Tag Archives: Amish Tripathi

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.

Quirky writing habits of famous authors

 

writingquirks.jpg

Have you ever wondered how great authors write? You’d think they would have a routine of some kind, a favourite corner or desk, an old comfy sofa or maybe a particular dress they’d like to wear. What you don’t know probably, is how quirky they can get.

All upside down

Did you know, for instance, that Dan Brown of The Da Vinci Code thought the best cure for his writer’s block was hanging upside down? He said it helped him relax. So that’s probably how he found out the Holy Grail wasn’t a chalice at all but a woman. Quite brilliant, actually. But no thank you I’m not trying this one.

Writing au naturel

Then there was Victor Hugo who wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame. When he had a deadline to meet he’d ask his valet to confiscate his clothes so he couldn’t go out anywhere. When it got too cold he simply wrapped himself in a blanket. Going by the length of The Hunchback he would have remained in the buff for a long long time. Definitely not trying this one either.

Sleeping/standing authors

Mark Twain, George Orwell and Woody Allen wrote while lounging on beds and sofas. You would accuse them of being lazy had they not given us such masterpieces. On the other hand there were writers like Hemingway, Dickens and Lewis Carroll who wrote standing at their desks. Hemingway’s work desk was the top of chest-high book shelf. If you’re a Hemingway fan you must read this interview.

(On a completely different note and I know I’m digressing but I must give you this Hemingway tip: Each day he would stop writing at a point in his narrative when he knew what happened next. That way when he took up writing the next day he knew exactly how he had to begin and wouldn’t have to wait to get into the groove, so to say).

And some others..

Among the more recent Indian authors RK Narayan and Vikram Seth offer the greatest contrast:

RK Narayan says, “..between breakfast and lunch I manage five hundred words and while the rice on the stove is cooking, a couple of hundred, and after lunch once again till six.” He makes it sound like such a mundane task.

And there’s Vikram Seth who says writing should flow on its own and cannot/should not be forced. Perhaps that’s why he has such few works, but each of them outstanding.

Among the newer lot  Amish Tripathi likes to listen to music, which is not so strange but he also likes to eat a lot of cream biscuits while writing. I’d only think of the calories I was piling up, leave Ram and Sita to their own devices, and head to the gym.

And lastly I stumbled upon this Durjoy Datta tweet:
My writing process is one part writing, 10 parts YouTube, 10 parts cute dog pictures.

Make what you will of it.

So do you have a writing preference? Or can you write anytime, anywhere?

Day 2 of the #BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘What you didn’t know’.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON

 

Scion of the Ikshvaku – A review

Scion of Ikshvaku
Amish Tripathi

Scion of the Ikshvaku

Before I begin here’s a Disclaimer:

I have been brought up listening to the stories of the Ramayana. I am fairly familiar with it – the twists and turns, the stories within stories, the blacks and whites and greys of its characters, their intentions and motivations. I have seen every episode of Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayan on the telly. To make matters complicated, I have recently read a few re-tellings even while stray dohas of the original (for me) Ramcharitmanas echo in my head. I cannot but compare. Unfortunate as it may be, I cannot offer an unbiased review of Amish’s Ram Chandra series. There.. you have been warned.

The story:

(You can skip down to the review directly if you are familiar with the narrative)

The story opens as Raavan is flying away in his Pushpak Viman with Sita. Told in flashback, it traces the birth of Ram, born on the day that the unconquerable Dashrath, suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of Raavan, the then head of trade security forces of Lanka. He thus comes to be known as the ‘inauspicious’ one and is shunned by Dashrath, the Ayodhyan nobility as well as the people.

A depressed and disheartened Dashrath lets the Sapt Sindhu deteriorate into an impoverished nation while Raavan, now the king of Lanka, prospers through extensive trade. When Ram is 6, he and the other three princes are taken away by Guru Vashishta to be taught their princely duties as also to shield them from palace intrigue and power play. Even as toddlers, Sumitra impresses upon Lakshman the need to look out for Ram while counselling Shatrughan to stay by Bharat.

