Category Archives: Mythological fiction

Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta #BookReview

Book: Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta
Author: Amish Tripathi

I have a soft spot for this series by Amish Ramayan series because it was with the first book  Scion of Ikshvaku that I kicked off this blog. I loved that one. I was curious about how Amish would handle this multilinear narrative and that was what made me pick up Sita and now Ravan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

The story

The book traces the life of Ravan, son of Rishi Vishrava and Kaikesi. Disliked by his father and not particularly fond of his mother Ravan, is a lonely child. He has a streak of cruelty that makes him torture small animals and watch them die.

If he has one tender place in his heart, it is for his baby brother Kumbhakaran. Ravan leaves his father’s ashram with his  mother, his uncle Mareech and Kumbha to protect his (Kumbha’s) life.

He knows he is made for great things and he sets out to achieve what is rightfully his, Kumbha and Mareech by his side. From a small-time smuggler he turns into a pirate and powerful trader. Unfettered by the values and principles that hamper others he forges ahead.

However, there is one pure, unsullied memory from his childhood that refuses to leave him – a face, a voice that could potentially steer him away from his reckless path. He seeks out that face but on the verge of turning over a new leaf it is snatched away from him. Filled with rage, he unleashes it on the Sapt Sindhu. Ravan thus emerges as the quintessential villain. He challenges the authority of Kubaera the businessman ruler of Lanka and displaces him to become king.

As he notches up victory after victory he is unaware that he is part of a larger plan, a cog in the wheel rolling towards a greater goal, orchestrated by the great rishi Vishwamitra. 

Ravan was a disappointment

First there’s the voice of Amish. He speaks the language of the millennials and that gets jarring, specially in a mythological setting (Remember Hanu Bhaiya in Sita?). I get that it’s his style and I did love Meluha though it had the same voice. Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I’ve grown up listening to the Ramayan and so find it tough to adjust to this pop-version.

My biggest complaint however is that the book turns plain boring in bits. There were too many and too detailed explanations and descriptions – of the Sapt Sindhu, the caste dynamics, the trading system, of traditions and palaces. There are too few dialogues, slackening the pace of the story.

Then there’s the story itself. Amish is known to give his own twist to every tale. I’ve liked his twists, I’ve liked how they tie in neatly with the original familiar story. However here, without giving out spoilers, all I’ll say is that Ravan as an angry lover-boy didn’t seem believable at all, more fantasy than mythology.

Then there’s the reference to Sabarimala. In his previous books he brought in references to a gory rape and then Jallikattu, this time it was Sabarimala. Perhaps that’s an attempt to weave in current events but it seems like a forced addition to the narrative.

The saving grace was the portrayal of Kumbhkaram – the endearing, good-natured giant. He is Ravan’s conscience and emerges (almost) as the hero of the book.

Also, I’m a little curious how Amish will take the story forward now that Ravan knows who Sita is. I’m hoping with all the war-action the next one won’t be a disappointment.

Perhaps the author should stick with lesser-known mythological re-tellings. He certainly has the knack for bringing alive mythological settings, of building up strong characters and of springing surprises.

Last thought: Read it only if, like me, you’ve committed yourself to the series. You might find yourself skipping pages though.

The Forest of Enchantments – A #Review

Mythology tells timeless tales. Which is why we never tire of listening to these stories from our childhood. Or perhaps the charm lies in the voice of the storyteller who brings something new, something unexpected to the tale; a new perspective maybe, or a poetic narration – something that makes the same old story fresh and exciting.

That’s why Chitra Banerjee’s The Forest of Enchantments was a book I was really looking forward to. It made me break my no-book-buying resolve within a few days of making it. Oh well!

The story 

…. of Sita is not new – found as an infant by the king of Mithila she is married off to Ram, the charismatic scion of the Raghu clan. When Ram is banished to fourteen years of exile she decides to accompany him, is abducted by the powerful Asura King Ravan only to be rescued by Ram. Barely has she settled down in the palace when she is banished, once again to the forest, this time by Ram himself for imagined infidelity. Finally, broken and hurt she finds refuge within mother earth.

