Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Bookmarks: An Epic Retold

I finished re-reading "Prince of Ayodhya, Ramayana Part-1" yesterday. Ashok Banker's retelling reads like a fairy tale. Now I have no objections to retelling Ramayana like a "The Hobbit", (I enjoyed it well enough to have any), but I would have been happier if Banker had not gone about it in such a light hearted way. A darker tale in the style of LOTR would have been more enjoyable. Banker has attempted to convey a sense of a vibrant and mischevious Vedic Bharat. That is a refreshing change from the "prim and propah" image of those ages we get in the traditional tellings of the epics with adarsh pita, adarsh mata and adarsh putra. Rama and his brothers are typical 15 year olds who happen to be extremely talented. Banker's Rama is much more human with his doubts, weaknesses and emotions without having to live upto the reputation of a God. He actually feels anger at his father leaving his mother for a younger Kaikeyi, kills a poacher for resisting arrest and takes lives with glee when the lust for battle is upon him. This is very different from other works where the you find Rama given a secular treatment only in academic discussions. Having said that, I should add that this is just the first part of the story and I do hope that Rama does not tramsform into an avataar by the time his adventures end.

However, Banker would have done well to give a little more attention to the settings of the story. I found it very difficult to believe that Rama loves Marathi and Bengali food. But the real low point was having Ayodhyans cooking in tandoors during Holi. For Heaven's sake, tandoors in Vedic Age!!! One other thing, why does everybody speak in Hindi? I failed to understand why Banker tries to give the impression that he is translating from Hindi for the benefit of his readers. He could just as easily have made characters speak in Sanskrit - which was the language of the educated classes in those days. There were no Bengalis, Marathis or Malayalis then. And most of all, there was no Hindi. Moreover, Rama certainly did not dance the bhangra during Holi. All these points take away from the authenticity of the story. However, these inconsistencies may not be apparent those not very acquainted with Indian history (this book marks the US debut for Banker - and is presumably targetted at Westerners).All in all, its an enjoyable book. Ashok Banker is no Tolkien or Shashi Tharoor, but he certainly can write a good story and retelling The Ramayana is not for the weak-hearted. I give the book 3 out of 5.

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