Samit Basu’s books are wonderful amalgamations of various literary works, movies, events etc. Quite a few people do get the allusions, most go ahead and have a hearty laugh anyway at the incidents / characters mentioned in his book – but many don’t exactly quite *get* it. And unless you’re a Bong, you will NEVER *get* many of the jokes; OK, many of THAT stuff which I point out aren’t exactly references, but simply Bengali words that he’s used for his characters. Loads of free time right now, so I sat down to make this comprehensive list of references Samit Basu makes to other works. I’ll start off with the first book in the GameWorld Trilogy – The Simoqin Prophecies
– then move on to the others in due course of time. And please, I’m NOT trying to explain all the jokes in the book here – simply references that people may not know or miss (maybe because they aren’t Bongs). On the right, BTW, is Samit, well, what he looked like around two years ago.
I generally read from ebooks (even if I have hard copies of them) because it allows me to search and note down MY takes on MY favorite parts (and bookmark them – without having to bother about running out of paper bookmarks or dog-eared pages). The problem with Samit Basu’s case is that Indians are lazy bastards who are never as vela as their Western counterparts in scanning, OCRing, and uploading ebooks. I’m against piracy – and I’ll happily pay to buy original ebook versions – if only they were available. The sad thing is, publishing houses don’t take the initiative in this regard. Anyway, that’s why noting down MY takes on Samit Basu’s books is a bit tedious for me. Took some (free) time to get this sort of stuff done.
Not making lame conclusions of references either, because in most cases I think I’ve quite fairly figured out where Samit Basu came up with those names and incidents from. Too bad if you don’t agree. Given stuff below is ORIGINAL work – although I admit other fine chaps could have reached the same conclusions as mine themselves. Feedback, or any references that I miss out, would be greatly appreciated and may be directed to me using the comment form at the end of this post.
Edit: Samit Basu had a look at this list. He says I was off-the-mark regarding gun-kata and Simpsons inspiring D-d-death – but the rest of the list is correct.
SPOILER WARNING : The Stuff written below contains a LOT of plot spoilers to The Simoqin Prophecies.
photo credit: harpreet thinkingRavian is probably a corruption of the word / name Ravan. The characteristics seem the same, essentially, with the rakshases.
- Danh-Gem is an anagram of Meghnad, the rakshas son of Ravan in the Ramayana. This particular fact, plus that Danh-Gem is actually a rakshas gives greater credence to the point above this one. Thanks to Varun for pointing out a blooper in this factoid!
- Kol being called ‘the Big Mango‘ is a take of New York City being known as ‘the Big Apple‘. I didn’t get paid by Steve Jobs for this one; it is NOT subliminal advertising.
- About the different geographical areas mentioned. This is something EVERYONE should have figured out. If not, stop reading this book. It’s not for you. Of course, the characters from the following regions borrow heavily from their corresponding ‘real’ counterparts. It would be fun if we had Lord of the Rings-style author-made maps for these regions. Maybe in future ‘deluxe’ editions. ;)
- Avranti – Typically human, along the lines of Indian epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
- Durg – Female-dominated, along the lines of the legends of Amazonian women warriors. I think there’s a similar folklore in Indian mythology too.
- Elaken – Ancient Egpyt.
- Skuanmark – The Nordic countries.
- Artaxerxia – Arab / Persia region.
- Xi’en – China, but with a touch of Tibet in the sense that in the story Xi’en tries to isolate itself from the rest of the world.
- Ventelot – England / Scotland.
- Psomedea – Ancient Greece.
- Kol and the Free States – From the references to its economic power (and the ‘Free States’), US. From its style of governance – ruled by ‘temporary’ ruler for ages while waiting for the heir to the old King of Kol, a reference to the type of governance in the Galaxy in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not a long shot, because Samit does admit Adams as an influence himself.
- Vaman cities underground, borrows elements from Lord of the Rings‘ depiction of dwarfs.
- Potolpur – A reference to Bengal?
- The creation of the Vertical Sea (page 69) by a ‘prophet’ could be a reference to the Red Sea parting for Moses and his followers in Biblical mythology, except that here it has a slight twist where the poor prophet and his followers drown because of the prophet ‘pointing his staff in the wrong direction’.
