Indian science fiction -- past and present

India's Tehelka has an excellent article on the history and state of Indian science fiction:
It all began in 19th century Bengal. The first example of modern Indian SF was probably a Bengali story, Shukra Bhraman or ‘Travels to Venus’, by Jagananda Roy in 1879. Or, depending on your perspective, much before that. “Science Fiction has been a part of Indian literature since the Puranas and the Mahabharata,” says MH Srinarahari, General Secretary of the Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS). “There was the palace of wax made by the Kauravas and Ram faced Mrigmarichika, which was nothing but an illusion.”...

INDIAN SF also often comes with a moral message. “It should have a social purpose,” says Srinarahari. “If a writer is speaking of an imaginary world or change in his environ, how can he cope with it? Reading about it will educate a person.” Deshpande agrees. “There has to be a mission,” he says. In his story, the protagonist dreams that a bacteria is speaking to him, saying that increasingly powerful antibiotics are not the way to get rid of pathogenic bacteria. Peaceful coexistence between humans and the bacteria is the need of the hour. The subtext here, says Deshpande, is about nuclear weapons and terrorists.

Link (Thanks, Partha!)


  1. “There was the palace of wax made by the Kauravas and Ram faced Mrigmarichika, which was nothing but an illusion.”

    Nifty. If I didn’t know that came from nineteenth-century India, I’d have guessed it was from Borges.

  2. I’ve started reading Indian scifi and re-reading much of the great Indian literature after reading “River of Gods” by Ian McDonald. If memory serves, I picked up that book because I saw a back-cover blurb from Cory. It’s funny how things come back around.
    If you really want to get your mind blown, find a copy of the Mahabharat, a 45+ hour serialized video telling of a great Hindu myth. I guess you don’t get to be the oldest text-based culture without having some terrific stories.

  3. Babubhai Mistri’s movie version of the Mahabharat (1965) has a tremendous scene in the wax palace, including a demo of a fabulous vedic television set (with little curtains) shown by the hero Arjun, played by Pradeep Kumar – it displays a typical Bollywood dance number, to the amazement of the Kauravas:

    Fabulous movie, by the way!

  4. Just a clarification, the palace of Wax comes from the Mahabharat and Ram episode is from the Ramayan which mythologically precedes the Mahabharat.

    The Palace of Wax was specially built of flammable material to kill the Pandavs who were cousins to the Kauravs and call it an accident.

    Ram pursued a golden deer through a forest in the Ramayan (isn’t that a recurring element in myths, magical animals and a chase? Joseph campbell etc.)
    The golden deer is really a shapeshifting demon who is luring Ram away from his hut to allow Ravan (king of demons) to kidnap his wife.

    I gravitate towards the Mahabharat precisely because it has no moral message aside from those tacked onto it by religious writers. At its core it is a story of family politics, greed, jealousy and revenge. In the end, even the “divine” characters break all the rules and behave like ordinary humans.

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