“There will be a time when men will fight among themselves in the name of God, when peace will fail; at that time a part of me will re-emerge.”
Here’s another retelling of the Ramayana, this time, told from the perspective of Rama. The blurb on the back and the fresh perspective sounded promising, and I was really looking forward to reading the book. When I got it in the mail, the first thing that struck me was how slim the volume is, just 257 pages, considering it’s supposed to be a trilogy. But I cracked it open with great excitement.
The story is narrated by Rama at a time when he knows he is about to leave the mortal world. Starting from when he was around 17 years old, the book traces his story until he is sent into exile by Queen Kaikeyi. A major portion of the book deals with the lessons he and his brother Laxman learnt from Bramha Rishi Vishwamitra when they went with him to fight the demon Tataka and her two sons.
The most interesting twist in the story is that of Queen Kaikeyi. Instead of the usual portrayal as a woman who sends Rama into exile to put her son on the throne, Venu casts her as a key to unfolding the legend and allowing Rama to go after his destiny. She tells Rama about the signs she has seen and the intelligence she has gathered, about how important it is for him to go alone and fight the demon king Ravana. She tells him that she plans to use the two boons she won from King Dashrath in battle to ask him to send Rama into exile and put Bharat on the throne, as once Rama has gone, his father will not be in a state to rule the kingdom.
That, I have to say, is the only interesting part of the book.
Unlike Ashok Banker’s excellent Ramayana series, in which he has humanized Rama, or Amish’s brilliant story telling in the tale of Shiva, whom he imagines as a normal man who attained the status of God through legend, Venu has presented this tale as a fantasy of unbelievable proportions. According to him, the seers and sages who roamed the planet at the time were actually supernatural beings who came to earth through time portals, using earth to exert control over many astral planes. Which is the reason why, we are led to believe, celestials (good forces) and demons (negative forces) fought to gain control over earth. But while the celestials use their positive energy to foster humans, demons just want to gain supremacy over earth and feast on humans! All developments in art and science were also apparently brought to humans by these supernatural celestials. Total suspension of belief required to read this, if you ask me.
At this point, I must say that I enjoy fantasy fiction. (The Song of Fire and Ice series, anyone?) But in fantasy fiction, you create a different world with magical beasts (like dragons) and different countries (like Westeros). You don’t create fantasy fiction out of religious texts! You either humanize the characters and present them as more believable human beings (Ashok Banker) or imagine them as normal human beings whose legendry deeds made them into Gods (Amish) or present a different take on the story if you like (in this one, for e.g., the re-imaging of Queen Kaikeyi). But you don’t convert it into fantasy fiction!
Apart from this, the writing is shoddy. Sample this:
“The brothers had acquired this art of stealth movement as Mother Sumitra grew them both alike in their skills.”
“Before the sages took over, Earth developed itself by means of organisms and huge monsters; it took a long time for this planet to evolve from those large beasts to the present human kinds.”
Overall, this is one series you can safely miss. Read this one at your own risk!