Divakaruni’s Sita

…is my Sita too. She was closest to the one I’d always imagined and loved.

I loved that Sita chooses to tell her own story. Valmiki’s version wouldn’t do for her. How could he, a mere man, be equipped to understand a woman, divine guidance notwithstanding? So this here is the Sitayan.

Divakaruni crafts Sita’s character with care – her traits and her strengths complement her origin. Daughter of the earth, she understands all things that come from the earth. She has a green thumb, she can heal through herbs, she talks to the trees, she feels their pain, she craves the forest. Divakaruni’s pen brings to life Sita’s love in beautifully flowing prose, making one fall in love with the world as she sees it – free and unrestrained.

Sita is taught to use her body like a weapon, to centre her whole being and withdraw into herself when situations around her became unbearable.

Her natural gifts coupled with learned skills make her, to me, the perfect woman. One with silent strength and quiet courage, in Divakaruni’s words, ‘easy to mistake for meekness’; Sita has the courage of endurance.

On Love

Ramayan, as also Sitayan is definitely Sita and Ram’s love story. However, beyond that, The Forest of Enchantments is a treatise on love. Every action, good or bad, stems from love and its myriad shades – joy, ecstasy, expectation, pain, suffering, even death. Divakaruni gets elegantly lyrical as she enumerates how each action, each emotion finally finds its root in love. And every single quote is worth being read over and over again.

My absolute favourite is the one on Kaikeyi

It’s not enough to merely love someone…. we must want what they want, not what we want for them.

And this one from when she isn’t able to tell Ram how desperately she wants children during the banishment.

That’s how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

I know I’m overdoing this but just one more..

How entangled love is with expectation, that poison vine!

The other characters

..are beautifully etched too. Ram, the duty bound Raghuvanshi, Kaikeyi – strong and stubborn, Urmila – happy, effervescent as also Ravan, Shurpanakha, Mandodari, Sarama (Vibhishan’s wife), Ahalya (my favourite) and Shabari – they were all just right.

I would have liked to see a softer side to Lakshman. He seems forever angry and suspicious. Ram is his whole world, to the exclusion of everyone else. I sorely missed the warmth of his relationship with Sita.

But I’ll let that go, there is only so much one can do while cramming an epic into a few hundred pages.

The ending

…needs special mention because it is absolutely magnificent. Sita’s last few lines completely satisfied the feminist in me, without being angry or aggressive or loud. You need to read it to get what I’m saying.

The few bits that missed the mark

I loved Sita, I’ve made that pretty clear. That said, there were parts of her character that didn’t come together. One, she seemed overly empathetic, unnaturally so – even with Ravan and Shurpanakha. She is constantly thinking from multiple points of view even in the most dire circumstance. I get that she’s a divine, evolved soul but in her human form, it didn’t ring true.

Yet at places what she feels and says doesn’t tie in with her divinity. When she thinks of dying in the Ashok Vatika one of her thoughts is,
‘I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I’d suffered and how all through that suffering had remained true to him.’ Only too human!

I’m being too demanding, I know. The balance between the divine and mortal is difficult not to say subjective.

There were also bits of writing that didn’t quite come through. The abduction scene, for instance, didn’t turn out to be as dramatically horrifying as I thought it should have been.
Says Sita ‘My nails raised welts on his dark smooth skin…’. No one would note her captor’s ‘smooth’ skin while being abducted.
Also, when Sita sees the Pushpak Viman, she says, and I quote..
‘I was so amazed, I couldn’t help staring in open-mouthed wonder. For a moment, I even forgot to struggle.
‘You might want to close your lips’, the rakshasa (Ravan) said kindly (?). ‘A bug might wander in.’
The humour detracted from the horror of the situation.

And yet, despite the few hiccups I’ll say this is the best retelling of the Ramayan I’ve read. The one that reminded me of my grandma’s stories only in a more colourful, more fresh, ever more engrossing form.

Last Thought: Buy it.

Click on the image to buy the book.

