Pabitra Panda

Bankura University

West Bengal, India

Abstract:

How to conceive Ram Rajya as utopia? Is it possible to attain ultimate perfection? Why in spite of being inhabitants of a ‘perfect’ world, the people of Meluha depended for their life on a mere prophecy? In this paper I attempt to explore how ‘identity’ becomes the primary reason for the people of Meluha to turn completely towards a legend when the threat is directly upon them, as etched in Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha (2010). It contains a detailed discussion on Ram Rajya, the nostalgic dream of a perfected world; and its connection with both the fiction and the T.V. series The Good Place. The way of life of the ‘perfect’ society and the questions and dilemmas seeded in it are brought into focus with aid of references from both the novel and the T.V. series. In The Immortals of Meluha set in a fictive temporal space of 1900 BC, along with the wonderful infrastructure of the empire, the people of Meluha are portrayed as generous, law following entities who lead a comfortable and happy life. But when the threat arises, the entire empire pins hope on a saviour instead of defending the threat themselves. How come they are so imperfect and full of doubt in a ‘perfect’ world itself?

 

Keywords: Ram Rajya; identity crisis; immortals of Meluha; leader; diaspora

 

Introduction:

What inspires art or sparks revolutions and motivates leaders? The answers to these might be multiple but there is a single thing without which these quests cannot be kindled. That compulsion is human craving for perfection. Now it is interesting to comprehend that, “perfection is a myth. There is no evidence of a perfect world, a perfect man or a perfect family anywhere on earth. Perfection, be it Rama Rajya . . . exists only in mythology” (Pattanaik, xviii) Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha, being itself a re-writing of the mythology of God Shiva, translates the perfect world; Ram Rajya. In the novel Nandi, a captain, says “Others call it Meluha. I call it heaven”. Why is Meluha conceived as Heaven? If it is considered the ‘perfect’ empire, a Ram Rajya, then why the Meluhans desiderate a Neelkanth to save them from evil? What are those imperfections embedded in the perfect society, that compelled them to entrust their last hope on only a prophecy? Why the inhabitants of the ‘perfect’ empire are not self sufficient enough to defend and destroy the evil by themselves? In this paper I look at the mechanisms of the ‘perfect’ world as presented with some interesting intersections in The Good Place (2016) and The Immortals of Meluha, exploring the imperfections that these similar but different worlds possess. This paper also focuses on the inhabitants of Meluha, who wish for a saviour to save them from evil, while exploring the imperfections.

The Immortals of Meluha is undoubtedly an incredibly popular fiction and has been widely praised for its engagement with Indian mythology and ancient Indian culture. While much has been written as discourse on modernising mythology, mythological connections and marginalisation, less has been researched about how the fiction presents the ideal world and none has looked into the issues of identity implicit therein. In this paper I focus on the relatively less visibilised areas in researching mythological fiction produced in contemporary India as it makes an attempt to investigate the notion Ram Rajya as represented in Amish Tripathi’s novel, its connections with The Immortals of Meluha and the T.V. series The Good Place and the possible reasons behind the ‘perfect’ society’s inhabitants’ hunger for a saviour.

 

CHAPTER 1: “Perfectly ever after”?: Interpreting the imagining of  Ram Rajya in the Multi-Medial twentieth century context with special reference to The Immortals of Meluha

 

“The universe is made of stories,/ not of atoms”(Rukeyser). These indeed are lines illustrating stories as one of our essential needs. The notion of Ram Rajya derives its utopic possibilities and etymology from this world of stories and myths. ‘Rajya’ means kingdom or society and if it is run on the principles of Lord Ram, protagonist and king of Ayodhya in Valmiki’s Ramayana, then that society will be considered as Ram Rajya. Because of Lord Ram himself and his principles of inclusion, austerity and sacrifice, this kind of society has been considered as the ‘perfect’ society. Obviously it is in mythology and seeps from there into the human psyche and keeps inspiring much in Indian literature, including the Indian novel in English. To understand the idea of Ram Rajya, we must know about Lord Ram. Lord Ram is an embodiment of perfection and is labelled in Vishnu Sahasranama of the Mahabharata as ‘Maryaada Purushottam’. Purushottam is the Sanskrit word for the English equivalent ‘Ideal Man’. Maryaada means honour of rules or customs. So bringing them both together along with the translation of the Sanskrit phrase will read as ‘The Ideal follower of Rules.’ Though he has been criticised for the abandonment of his wife, he was simultaneously successful in creating a ‘perfect’ society. Sometimes in the route to rules, justice could be left behind. “Rules bring order to society; but within families, primacy of rules over love, is usually a path to unhappiness”, but “It is no surprise that the reign of the ‘Ideal-Follower-of-Rules’” continues to be regarded as the gold standard for benevolent administration: Ram Rajya” (Tripathi 8).

