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‘Meru’ book review: A space odyssey

Express News Service

In the final section of SB Divya’s science-fiction novel, Meru, the protagonist, Jayanthi, says, “Human ingenuity led to the development of alloys and constructs.” Although, for a moment, it looks like she’s boasting about the achievements of humankind, her heart truly lies in asking a committee for an opportunity to prove that her species is capable of taking care of the eponymous planet. And why does she do that? It’s because Pushkara, an alloy (a post-human descendant), argues that since people haven’t respected the Earth much, they would be inclined to pollute another planet as well. The futuristic novel, set in a world beyond Earth, documents an expedition aimed at finding other habitable planets.

Pushkara, obviously, has a valid reason to keep Meru out of reach of humans. Nevertheless, as the author parts the curtains of the world she’s created, he turns out to be the antagonist, who will go to any extent to defeat Jayanthi. But how does Meru become the pie that everybody wants to taste? It apparently has “similar gravity”.

Even so, it isn’t free from problems. For instance, the higher amount of oxygen (at nearly 45 percent of the atmosphere), “would cause lung and vision disorders, along with general oxidative damage at the cellular level”.

Jayanthi, unlike Pushkara, doesn’t hold any grudges against other beings. Perhaps, her easygoing attitude springs from the fact that she was raised by alloys. And her undiminishing penchant for exploring space provides her with the spirit to put together a plan in which she’ll be able to travel to Meru and conduct some experiments. She won’t live there alone though, as her alloy pilot, named Vaha, will accompany her. Once they reach the new planet, however, their friendship slowly turns into love, and the novel transforms into an adventurous coming-of-age ride that takes the two on a trip around the solar system.

Divya has given this routine romantic drama quite a spin by removing the boundaries that differentiate humans from other sentient beings. Both Vaha and Jayanthi, who’re under-confident in the beginning, inspire and draw strength from each other as the novel progresses.

Meru isn’t a quick read.  Not because it is about 430 pages long, but because it requires a lot of attention to understand and imagine the world beyond the stars. Divya sprinkles astounding nuggets of information, such as the height of the alloys (as tall as trees) and the importance of tarawans (alloys, who work in the field of reproduction), along the course of the narrative without steering the plot away from its crux. She writes about how alloys don’t give birth the human way. They design their progeny by combining the maker or the parents’ genes with “other genetic information from a central data bank”.

There are, however, some passages that feel repetitive, making one feel that the author is unnecessarily pulling at the corners of colourless conversations and clarifications.What keeps the novel going though, is its underlying theory that most humans, at the end of the day, would choose to live on Earth, despite the attractions offered by other planets. It boils down to our reluctance to leave something familiar to explore new grounds. The biggest fear? Getting lost on the way. But Jayanthi doesn’t care for such fears. She has other pressing issues to attend to, but these overarching thoughts are bound to haunt the readers on the ride-along to find out if her trial runs meet with success.

In Meru, Divya casts an empathetic gaze upon all of humanity and its creations. She also lets us off the hook for the destruction we have caused. Put simply, she seems to be optimistic about where humankind is headed. How’s that for a change? 

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