- Kirin’s ravian reflexes during the nundu’s attack (and henceforth, throughout the series) (page 213): At first, even I’d never thought whether this was a reference to something; that the heightened ravian senses of ‘knowing where the enemy is’ could be borrowed only struck me during a recent re-reading of the book. Ever seen the movie Equilibrium, starring Christian Bale, directed by Kurt Wimmer? The ‘gun-kata’ style of martial art in the movie, which involves ‘learning’ where your opponents’ bullets would passing through, avoiding them, and firing back without thinking and in fluid motions is EXACTLY like the ravian style of fighting (we’ll see a better description of this in The Manticore’s Secret). It’s theoretically possible too that this is a homage to Kurt Wimmer, because Equilibrium was released in 2002, and The Simoqin Prophecies came out in 2004. Quite sure not many would have made this connection, simply because Equilibrium isn’t that well-known a movie (but does have its fan following). Off topic – the movie is superb. Especially the gun-kata fight sequences. Even though Christian Bale has NO expressions at all in ANY movie, it works in the this one because his character isn’t supposed to have any. In brief, Equilibrium is a science fiction movie about a society in the future which is far removed from emotions – think of it as an ‘updated version’ of the story of George Orwell’s novel 1984 (later made into a movie too).
Action scenes from the movie Equilibrium
- Akarat (page 340): This is simply the rakshasi Taraka‘s name, spelled backwards. This is from Bengali folklore, where Taraka was a big blue hairy rakshasi who ate people up.
- Chasing a deer / the ‘circle of protection’ for Prince Chorpulis (page 340-341): Taken from the Ramayana, where Rama Lakshmana made a similar circle for Sita, while he went off chasing a rakshas (which had taken the form of a deer; specifically, the rakshas was Maricha). Except that keeping in tune with the Amazonian theme, it’s the Durgan Queen who chases the deer while the prince stays.
- Lalmohan the eagle (page 341): This one was a particularly brilliant joke, and had me ROFL for a long time. Recollect that in Ramayana, it was an eagle named Jatayu who had first noticed Sita being kidnapped, and followed her before being wounded. Now, in the Feluda series of (Bengali) detective stories by Satyajit Ray, there’s a character called Lalmohan Ganguly who is an author who writes under the pseudonym Jatayu. Get the joke? ;) Of course, this one’s quite obscure because only Bong’s (even then, only ones who’ve read Feluda stories, like me) would get the joke. Off topic – BTW, Penguin India (Samit Basu’s publishers) have also recently released English translations of the Feluda stories, translated by Gopa Majumdar. I’d read the originals in Bengali earlier, and only got to know about the fact that English translations existed some two years ago at a quiz contest. Not all Feluda stories have been translated yet, but the ones which have been…well…all I can say is that the original Satyajit Ray Bengali version is a much better read than the English ones. The problem with Gopa Majumdar’s translation is that they are simply ‘translations’, without bothering about the literary style. I know it’s a big task to match up to Ray, but still…
- ‘New’ D-d-death (page 227): This idea of the Grim Reaper character being replaced by somebody else was done in the Halloween special episode of the Simpsons in 2003, where Homer Simpson replaces the ‘regular guy’ (that’s what an oldie about to die says in that episode on seeing Homer as the Grim Reaper) and becomes the ‘new Death’. This overlap of ideas is nothing spectacular, as demonstrated in South Park episode The Simpsons Already Did It (episode 607). Now it’s quite a surprise that I could quote BOTH South Park and Simpsons on this one, because by a staggering coincidence I’ve seen both the episodes in question. The stuttering part wasn’t there in the Simpsons episode, so that’s an addition.
- The letters BOIUDVLS in Bolvudis (page 228): Obviously, referring to the Hollywood Sign in Hollywood. However, not many of you would know that this sort of ‘misspelling’ ACTUALLY occurs with the Hollywood Sign too…when viewed from certain angles. Because the letters forming the word ‘HOLLYWOOD’ in that sign are at different distances and elevations, from some angles the letters appear jumbled up.
- Old kul-guru, asking questions at the swayamvar (page 370): Although there was no ‘sadly senile’ kul-guru pestering people at the swayamvar in Mahabharata, this particular bit IS a reference to a scene during the training of Kauravas and Pandavas by kul-guru Dronacharya in the Mahabharata; where he sticks a fish on a pole (without rotating discs under it) puts a clay bird on a tree, and tells his students to describe what they see before trying to shoot the eye of the bird with an arrow. All his other students give answers like the ones in Samit’s book, except Arjun who says he sees only the eye, shoots, and gets his target. The fish-on-a-pole was also there in the Mahabharata, during Draupadi’s swayamvar – without the senile guru, that is.