 

According to Valmiki, in Ram Rajya it rained in time and the wind was delightful to the touch. There were no widows who mourned, no danger from wild animals, and no fear of disease. Every creature felt satisfied. There was no sign of illness and grief (Viswanathan). In the view of Tulsi Das, in Ram Rajyano one suffered - physically, spiritually or in the mind. Everyone lived in harmony with each other’s affections while fulfilling their responsibilities as described in the scriptures. The four pillars of Dharma—Truth, Holiness, Compassion and Charity were fulfilled, and no one committed sin even in their dreams. No one died young. Everyone had a beautiful body free of diseases. No one was poor, sad or pitiable. All men and women were smart and talented. All respected those who had knowledge. Everyone was generous, helpful and respect the learned (Goyal).

 

Thus it is quite apparent that the notion of Ram Rajya is that of a utopian world where everything is good, cheerful and perfect. There is no denying the fact that perfection cannot be achieved, still it is an idea worth pursuing. In the T.V. series The Good Place such a ‘perfect’ society is projected and questioned. Of course the good place is not run by the principles of Lord Ram but it is a place apparently worth calling Ram Rajyaas everything here is good, cheerful and perfect, or seems to be. In the series Michel, the immortal architect assigned apparently to design an afterlife Heaven, tells multiple times to every dead humans coming to him, “You’re in the Good place”. This single sentence acts as an assurance that really it is a ‘good’ place, a place where everything is good. Quite in alignment with the T.V. series, Tripathi projects an allied notion in The Immortals of Meluha, creating a ‘perfect’ society called Meluha. It is a nearly perfect kingdom and is considered as Ram Rajya. About their land, Nandi says, ‘‘‘Lord Ram was the emperor who established our way of life . . . . He created our systems, our rules, our ideologies, everything. His reign is known simply as ‘Ram Rajya’ or ‘the rule of Ram. The term ‘Ram Rajya’ is considered to be the gold standard of how an empire must be administered, to create a perfect life for all its citizens. Meluha is still run according to his principles’” (Tripathi 35). As told in the fiction, Lord Ram lived around one thousand two hundred years ago and the ways of life established by Ram are still followed and respected by the people of Meluha. Consequently, if the kingdom in the time of Lord Ram was called Ram Rajya then the present Meluha must be a Ram Rajya too, as they follow the exact rules and laws. Not only through logic but also in the fiction’s reality Meluha is a ‘perfect’ society, as had been ideated around Ram Rajya.

 

If we look deeper into the terrains of both Meluha and the “Good Place” we find the resemblance with a ‘perfect’ society is often a semblance. Starting with the ‘perfect’ infrastructure of Meluha it is important to say that, through the eyes of new immigrant Shiva, Tripathi shows a great deal. Beginning from the high city platforms to the underground drains running through the centre of the roads, everything makes Meluha a comfortable, peaceful and self-sufficient place. The Meluhan cities are built on giant platforms which give protection against floods and a sturdy defence against enemies. In the novel when the Gunas, people of Shiva’s tribe, reach Srinagar, Meluhan state, they get astonished sighting the infrastructure. Tripathi describes the city to be raised upon a huge platform of almost a hundred hectares in size. The platform towers on earth, almost five meters high. The city walls are on the top of the platform, which are another twenty meters in height and four metres thick. Inside the fort walls there are blocks, dividing the city into areas for markets, temples, gardens etc. (Tripathi 11). Similarly in The Good Place while giving a tour of his designed neighbourhood to Eleanor Michael shows a perfectly organised, comfortable and beautiful place. Michael describes the architecture of the Good Place saying, “The Good Place is divided into distinct neighbourhoods. Each one contains exactly 322 people who have been perfectly selected to blend together into a blissful harmonic balance.... every neighbourhood is unique. Some have warm weather, some have cold. Some are cities, some farmland. But in each one, every blade of grass, every ladybug, every detail has been precisely designed and calibrated for its residents” (The Good Place Episode 1). Now the interesting thing to observe is that all the residences of the Good Place designed exactly accordance with the convenience and likings of the [dead] human cohabiting the place. As Michael explains, “... in the Good Place, every person gets to live in a home that perfectly matches his or her true essence” (The Good Place Episode 1). Where in Meluha all the residences are of same simple structures amplifying the fact that they are following Lord Ram rules which ensures equal rights to everybody. There are no poor who cannot afford a house and the rich people are not privileged to get bigger houses. Though in a somewhat different way but with such instances it is absolutely apparent that both the Good Place and Meluha have their society managed in perfect way where every inhabitant lives in ultimate peace and happiness.