The princes grow up at Guru Vashisht’s ashram with very distinct personalities:
Prince Ram, simple, unassuming, spartan. The stoic. Meticulous follower of laws, the one woman man looking for a soulmate – a woman he can respect.
Prince Bharat, the advocate of freedom, the flamboyant Casanova, a ‘girlfriend’ always by his side.
Prince Lakshman, Ram’s shadow, the one who has taken upon himself the task of being Ram’s protector. Lover of food, the one with the brawn.
Prince Shatrughan the brainy bookworm, the one who always has an answer to Guru Vashishta’s questions.

Back home, after they finish their education, Dashrath withholds from Ram the title of crown Prince till one day he sees his first born for what he really is and makes him crown prince. Soon after, Guru Vishwamitra seeks out Ram and Lakshman to help him fight the demoness Tadka and her son Subahu. Ram does so, though not quite as Vishwamitra has planned.

On the way back they drop by Mithila. Without his consent and much against his wishes, Vishwamitra pledges his participation in Sita’s swayamwar. Even as a fuming Ram steps out, he bumps into Sita and falls in love. Ram wins Sita’s hand at the swayamwar where Raavan is also a suitor. He (Ram) is drawn into a war with Raavan who attacks Mithila alleging he has been insulted. Events thereafter force Ram into exile along with Sita and Lakshman.

During their exile they meet and play host to Raavan’s estranged step-siblings Vibhishan and Shurpanakha. An accident sees Shurpanakha’s nose being cut off followed by Sita’s abduction by Raavan.

The review

What I loved

I loved the way the characters are etched. I loved Amish’s Ram but it is his warrior Sita who is by far my favourite. She is the Prime Minister of Mithila, far removed from Tulsidas’ demure girl stealing coy looks at Ram. It is Ram who spies this Sita, single-handedly fighting off a mob. It is he who is smitten while she remains business like. If I had a complaint, it would be that I didn’t get to see her gentler, perhaps more romantic side. But I’m not complaining.

I loved the way Ayodhya and then Mithila come alive in amazing architectural detail.

I loved how Amish makes this ancient story mirror today’s society. I found myself drawing parallels and trying to figure out whether it was closer to the Asura version of governance or the Deva version. He makes a case for both through his characters.

Most of all I loved the war of philosophies. What is a good ruler? Does he have to be a good person? Should laws be absolute? What is a good society? Is there one perfect way to govern a society?
Sample this argument between Ram and Bharat:
Ram: ‘We need a great leader one who will lead by example. A leader who will inspire his people to discover their godhood within! We don’t need a leader who will leave his people free to do whatever they desire.’
Bharat. ‘We need a king who can create systems with which one can harness even selfish human nature for the betterment of society!’

Food for thought, huh?

What I didn’t like:

I sorely missed the drama, the drama that the Ramcharitmanas abounded in. I missed the drama of Kakeyi’s kopbhawan, which was almost superfluous to the plot here. And Manthara.. she was barely there. I missed the drama of these two powerful dark characters. Nope I don’t want blacks and whites, keep them grey by all means but making them powerless and irrelevant? Not done.
I missed the drama of Sita’s swayamwar, of the invincibility of Shiva’s bow (Ravan picks it up and shoots it even before the Swayamwar officially commences), of Parashuram’s tantrum.
I missed the drama of Ram’s heartrending departure from Ayodhya, the terror of the dreaded Dandakvan and lastly the drama of Shurpanakha. (This last bit was wrapped up in fifty odd pages.)

Blame it on Tulsidas or Ramanand Sagar.

Lastly, I disliked the bits of detailed gory descriptions. Perhaps it was required for the story but I have no stomach for it.

That said, there are enough unanswered questions to make me look forward to the sequel. Hurry up and bring it on.

PS: The autographed copy from Amazon and this bookmark were an absolute delight. (The bookmark reads RAM in an ancient Indus Valley Script according to Amish’s unofficial interpretation).

scion of the ikshvaku collage