- Army of the Undead (page 401): There’s a LOT in ancient Egyptian mythology about undead soldiers guarding the Pharoah’s tomb. They were supposed to such amalgams of creatures – indeed, many Egyptian Gods had heads of animals. Also borrowed from the Hollywood flick, The Mummy Returns, where the Undead Army of the Scorpion King comes alive.
photo credit: SuzannaRiddle(s) of the Sphinx (page 402, plus some more a few pages later): The ‘classic’ riddle of the Sphinx from Egyptian mythology is asked here. The Sphinx was guardian creature who used to ask the riddle “What walks on four legs in the morning, two in the evening, and three at night?” to people. The answer to this is supposed to be ‘man’, because man as an infant crawls on four legs when he’s young, walks on two legs in youth, and uses a walking stick in addition to his own legs when he grows old. In mythology, the Sphinx had only one riddle, but needs to improvise in The Simoqin Prophecies.
The last ‘riddle’ he asks is borrowed from J R R Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, which is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings. It’s directly lifted from the scene where Bilbo Baggins and Gollum are asking each other riddles, and finally when Bilbo Baggins runs of of riddles he asks Gollum what’s in his pocket. Gollum, like Gaam, protests that it’s not a riddle, it’s a question. The dialogue exchange is pretty much the same. In Simoquin, Gaam answers correctly. Off topic – in The Hobbit, when Bilbo asks this question Gollum suspects that ‘his precious’ One Ring has been stolen. No more spoilers beyond that. :)
- Scorpion King (page 419): The legend of the Scorpion King is borrowed from the 2002 Hollywood flick The Scorpion King, starring ‘The Rock’ (yeah, that WWE wrestler, whose real name is Dwayne Johnson). It’s an OK-level popcorn-flick (I’d give it a C-minus rating), but not really anything spectacular.
- Aciram (page 423) is Marica spelled backwards. Marica would be the anglicized version of the name Maricha, who was a shape-shifting rakshas in the Ramayana. He was the cousin brother of Ravan (again, a reference to the ravian Kirin?), and had turned himself into a deer to lure Rama away while Ravan kidnapped Sita – a similar incident to the earlier one I mentioned about Prince Chorpulis and Queen Raka of Durg. Maricha would also be a cousin of Meghnad – Danh-Gem is an anagram of Meghnad.
Hero finds book, apparently by coincidence. Book contains apparently trustworthy character, with strong resemblance to hero. Hero trusts book. But book turns out to be villain. Surprise, surprise. Fight. Hero battles all odds and wins the day. Not my own idea. Got it from a book. A human book, funnily enough, written by a young woman in Ventelot whom I subsequently ate. Humans do have their uses.
This is what the Danh-Gem illusion says when he rises back from the dead (not quite, but you’ll get it when you read the book). This bit is a clear reference to the storyline of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in a nutshell – because that’s exactly what happens. In it, Harry Potter finds a diary left by Lord Voldemort, under the name of ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’; which ‘shows’ things in a similar way to Narak / Danh-Gem’s diary. Samit Basu even subtly admits it’s not his own idea, and it was taken from the book of ‘a young woman in Ventelot’ – a reference to J K Rowling; Ventelot being the equivalent of England / Scotland in Simoqin.
- Jajbor tribes (page 383): In The Simoqin Prophecies, the Jajbor tribes are said to create and leave fake artifacts just for fun, so that they could make explorers from other parts of the world think they had stumbled across the remains of some earlier unknown civilization. This is similar to an idea propounded by atheists to mock Creationism (Douglas Adams was one…) called Last Thursdayism. In essence, it mocks Creationism by suggesting that ‘God buried artifacts of old civilizations last Thursday to make humans think that the Earth was really old – and even WE can’t say how much time has lapsed since the Earth was created because the memories of all humans might have been implanted by God last Thursday to make us THINK we’d been around for thousands of years’. I admit, THIS one is a long shot. Samit Basu might have just been trying to be funny.
- Talking of ravian powers of making items levitate / picking them up using the mind, plus (later) references to ‘getting it right by practicing’ is quite a lot like powers attributed to the Jedi in the Stars Wars series of movies. Plus, the focus of ‘getting it right through practice’ is ALSO a lot like how the Jedi were trained. Recall the training of Luke Skywalker by Master Yoda.
- Irik Seagull and Stivin Seagull (page 225-226): References to Eric Segal and Steven Seagal. The latter is Hollywood actor / producer / choreographer who works with mostly run-of-the-mill action movies; the former is a writer, not related to the latter.
- Circle of Darkness (page 474): The Circle of Darkness is shown on the cover illustration of the book. This is borrowed from the Stonehenge (and other such structures) set up by Celtic druids.