 

By now the fact is quite diaphanous that the infrastructure is exceedingly commendable. Shiva himself says to the king, “the infrastructure in your empire is wonderful” (Tripathi 69). But this is not all that makes the empire a Ram Rajya. What makes it more of a perfect society is that, along with the physical structure Meluha is strong in internal ideals too. The people of the nation are virtuous, respectful, follow laws, and no doubt generous. This ideal world places equal importance to all living beings. Through Shiva’s consciousness, who has newly come to Meluha, Tripathi narrates the real Meluha:

 

“‘ He truly believed that if there was a paradise somewhere, it couldn’t have been very different from Meluha. This was a land of abundance, of almost ethereal perfection! It was an empire ruled by clearly codified and just laws, to which every Meluhan was subordinated, including the emperor. The country supported a population of nearly eight million, which without exception seemed well fed, healthy and wealthy. The average intellect was exceptionally high. They were a slightly serious people, but unfailingly polite and civil. It seemed to be a flawless society where everyone knew his role and played it perfectly.’” (Tripathi 35)

 

The respect the people have and show to other people is eye warming. In a land where everyone is respectful of others, the society’s internal strength and peace flourishes. The Meluhans are not only respectful of one another but also of their own duties, rules and laws. Being a princess herself, as she is free to do anything she wants, Sati does not allow herself to be unleashed from the hold of law. She says to her maid, “Krittika, just because others don’t know the law, doesn’t mean that we can ignore it . . . . I will not break that law” (Tripathi 49). From the shoe keeper of the temple, who does not take money from the devotees who come to the temple, to the Royal Court; everything is wielded by certain laws and rules. As they heartily follow those laws and perform their individual jobs with honesty, the Meluhan society boomed. Once Daksha the king says, “‘Meluha has become the richest and most powerful country in the world by far. Our citizens lead ideal lives. There is no crime. People do what they are suited for and not what an unfair social order would compel them to do. We don’t force or fight unprovoked wars with any other country. In fact, ours has become a perfect society.’” (Tripathi 107-108). Consequently it is clearly noticeable from the narratives of characters and the author that Meluha is a perfect society, a Ram Rajya. It is obvious that the knit of Lord Ram’s rules hold strong. Yet, despite all these qualities they own, they need a destroyer of evil, a Neelkanth, to save them from evil.

 

CHAPTER 2: What appears is not: Investigating fissures in construct of Meluha that necessitate of a Saviour

 

“I’m in a perfect utopia, and I’m— I have a stomachache. This is awful” (The Good Place Episode 1). Chidi having a stomachache, in spite of being in the Good Place, exposes the fissures of that society; the Meluhans wishing for a saviour indicate the obvious lacks in their society. Despite the fact that Meluha has a potent architecture and is militarily well-equipped, conforming to laws and rules, i.e., all in all a crime free and peaceful kingdom, they have been in quest of Neelkanth for hundreds of years. They are badly in need of Neelkanth, as legend says when the problems reach its climax leaving the ordinary men helpless, Neelkanth will appear in order to destroy the evil. Why does such an advanced nation seek someone to erase their problems? The same question is also raised in the text when Shiva questions the king, “‘your society is wonderful. Things do seem very well ordered. What doesn’t make sense to me then, is why you and your people are so concerned about the future. What is the problem? Why is a Neelkanth required?’” (Tripathi 108). The king of the ‘perfect’ realm, who is supposed to be a perfectly worthy leader, replies with complacent cowardice, “My Lord, a Neelkanth is needed because we are faced with challenges that we cannot confront.” But to understand the possible answer to this question, “Why is a Neelkanth required?”, the need for defining the term ‘identity’ is akin to the need for Neelkanth in Meluha. 