The Liberation of Sita – #Review

Book Title: The Liberation of Sita
Author: Volga

The Liberation of Sita is a collection of four short stories picked from Sita’s life. I’d like to say these are imaginary interactions but then this is mythology and real and imaginary aren’t really pertinent. It is all about how the story is told. This here is a whole new take.

In Volga’s stories Sita meets Surpanaka, Ahalya, Renuka and Urmila – all powerful women from the Ramayan, all wronged by men in different ways, often in the name of dharma, always as a result of patriarchy.

Sita meets them during the course of her sojourn in the jungles, where she spent most of her life.

When she hears her sons Luv and Kush talking about an ugly woman (with no nose and ears) who has a beautiful garden in the forest, she knows it is Surpanakha. She wonders in regret if Ram and Lakshman would have done the same had Surpanakha not been who she was, had they not wanted to provoke Ravana. She goes to meet the demon princess who raises questions on the identity of women, ‘Do women exist only to be used by men to settle they scores?’ she asks.

Then there is Ahalya who refuses to give anyone the right to judge her. ‘Never agree to a trial Sita’, she advises her for trust does not need proof.

There’s Renuka, whose son, Parashuram chopped off her head when her husband, suspected her of infidelity. She tells Sita to free herself from her husband and sons. ‘A woman thinks giving birth to sons is the ultimate goal of her life… but one day they begin to legislate our lives. Why bear such sons?’

Lastly there’s Urmila who shuts herself up after Lakshman leaves to accompany Ram and Sita to the forest. Not in loneliness, she says but in solitude. And in solitude she launches on a journey of self discovery.

These are women who refuse to wallow in self-pity or shed tears for men (or society) who have ostracised them. They choose to remain strong, to give up their families – husband and sons – to not bow down to the expectations of a patriarchal society. Instead they carve out a life of their own choosing and inspire Sita to do the same.

This is a powerful book, although the language isn’t perfect – some bit of it is bound to get lost in translation. However just this once, I was willing to overlook all of that. To truly enjoy this book you need to be familiar with some bit of Indian Mythology. If you do have that background this is a perfect read. The original work in Telugu, must have been better. Even the translation very effectively manages to say what it has to, and so remains a book that must be read.

Last Thought: A must read for those familiar with Indian Mythology, specifically the Ramayan.

 

 

 

In Search of the Self #BookBytes -2

For #BookBytes this week, I have here an excerpt from The Liberation of Sita by Volga. This short read, packs quite a feminist punch. In this passage Ahilya talks to Sita, telling her to find her own self.

You means you, nothing else. You are not just the wife of Rama. There is something more in you, something that is your own. No one counsels women to find out what that something more is. If men’s pride is in wealth, or valour, or education, or caste-sect, for women it lies in fidelity, motherhood. No one advises women to transcend that pride. Most often, women don’t realise that they are part of the wider world. They limit themselves to an individual, to a household, to a family’s honour. Conquering the ego becomes the goal of spirituality for men. For women, to nourish that ego and to burn themselves to ashes in it becomes the goal.

#BookBytes

Share a #BookByte

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage that leaps out at you demanding to be shared don’t ignore it. Share it on your blog.

Leave a link to your blogpost in the comments and I’ll drop by and also share it in my next week’s post.

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Of Men and Women #Teaser Tuesday 5

It’s time for Teaser Tuesday, a meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Here are a few lines from my current read – Yajnaseni – the English translation of the Oriya novel of the same name by Pratibha Ray. The translation is by Pradip Bhattachrya.

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“When I saw or heard that in the king’s royal apartments many queens, bedecking themselves, kept waiting for him, the king might or might not visit one queen’s apartments, then I wondered how it would be if it were the other way about? One queen and a thousand kings! They would spend night after night waiting for her! He whom the queen loved best would be made the “Chief King” by her. Hearing my views the sakhis used to laugh, “Princess! Keep those thoughts to yourself….”

I’m more than half way through the book and I haven’t exactly warmed up to it but these lines said by the fiery princes Yajnaseni are a thoughtful commentary on how unequal men and women were, still are, in many ways.

 

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If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!