Ask anyone familiar with Hindu mythology to visualise Yama or Yamraj and the first thing that you would get is a huge dark green man with near fearful physicality. His countenance is a suitable justification for the role he plays; that of the lord of death. Yamraj is the eventual ruler of souls and decides the fate of Earthlings, making him fearful among the population. But, what if Yamraj is not as petrifying as he is made to look like? What if Yamraj has a poetic heart? Can he still do justice to his responsibilities? Mrinal Chatterjee’s Yamraj 5003 explores this interesting insight into the world of the wrathful king.
In a world of fantastical characters, Chatterjee pours in another fascinating idea. There is not one but a multitude of cloned Yamas, thanks to the burgeoning population on Earth and the protagonist of the novel only makes for the number 5003. What puts a twist to this Yamraj’s story is a curious mishap by Heaven’s own journalist, Narad.
However, the result of the mishap has far-reaching consequences on the characters and raises questions that even the Trinity is unable to face.
The novel delves deep into a pertinent question that has been bugging humankind for ages. Are directives imperative to sustain the natural course of time or are they just trappings which fail to address the demands of a situation? By putting Yamraj at the centre of the question, the author explores the irony through the lens of a character known for his polarising persona. The Yamraj in Chaterjee’s novel questions the norm rather than shrink under the demands of his duty. The reader will definitely enjoy the clever way in which the author weaves real world problems into the narrative.
What is interesting is that author adds many titbits of information for the readers which works to keep them hooked. So, if you want to know how Narad really came into being or Yama’s sister, this book definitely provides these little gems. Another interesting point is the co-relation of heavenly deities to professionals. Sample this, Narad is the quintessential journalist who does not just poke his nose around every situation in Triloka, he also makes sure the news is spread far and wide with the correct customisations. No, Chatterjee’s Narad does not manipulate stories, he just tweaks it as per the personality of the God.
The author does not just stop at Narad. He makes sure that the prevalent issues on Earth are part of the heavenly discussion, too. And, ironically, in this book, Yamraj 5003 is the hero. So, while Yamraj swiftly points out the bias of the lords against women, he gets cheered from the crowd for his stand supporting women. Even the women in hell and heaven had not left their feminism behind. To a reader, this also raises the larger question about how we view our scriptures. Why is it that a woman is always lauded for her sacrifices and a man for his heroic abilities?
But, what happens when a person goes beyond his call of duty? Is he necessarily encouraged or are his actions only seen as antics that question the powers?
One aspect that acts a deterrent to the storyline is the potpourri of unrelated sub-stories which are not necessarily an extension to the story. There are too many issues cramped inside a small story, which only distracts the reader from the story. Also, readers must note that the book was originally published in Odia, which explains why the language does not necessarily reveal a particular style or flow.