 

Identity is “people’s concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others” (Hogg and Abrams 02).  To the people of Meluha their individual identity comes next to their shared identity. Meluhans prioritise the identity which every single person of Meluha shares — that they are Meluhans, followers of Lord Ram and they are Suryavanshis. In the novel when Shiva passes through the city gates of the capital city, he sees on the top of the city gates the motto by which they live their lives — “‘Satya. Dharma. Maan’: Truth. Duty. Honour.’ ” (Tripathi 64). Meluhans consider it their duty to honour the laws and rules institutionalised by Lord Ram. The people of Meluha share same culture on which they place much importance. They are proud to be identified as Meluhans or firm followers of Lord Ram. Their individual identity strongly depends on the identity they all share - their cultural identity. And the specialty of that culture is its ideals; the ideals of Lord Ram. It is impossible for Shiva, a teenage “uncouth immigrant”, to penetrate that culture and make the people follow him simultaneously with Lord Ram, while their very existence is defined by the chant “we are the followers of Lord Ram . . . Jai Sri Ram.” (Tripathi 167) But the job has been done. Shiva penetrates the barrier of the Meluhans cultural identity and establishes his individual identity among them. Requirement of a Neelkanth and the power of Shiva’s individual identity have made it through. The same query returns once again, why they have to have a Saviour?

 

In his essayCultural Identity and Diaspora” (1996) Stuart Hall explains:

 

There are at least two different ways of thinking about 'cultural identity'. The first position defines 'cultural identity' in terms of one, shared culture, a sort of collective 'one true self', hiding inside the many other, more superficial or artificially imposed 'selves', which people with a shared history and ancestry hold in common. Within the terms of this definition . . . Cultural identities reflect the common historical experiences and shared cultural codes (223).

 

Though Hall observes the above in order to define the very identity of ‘black’ diasporas of the West in post-colonial time, the definition crystallises an idea about identity. To the Meluhans, unlike Shiva, their identity lies in their “Oneness”. They share the same history and idol of worship. Meluha’s ancestry is way too ancient and rich, as they live with that ancient past, their identity as a collective communal whole has strong foundations. The strength of their past-as-tradition binds all people in Meluha as ‘one’.

 

Hall however expounds a second connection of cultural identity:

 

There is, however, a second, related but different view of cultural identity. This second position recognises that, as well as the many points of similarity, there are also critical points of deep and significant difference which constitute 'what we really are'; or rather - since history has intervened - 'what we have become'. We cannot speak for very long, with any exactness, about 'one experience, one identity' . . . Cultural identity, in this second sense, is a matter of 'becoming' as well as of 'being'. It belongs to the future as much as to the past.” (225).

 

The second definition pointedly talks about a person’s individual identity. He/she cannot hide all along behind cultural oneness. He/she cannot hide all along behind the cultural oneness. Every individual must have their own sense of ‘being’ or “one identity”. A shared culture to be identified by comprises only dimension of identity — a multi-faceted make for each individual. While not abandoning the communal identities ascribed by birth, one has to simultaneously create an identity for him/herself which is a complex multi-faceted construct: “Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact . . . we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process . . .”(Hall 226) The idea is clear here, that one’s personal growth is also something demands to be nurtured by the individual outside of the community s/he belongs to. It is for the greater good of a society that one must focus on shaping their personal identity as well. The Meluhans, unlike Shiva, do not bother about their individual identity. It is their society’s rules which prohibit the people from thinking beyond their ‘duty’, thus invoking monotony. They just follow Lord Ram’s laws unquestioningly and supposedly live happily. The cultivation of this community-bound existence and the exclusion of all others is their formative, definitive lack.

