Vetaal and Vikram: Riddles of the Undead


Vetaal and Vikram is a playful retelling of one of India’s most celebrated cycles of stories. The narrative of King Vikram and the Vetaal is located within the Kathasaritsagara, an eleventh-century Sanskrit text. The Vetaal who is neither living nor dead is a consummate storyteller, and Vikram is a listener who can neither speak nor stay silent. Together they are destined to walk a labyrinth of stories in the course of a moonless night in a cremation ground.

In 1870, eleven of the Vetaal’s stories were adapted to English by the famed scholar-explorer Richard Francis Burton who tailored them to his audience’s gothic taste. Vetaal and Vikram is a contemporary response that includes Burton within its storytelling folds. Fantastical and delightful, this retelling dissolves the lines between speaker and listener, desire and duty, life and death.

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“In Vetaal and Vikram, which is part literary pastiche, part historical biography, she dredges up these ancient tales and winds them around the story of a Victorian explorer who was their most celebrated interpreter. In the process, Prabhu gives us a shimmering cover version that captures the strange magic of the original.” – Nicholas Jubber in Asian Review of Books.

Vetaal and Vikram: Riddles of the Undead is exemplary, in my opinion, because it is a retelling of a history of literature, blurring the edges between postmodern writing and the tradition of oral storytelling.” – Michael Varghese in Asiaville News.

“A light-hearted retelling of the celebrated Indian mythology, the novel is radically different from everything she has written before.” – Shruthi Dileep in Reading Room Co.

“[Vetaal and Vikram]…stories that talk about love, lust, adultery and has a very liberal view about same-sex relationships…a fresh way of presenting folklore” – Anamika Nandekar in Sakaal Times:

To Write Means to be Vulnerable’ — Interview by Archana Pai Kulkarni in She The People: