Deepak Chopra talks Virgin's "India Authentic"

Thu, November 8th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

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David Moran, Guest Contributor

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"India Authentic: The Book of Shiva" on sale now

The need to tell one another stories is an essential, integral part of the Human Condition, and one need look no further than the crude drawings scrawled onto the walls of caves in Europe dating back as far as 40,000 years as proof of this. As civilizations evolve, so do their stories and their methods and means of telling them, while, interestingly, many of the actual tales themselves have remained relatively unchanged. Joseph Campbell touched on this in his seminal non-fiction study of the similarities of the archetypical hero myths in major religions and mythologies the world over, "The Hero With A Thousand Faces," first published in 1949, and numerous artists, writers, singers, and filmmakers have since picked up on it, with George Lucas and his "Star Wars" series of films being perhaps the best known example.

Myths inform us, inspire us and provide examples of the type of person we should (the Hero) and shouldn't (the Villain) aspire to be. And whether it was the ancient Greeks telling and retelling the tales of the Twelve Labours of Hercules or The Odyssey to one another around a campfire in the year 500 B.C. or a 13-year old kid reading his or her first Superman comic somewhere right this very moment, the need for heroes to look up to and role models to aspire to be will probably never leave us.

Renowned author, philosopher, lecturer, and medical doctor Deepak Chopra probably understands this better than most, as he's written more than a few books on the subject. Recently, Chopra has also begun to lend his name to a series of comic books, "Deepak Chopra Presents - India Authentic," retellings of popular Indian myths in monthly comic book form through Virgin Comics.

"Myths evolves as we evolve," Deepak Chopra told CBR News. "The word 'myth' is related to the word 'Mother.' It is also related to words like Maya, meter, measurement, time, music, matter, and meteor. Myths represent the highest aspirations and longings of our collective imaginations. It is the bridge from what is to what could be. By retelling these stories in ever new ways, we keep the passion of fire alive in our souls."

Chopra provides a foreword to each issue of "India Authentic," which typically amounts to him explaining the relevancy of the classic Indian myths in the context of today's world. The stories themselves are adapted by Saurav Mohapatra and illustrated by a rotating array of prominent and popular Indian artists.

The series launched last June, with the first issue telling the story of the elephant-headed god Ganesha. Subsequent stories have featured Kali, Shiva, Indra, and other prominent gods in the Indian pantheon. On sale now is "India Authentic - The Book of Shiva," reprinting both t the first five issues of the series and Chopra's introductions to each issue, and also featuring a new foreword penned by Chopra exclusively for the collection.

"The re-imagination of Indian mythologies and archetypes with a cross-cultural flavor will ignite once again our collective yearning for achieving the impossible and embarking on a journey of mystery, magic, and adventure," Chopra said. "It may well usher in an age that Homer never dreamed of."

Since being reintroduced to the language of comic books by his son, Virgin Comics chief Creative Officer Gotham Chopra (with help from the works of Grant Morrison), Deepak Chopra has found the medium exceptionally useful in communicating his ideas. "Comics are an art form that give visual expression to our personal and collective imagination and therefore could be the raw material for our collective creativity as we give birth to new archetypal stories," Chopra said. "I read the Amar Katha series [of comics] growing up in India. At this moment, my favorite mythical characters are Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader."

"These are not meat and potatoes comic book stories," said "Book of Shiva" scripter Saurav Mohapatra. "There are no 'superheroes' in any of them to speak of, but there is indeed a lot of 'Heroism' to be found in these stories, people overcoming obstacles and adversities."

A big comic book fan himself, Mohapatra was selected as the series author because Virgin liked his writing style. He cold pitched the publisher when his wife first brought the new company to his attention, and he was enamored with the company's desire to tell Indian-themed and inspired stories under its Shakti line. Virgin passed on his original pitches, but the editorial staff enjoyed his writing style and first-hand familiarity with the original Indian myths themselves so much that they offered him a chance to write several of the new series they were already developing, including "Devi" and "The Sadhu."

"I know these stories; I grew up with them," Mohapatra said. "My mom used to tell me these stories as a kid."

Aside from providing each tale's introduction, Deepak Chopra serves as "India Authentic's" inspirational force, usually setting the tone or establishing the theme for the comic that follows through his foreword. "Deepak Chopra has been the series' spiritual guide so far," Mohapatra stated. "What he does is establish the familiar and set the tone for each issue through his introduction."

When it came time to adapt these classic stories into the much more modern form of a comic book, Mohapatra, who had limited comics writing experience as the author of several Webcomics beforehand, admits that he drew as much from the works of his favorite comic book and adventure stories and movies as he did from the classic Indian texts themselves. Indeed, Mohapatra cites Mike Carey's "Lucifer," Neil Gaiman's work and Robert E. Howard's Conan stories all as major inspirations.

"India Authentic" #7 "Yama - The Lord of Death" on sale November 14
"The spirit of the stories themselves remained the same, but, in order to adapt these tales of gods and goddesses, which in their original form can sometimes run as many 700 to 800 pages, into a 22-page comic book we needed to add our own 'bridge' to each story," Mohapatra explained. "The bridge became the theme, the way of relating these classic stories to modern readers. To bridge the gap between the Writer and the Reader, you need to start at the point that is closes to you both. What happens is that when you present something completely new to a reader, you end up confusing them. But start with something familiar, something that a reader has undoubtedly seen before, and then you can move towards the alien from there. And that's the way that we structured each of these tales, because myths themselves are timeless. If you strip away all the exotic veneer, what still remains is the story itself. And it's those stories of failings, achievements, losses and victories, which touch on the most basic of human emotions, that we as readers can all relate to."

"Deepak Chopra Presents - India Authentic" is an ongoing monthly series with subsequent chunks of the single issues to be collected into subsequent trade paperbacks. As Chopra himself explained, "As many gods and heroes as there are in the pantheon - and there are many - we'll keep on with the series!"

In so doing, Chopra hopes, reconnecting contemporary readers and the modern world with these classic gods and heroes of antiquity, we'll be reconnecting with ourselves. "The world is the symbolic expression of our collective myths," Chopra said. "Myths allow us to create and manifest an idealistic vision. In the absence of myth we would be spiritually bankrupt."

Related:
GRANT MORRISON AND DEEPAK CHOPRA GET SPIRITUAL

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