 

The people of Meluha know if any evil force tries to annihilate their peace then the Kshatriyas, the warriors of Meluha, will protect them. If somehow even the Kshatriyas fail to protect them then they have nothing to put faith on except the legend. The legend is a powerful element upon which they pin their entire trust. It does not matter if it is only an assuaging myth, they put all their belief on Neelkanth. The reason for this could be that they have nothing else to rely on which will give them protection from evil, neither the Kshatriyas and the king nor themselves. For hundreds of years the Meluhans have been living inside the limits of their collective cultural identity which then seems to have fossilised into a barricade. If some problems happen to pop up, their entire hope and trust fall on the Kshatriyas and then the legend. The people have never been trying to develop their individual will to defend their problems themselves, as “passion” isn’t one of their motto of living. The Meluhans just follow rules, do their jobs and live in peace. This has been the scenario for a really long period of time in Meluha. And as a result the people in it has become vulnerable.

 

The situation presented in the fiction exhibits that Meluha is in great danger. Some evil intruders are killing people and destroying important places. They do not have the power to counterattack and stop the evil. It is the result of living in placid peace for so long that individually the Meluhans are not capable of wiping out evil. Since they cannot fight for themselves, they pour their faith on the legend, though the existence of Neelkanth had been a dormant possibility, a fantasy-brewed myth for hundreds of years. The exhilaration of finding that there is a Neelkanth and he has already arrived at Meluha, must have been overwhelming. It has to be so; because to them the truth of the legend has been proved, that they have finally got the saviour they quested for. They can now leave the job of saving the nation to him. In the text, when Chitraangadh, a Meluhan, recognises Shiva as Neelkanth he “holding the door frame for support, sobbed like a child. ‘We’re saved! We’re saved! He has come!’” (Tripathi 24)

 

The Meluhans consider their kingdom as a perfect one but in order to sustain that for long, there must be a leader who can cement the loopholes of rules to make it perfect. They have to have a leader who will have his own strong individual identity, not only the title of ‘king’ but the worthiness of a king also, who will lead the people to develop their self defensive skills and expand military forces, in the way to become self-sufficient. These are some probable actions that a leader must take. To have a leader is highly important for any society. The problem in the case of Meluhans is that, there is no such leader in their nation. By the name of Neelkanth, the Meluhans are actually in necessity of a leader.  They need a leader to lead them to victory against the evil, the presence of a leader is all that Meluha needs. In the fiction, the king says to Shiva, “‘It is your presence itself that will make the difference, my lord’” (Tripathi 118).

 

Lastly, as to the king, who is supposed to be the leader of a nation, it must be said that Daksha could be considered as a good king but not a worthy king. His actions throughout the novel are proof of his unworthiness. He is a character with no exceptional warrior skills, he boasts about things for which he has done nothing, believes in a misconception about the real evil of his land but has no eagerness to investigate the truth, tries to inflict his prejudice on others, does not respect the law as a king supposed to and so on. In the text, we see the king completely believes in the fact that the Chandravanshis, a neighbour dynasty, are evil. But this is just a concept which lack proof and being a king he does not bother to uncover the real evil. Once he shouts to the chief Commander “‘I respect the Neelkanth. That means everybody will respect him.’” (Tripathi 89) Last but not the least, when it comes to his daughter’s happiness he once says to his daughter, “‘I don’t care about the damned law’” (Tripathi 132). Now it is obvious that the king with such characteristics is not worthy as a leader, a king. Beyond the requirement of Neelkanth, the incapability of the King is in focus. Meluha needs a leader; not some Neelkanth of some legend.

 

Work Cited

 

Tripathi, Amish. Immortal India. New Delhi: Westland Publications ltd. 2017. Print.

 

---. Amish. The Immortals of Meluha. Westland Publications Private Limited. 2018.

 

Schur, Michael. “Everything Is Fine.” The Good Place Season 1. episode 1.Web Series. NBC Universal Television Distribution, 2016.

 

Pattanaik, Devdutt. Myth = Mithya: Decoding Hindu Mythology. Penguin Books. New Delhi.2006.

 

Hogg, Michael and Dominic Abrams. Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes. London: Routledge, 1988.

 

Viswanathan ,Balaji. Quora, 2020. www.quora.com

 

Goyal, Anuradha. Anuradha Goyal, 2014-2016. https://www.anuradhagoyal.com/what-is-ram-rajya-ramcharitmanas-tulsidas/

 

Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”. https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/sites/default/files/free-chapter/Stuart%20Hall_Cultural_Identity-and_Diaspora.pdf

 

Rukeyser, Muriel. Poetry Foundation, 2006. www.poetryfoundation.org