- Sword buried in stone (page 88): A reference to King Arthur pulling out a sword – a which is deemed too easy for the story’s hero Asvin.
- The Bow of Fire test (page 89): Similar to the test using the Gandiva bow that Arjun had to pass in the Mahabharata.
- ‘A young boy had lost his thumb for spying on Asvin’s archery lessons‘ (page 90): A corruption of the story of Ekalavya (in the Mahabharata), who lost his thumb because of (somewhat) similar reasons.
- King Leer (page 95): Shakespeare’s King Lear. That’s Macbeth, isn’t it? Oh dear. My knowledge of Shakepeare is really quite next to nil, but King Lear is an already-existing character in some other fiction, I know that much.
- Asking for three wishes from a jinn (page 110): From the Arabian Nights, where djinns were supposed to grant three wishes to people who rubbed their lamp. Again, I mention this simply for the sake of completeness. I’m sure that people got this one.
- Prince Kumirdanga (page 124): The name ‘Kumirdanga’ is taken from a set of Bong bedtime stories that Bong kids have to endure in their childhood.
- Bali setting Kol city on fire (page 140): Just the way Hanuman set Lanka on fire in the Ramayana.
- Silver Dagger’s history and equipment (page 150-152): Quite similar to James Bond. Him asking for his Dragonjuice ‘stirred, not shaken’ in the last page of the book is also a take on Bond’s answer to how he likes his martinis. (Again, putting this in only for completeness).
- Standard knights of Venetelot looking like tin soldiers (page 189): Mocking the attire of actual medieval knights. Also, the Almost-Perfectly-Circular-Table again a reference to King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.
- The descriptions of the Sultan and the Vizier (page 206-207) is a parody of how they’re depicted in Disney’s movie Aladdin, where there looks are exactly the opposite.
- Months named after animals (from the excerpt’s of Maya’s diaries, throughout the book): Possible modification of Chinese years being named after animals?
- Eurekus and the Sirens (page 323): Borrowed from Greek mythology, except that in their case they sailors get away by not listening to the sirens. This bit is from Odysseus, where Odysseus wants to hear what the Sirens (who’re the same as in Samit’s book), so he straps himself to a mast while the sailors have their ears stuffed with wax.
- Rabin of Oodh (page 363): Obviously, referring to Robin Hood. I liked the ‘Oodh’ bit, because it’s an anagram of ‘hood’ while sounding like the erstwhile Indian state of Oudh at the same time. The way he’s supposed to ‘win’ his fiance is also the same as in the Robin Hood story, with the twist that here the shooting is not like Old English archery but like Draupadi’s swayamawara in Mahabharata, where they had to shoot the eye of the fish.
- Lukochuri, the Potolpur prince’s name, (page 370) is the Bengali word for ‘hide and seek‘.
- Tungz (the asur interpreter) could be a play on the word tongues because he can speak in different tongues.
- Shanti-Joddha is a reference to Gautam Buddha.
- Sambo (the servant of a character we meet in the sequel to The Simoqin Prophecies) could be reference to Samba from Sholay. Hell, it is.
- This one’s obvious. Bolvudis is a combination of the words ‘Bollywood’ and ‘island’. Complete with Muwi-vision (movies). And Nimbupani. I didn’t need to tell these, did I?
- The rabbit (Bunihopus bobtelus – bunny’s with bob-tails hop), at the beginning of Book One. A reference to Alice in Wonderland (or for movie buffs, the Matrix)? “How far the rabbit-hole goes”? Hmm.
- Borphi (The Boy Genius, on page 13) is the Bengali word for barfi, a sweet.
- Amloki is the Bengali word for amla, a citrus fruit. Maybe people would have been able to figure this out.
- Storks delivering eggs is taken from the taken from the tales that kids are told on children are born (before they start going to school :p ).
- Ulluk (page 57), the sister-son of Bali, is the Bengali word for ‘owl’ ‘baboon’. Bali, of course, was a monkey-king in the Ramayana.
- Djongli (page 58) is the Bengali word for ‘wild’ (in the sense of animal). Later, we find the Djongli character to be a combination of Tarzan and Mowgli.
- Prince Chorpulis of Potolpur (page 339): A corruption of the word ‘corpulent’ to ‘corpulous’ (means, ‘fat’) to ‘Chorpulis’? Of course, there’s no word such as ‘corpulous’, because that would be an adjective, and ‘corpulent’ is already an adjective. It’s a probable word root.
Have anything other than these? Or any feedback? Leave your comments using the form given here.