Skip to main content

Featured Post

Review of Executive Lounges at New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS)

During my recent trip to Uttarakhand , I was faced with a problem I had never encountered before. We were passing through Delhi, but we had hardly any time in the city. On earlier visits when I have had to change trains/flights at Delhi, I have always arrived in the morning and left again at night, visiting relatives in between. This time, I was arriving in the city at night, and leaving again early in the morning. There was hardly any time to visit people. I would only have a couple of hours with them before I’d have to leave again. For the first time, we considered booking a hotel, but there again, we were hesitant about the actual hotels, the costs involved, and the logistics of getting from the airport to the railway station and then back again from the station to the airport.  That’s when we remembered reading something about a corporate-managed lounge at Delhi station. We soon figured out that we could book online and pay by the hour. Besides, we also learnt that there wasn’t ju

Book Review: Asura, by Anand Neelakantan

Taking a break from the festival posts, here is a book review instead, for you, while I gather more Navaratri - related material to post! 

I had high hopes from ‘Asura’ – Tale of the vanquished - The story of Ravana and his people, by Anand Neelakantan. After all, how often is it that we get to read the other side of an epic? I should have been warned by the title – or rather, the long explanation to the title. The book is just the same, a long, rambling monologue, which brings little new or interesting to the fore.

We are all familiar with the Ramayana. This is an attempt to write the ‘Ravanayana’ – the story of Ravana. The character of Ravana has always been interesting. The story of his growing up in less than perfect circumstances, his jealousy towards his step brother, his devotion to Shiva, and the ultimate gain in power, his defeat of Kubera, becoming the King of Lanka, the growing greed and lust, and his eventual death at the hands of Rama – all of it makes for a gripping story – no matter how often retold. It is a pity that the author takes such a wonderfully dramatic storyline and reduces it to the self—pitying memories of a dying man.

Anand Neelakantan, to his credit, tries to weave the familiar story with nuances of history as well social structure. It could have been a beautiful take on the origin of our social hierarchy, and also on the state of our country today. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t hold it together, and we are left with just a narrative which sounds like a moral commentary on the times then and now.  

Even the story of Sita, shown here as Ravana’s daughter, failed to hold my interest. This is one version of the story that might have come as a surprise... no, a shock, to many. I am sure there are many who disagree with such an idea. It could have been the USP of the book. However, even that story seems to be half-hearted. Or maybe I am just prejudiced. After all, this version is not new to me. I have heard the story from my mom, a story she heard from her grandmother. My great grandmother’s version was much shorter than this book. But it was filled with a poignancy which was sorely lacking here.

The highlight of the book should have been the character of Ravana. In any rendition of the Ramayana, he is just as much a heroic figure as Rama, though always the anti-hero: the one sullied by his desires and lack of control. Here, however, he is portrayed as strong, though lacking in will power, consumed by jealousy at each and every person, be it his ministers, or later, even his illegitimate son. He comes across as single minded, but always doubting himself, looking to others for ideas and appreciation. Even the adult Ravana is shown as the rebellious youth who chooses to take a course of action just because he has been advised the opposite! I have no problem with such a depiction. Obviously, to the author, that is how Ravana appears, and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, to me, the story of Ravana is just as much the story of a hero, as is the story of Rama. Each of them makes choices that come back to haunt them. Both make mistakes, and both pay for them dearly. There is a lot more they hold in common than love for Sita, and if I ever wrote my own version of the epic, this would surely be the premise. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be happening, so you all can relax. You won’t have to read it just yet!!

Coming back to this book, the only thing I found really interesting was the character of Bhadra. The word ‘Bhadra’ means ‘brother’. He is not Ravana’s brother, but he is present through the story. He is older than Ravana, present during the first Wars which wipe out his family, leaving him consumed by hate, desiring to pay back the Devas for their crimes. He aids Ravana at various times, in various ways, but he is just another of the many nameless and faceless soldiers to the Asura king. He shows up at every turn in the story, and disappears into the mass of humanity at other times.  He lives for long after Ravana’s death, and even outlives Rama. And yet, in all that time, that anger doesn’t really go away, and neither does the desire for revenge. He narrates part of the story, and this could have been another section which could have taken the book to another level, but once again, the language and the writing lets us down.

The voices of Ravana, and Bhadra merge, as do those of the others we hear of, through the story. There is nothing to distinguish one from the other. After all, in the book, they aren’t really people with character, but characters as they appear to Ravana in the last moments of his life. Ultimately, to me at least, this is what lets the book down.

This book was sent to me for review by Leadstart Publishing, but the views expressed are my own. 


  1. This is the book my son added to his collection recently. Must read

  2. Such a huge blog no words for comment but i have to say something here given so much of information and its very helpful.

    translator | translator services

  3. So looks like, it is not one to read. In any case, I have just finished reading Alkilesh Yadav - Winds of change by Sunita Aron and I must tell you, that after reading about Mulayam Singh and his ravana team of goondas in his ministry, I need a break LOL I like the style of your reviews, tho'


Post a Comment

Thanks so much for stopping by. Please leave a comment for me so that I will know you have been here....

Popular posts from this blog

Gokarna Part II – The Five Lingams

We continued our Gokarna trip by visiting four other Shiva temples in the vicinity, all connected to the same story of Gokarna. The story of Gokarna mentions the Mahabaleshwara Lingam as the one brought from Kailas by Ravana, and kept at this place on the ground by Ganesha. (See my earlier post- Gokarna – Pilgrimage and Pleasure). However, the story does not end here. It is believed that, in his anger, Ravana flung aside the materials which covered the lingam- the casket, its lid, the string around the lingam, and the cloth covering it. All these items became lingams as soon as they touched the ground. These four lingams, along with the main Mahabaleshwara lingam are collectively called the ‘ Panchalingams’ . These are: Mahabaleshwara – the main lingam Sajjeshwar – the casket carrying the lingam. This temple is about 35 Kms from Karwar, and is a 2 hour drive from Gokarna. Dhareshwar – the string covering the lingam. This temple is on NH17, about 45 Kms south of Gokarna. Gunavanteshw

The Havelis of Bikaner - A Photo Post

The lanes are narrow , twisting and turning amidst buildings old and new. Crumbling old structures with intricate workmanship stand side by side with art deco buildings, and more modern constructions, which follow no particular style. Autos, bicycles, motorcycles and vans rush past, blowing their horns as loudly as possible, while cows saunter past peacefully, completely unaffected by the noise. In the midst of all this chaos, children play by the side, and women go about their chores, as we explore these by-lanes of Bikaner, and its beautiful Havelis. Facade of one of the Rampuria Havelis

The Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves , located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, about 11 Km off the coast of the Gateway of India, Mumbai, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A visit to these caves, excavated probably in the 6 th century CE, is awe-inspiring, and also thought-provoking. Over the years, I have visited the caves a number of times, and also attended a number of talks by experts in the fields of art, history and archaeology on the caves. Together, they help me understand these caves, their art, and the people they were created for, just a little bit better. Every new visit, every new talk, every new article I read about the caves, fleshes out the image of what the island and the caves would have been like, at their peak. I last wrote about the caves on this blog, in 2011, almost exactly 11 years ago. Since then, my understanding of the caves has, I would like to think, marginally improved. Hence this attempt to write a new and updated post, trying to bring to life, the caves of Elephan