Aren’t we Indians all acquainted with the story of Ramayana? The story of Ramayana has been told not only many times, but also in different forms. A number of us must have heard this story through our grandparents or parents. A number of us must have watched this story either on TV or in cinema halls. In fact, we saw the arrival of a new TV serial called Siya Ke Ram recently. Ramlila festivity (traditional Indian performance of Ramayana) forms a basic part of the social existence of the Hindu-speaking belt of North India. Umpteen books have additionally written on this subject previously. Therefore, is there any need of a new retelling of Ramayana since almost everyone in India knows this story? My answer will be yes. Now, you may ask me the reason for that. Well! While reiterating a tale well-established in the minds and heart of people may be considered as a futile job by many, a well-written reiteration of the same gives more value to it and, more importantly, makes it more significant for the present time. And, this is what Subha Vilas has done in his book Stolen Hopes (Ramayana: The Game of Life #3). Previous two books of this series (Rise of the Sun Prince and Shattered Dreams) have already collected rave reviews and I am sure that this third instalment is going to achieve the same.
Stolen Hopes is basically a retelling of the Aranya Kand, one of the seven Kands of Ramayana. The book narrates the story of forest life of Rama, Laxman and Sita, who went to the forest due to Rama’s affection and commitment towards king Dasaratha. Surpanakha, being injured by Lakshmana, go to her brother Ravana and inform him of Rama and his wife Sita. She also forces Ravana to take revenge on her behalf. Ravana then goes to the cottage of Rama in the camouflage of a meandering yogi and abducts Sita. Jatayu tries to stop Ravana but gets killed in the process. This is then followed by the quest for Sita by Ram and Laxman in the forest.
There are certain qualities in this book which make it a special read. The book is simple yet intricate. The story is presented in such a way that it can be enjoyed by causal readers. At the same time, it is sufficiently complex to keep itself from being transformed into yet another usual retelling of this magnificent epic. Vilas has added all that could be added to the narration. Footnotes at the end of almost every page are another attraction of this book. In fact, these footnotes can be termed as ‘pearls of wisdom’ as these enhance our understanding of the original narrative by providing alternate points of view that may have been only implicit in the original. However, the same footnotes may feel distracting to some readers. I also felt that the length of some of the footnotes could have been reduced.
Subha Vilas has given significance to each and every character and presented copious data on the history and foundation of each character that show up even for a brief period in the life of Lord Rama. This, in turn, adds a lot to our knowledge and gives us a wider perspective. I especially liked reading adventures of sage Agastya. Smaller but interesting stories like the story of sitafal (a fruit) and the reason behind snakes’ forked tongue have also been given space in the book. These smaller stories add another beauty to this wonderful book.
I give four out of five stars to this book. Pick up this book if you want to get a dose of the wisdom the Ramayana holds without getting lost in the complex verses.