Past Master

20mp_lead_kalachuva_360559fDivya Kumar in The Hindu:

A book on Indian mythology, written in Italian in the 1990s by a leading scholar and publisher from Florence, translated to great acclaim into English, then into Hindi, Malayalam and now, Tamil.

That's “Ka” for you, a remarkable work of scholarship on the stories of the Vedas and the Puranas, that's been on a remarkable journey. Naturally, its author Roberto Calasso, who was in Chennai recently for the launch of the Tamil translation of “Ka”, turns out to be a pretty remarkable man himself.

“It started very early, really,” he says, referring to his love of Indian mythology, adding casually, “Just like one gets interested in Russian literature as an adolescent, I started reading these texts, and it went on from there.”

‘These texts' include everything from the Rig Veda (“the most difficult and mysterious by far,” he says) to the Brahmanas, which are the focus of his latest book, “L'ardore” (which refers to the act of tapas). He began by reading translations but has since learnt Sanskrit, just like he studied ancient Greek in order to be able to read those great old mythologies (“The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony”, one of his earliest and most well-known works, is a retelling of Greek mythology).

“Myths are the original form of storytelling and a way of knowledge — certain things you can get only through stories,” he says, his passion evident. “A mythology is like a large tree of stories and it's essential to get inside its branches. It can be very illuminating, a way of giving an account of the vast net of elements that make up the world.”