I don’t quite remember which was the first Ramayana I read. I am sure that I had heard many versions of the story long before I read it myself... My mom was (and is) an ardent storyteller, and most of her stories revolve around mythology... and Rama, the obedient, dutiful son who never does anything wrong, is probably the favourite character of most Indian parents. “Look at Rama. Did he ever back answer to his parents? Did he even question his father or step mother when he was told to go into exile? Thats what an ideal child should be like.” I am sure most of you would have heard this dialogue sometime in your life.
Anyway, coming back to the various Ramayanas I have read, I remember reading the Amar Chitra Katha’s version, and later, Rajaji’s Ramayana – which, incidentally, is one of my prized possessions! Over the years, I have picked up many more versions of the story. Valmiki’s epic has many translations; all of which claim to be faithful to the original, but each have their own interesting differences. A translation of Kamban’s Tamil work is something I love reading for the beautiful descriptions. Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas is one book, which finds a special place in our prayer room. I have read the Bhavan Journal’s version of the epic, and also the Penguin’s Handbook to the Ramayan, which has a lot of interesting references to stories I hadn’t heard before. I stumbled across one story told from Ravana’s point of view, and Samhith even has a book called Hanuman’s Ramayan. And then came Ashok Banker with his own version of the story, bringing the age old characters to life with his own inimitable style. Needless to say, I lapped it all up happily!
I was intrigued when I heard that another book was to join the series, this time one, which had an interesting concept – of a story, told in the first person, by the hero – Rama, himself. When an opportunity to review the book came through Blogadda, I jumped at the chance, and entered my name. I received the book a few days back, and here, finally, is my review.
The book begins, rather appropriately, with a prologue describing Mareecha’s arrival at Lanka. Neither Ravana nor Rama are present, but this is the first time Ravana will hear of his adversary, and set out on the path which will ultimately lead to his doom. Considering that the Ramayana is effectively the story of Ravana challenging Rama by the abduction of Sita; and Rama’s eventual triumph, this is indeed the beginning of the story!
As for Rama’s story, it is in the first person, as the title suggests, and he tells his story to his children, Luv and Kush, as well as to Hanuman, and his brothers, the day before the coronation of his heirs. Rama is ready to depart from earth, and before he leaves, he wants his children to know the whole story of his life.
The entire story is in a flashback mode, sometimes Rama reminiscing about his childhood, with Lakshmana adding some small detail, and sometimes through another voice, like that of his father, Dasaratha, relating the story of his curse, or the sage Vishwamitra, relating the story of the demons. The story told in the first person does succeed in bringing Rama down from the pedestal of God, to a mortal coping with greatness.
As far as the story goes, it sticks to the epic we know so well. There are a few surprises in store, such as the story of Ganga, and of Rama’s birth, which I loved. However, what I really appreciated was the character of Kaikeyi, who has been transformed into a warrior queen, who knows her mind and does not hesitate to do what she needs to, no matter how tough it is for her. It is her character, and hers alone, which stands out through the book.
As for the others, the characterisation of Sita shows promise, and Dasaratha is well etched out in the first half of the book, but all the others seem to be passed over as mere props in the story. And this is where the book loses its lustre.
As to the story itself, the idea of superior beings from another galaxy landing on earth and teaching us some of their skills, helping us along, so to speak, on the road of evolution, is not a new idea. It is one we have heard before, and plenty of times. It is something Samhith would love to read, but I am well past that stage. That said, the author seems to have picked out problematic areas, such as the issue of Kaikeyi’s character, and has devoted a lot of work to solving the problem. However, in the process, he neglects some other aspects of the story, which might have made the story more cohesive.
In a story, which is so well known, what is needed is some amazing writing to bring the characters to life, to make them feel so alive that their every action seems to be happening just at that moment, even though we already know what happens. It is here that the book fails to deliver. The writing is mediocre, and archaic, and fails to grab attention. Usually, with a book like this in my hand, I usually find it hard to keep it down till I have finished, but just the fact that I took two whole days to complete it will tell you that it didn’t succeed in grabbing my attention.
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