‘Asura: Tale of the Vanquished’ by Anand Neelakantan was published by Leadstart Publishing in 2012. The announcement of this book had already created an enthusiasm in the minds of Indian readers. The reason for this excitement was obvious. This book was going to tell Ramayana from Ravana’s perspectives. In a way, this book was providing an opportunity to view this grand old epic from a different lens and readers were hoping to get a better understanding of Ravana as a character after reading this book.
Well, I also got quite excited when I got my hands on this book as it promised to tell the story that is untold. I am from a typical Hindu family where I grew up listening, telling, living, re-living, enacting, and watching stories from Ramayana. I still remember those Sundays when my whole family used to sit together and watch Ramayana on TV. The serial based on Ramayana by Ramanand Sagar on Doordarshan was a big hit those days. Then there was the festival of Vijyadashmi (the festival to symbolize the victory of good over bad) when we as children used to completely dedicate ourselves in making the effigies of Ravana and other members of Ravana family. Those nine days were the most exciting days of our life. So, you can understand the impact Ramayana has on me since my childhood. So, with excitement, I started reading this interesting take on the age old tale of Rama and Ravana. I was eager to revisit my old memories once again by reading this book. It took me some time to finish the book as it is quite a thick one. So, what is my take on this book? To be blunt, I really got disappointed. The reasons of my disappointment are discussed below.
First and foremost, this is not the first time an author is retelling Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view. Acharya Chatursen has beautifully done it in his book ‘Vayam Rakshamah’. It’s another matter that the book was in Hindi so didn’t become popular. Therefore, the claim of the author that the story of Ravana had never been told before is totally wrong. In fact, book by Acharya Chatursen is much better and well researched one. Turning our attention to the characters, we find two main characters in the book: Ravana and Bhadra. We all know about Ravana. He was a great scholar, a capable ruler, a great ayurvedic doctor and maestro of the veena. Sadly this book portrays Ravana as a rather confused, self-questioning, self-pitying, whiny and an inconsistent character of sorts. The plot of the novel, which displays Ravana’s rise and fall doesn’t mirror the development of him as a great scholar. So, is this really Ravana’s version of events? According to me, the original Ramayana portrayed Ravana much better than this tale of the vanquished. And, what can one say about Bhadra? He seems to be present everywhere. Most of the time, he was there to kicked out into a ditch. The most ridiculous part of the story was Bhadra becoming the dhobi who questioned Sita’s grace a second time. The contradictory statements by both Ravana and Bhadra in the plot suggest that the author was himself not knowing what he was writing.
The book has already created a controversy among readers. While a number of readers have rated it high, some of the readers have reacted harshly. I have collected some of the points displeased readers have pointed out in their reviews. Have a look on these:
- The book twists the original Ramayana and compromises too much on facts.
- The book is a deliberate attempt to fan anti-brahaminism, North-Indian hatred and, in essence, hold ‘historical injustice’ as a major cause for every ill of the society.
- It seems that the author is ‘trying’ very hard to create a story that will grab the ‘eyeballs’ of everyone and in this process he takes great liberties and distorts the history.
- The book is huge collection of imaginations stirred by centuries of bitterness of cast system in Indian society of the last millennium.
- The author has gone too far to make the Devas look as the ultimate evil.
Even I agree on some of the points raised above. The author has deliberately attempted to create a divide among northern and southern parts of India, which is really dangerous. Even the problems of cast system have been raised again and again. I have no problem in raising this issue. On the other hand, I feel that this is an evil which should be abolished from the Indian society. However, I am completely against on the manner the issue has been raised in the book. The same issue has been raised in other books also. For instance, take the example of ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. She has also dealt with the problem of cast system in her book, but in a much better way than this book. It must have been better if the author would have concentrated on Ravana’s life more than on indulging on controversial issues.
Turning our attention to the language of the book, we find that the book is replete with spelling errors and grammatical errors. Every second page of the book has grammatical errors, not to mention repetition and inconsistencies. It was really annoying. While the writing is simple, it is impassive. Even the heartbreaking scenes like death were unable to evoke the emotions felt by the characters. The pace of the book is also very slow and some of the scenes become quite boring.
Overall, it was a disappointing take on Ravana. Ravana was much more than what has been portrayed in this book.