Book Review: Asuras-Tales of the Vanquished, The Story of Ravana and His People
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Price: Rs 250/ 12 USD
Released by Platinum Press
Rating: Three and a half stars
The story of, Ravana-King of Lanka, has always fascinated me and it’s the story of a man known as the demon king who comes across as a myth that many religious, conservative people simple refuse to decode. So, who is Ravana? Is he the man we simply love to loath and hate for being the destroyer? Is he really an evil man?
I laid my hands on the book to learn more about the most powerful face of Lanka, slain by Rama and whose death is celebrated by followers of Rama in India and continents where Hindus have migrated. I have a confession to make: I have always been an ardent admirer of Ravana for his grand intellect and wisdom as well as the fact that he represented the voice of the oppressed caste, Asuras, in India. My first question was and remains: Is Ravana really the man he is made to be or there is something more to him?
““I am a non-entity – invisible, powerless and negligible. No epics will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama – the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero. When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble to be heard.”
The ancient Asura empire lay shattered into many warring petty kingdoms reeling under the heel of the Devas. In desperation, the Asuras look up to a young saviour – Ravana. Believing that a better world awaits them under Ravana, common men like Bhadra decide to follow the young leader. With a will of iron and a fiery ambition to succeed, Ravana leads his people from victory to victory and carves out a vast empire from the Devas. But even when Ravana succeeds spectacularly, the poor Asuras find that nothing much has changed from them. It is then that Ravana, by one action, changes the history of the world.
Asura-Tale of the Vanquished is narrated from the perspective of Ravana and the character Bhadra where we are brought back to an era where the caste system was rampant and exploitation was rife in India. The author has done a good job in keeping the narration crisp where issues such as caste, exploitation, friendship, treachery and war gather steam in a world where Ayodhya meet Lanka. Neelakantan keeps the narration alive where the readers get a taste of the caste system and where reference is made to the prevailing political and economic system, albeit. corruption and the big class divide. The book also deals with the complexity of Ravana as a human being with emphasis on his strengths and weaknesses. The book deals effectively in portraying Ravana’s mired relationship with his wife and children.
Neelakantan avoids the pitfall that many books centered around myths, Gods and Goddesses fall in by painting a perfect and flawless picture of idolized characters. Thumps up to the author for avoiding the danger and dealing effectively with the story by giving a human face to the likes of Ravana, Bhadra, Ram and Sita. Full credit goes to the author for painting Ravana as strong human face and who is trapped in the complexity of his own persona.
The author keeps the style and structure simple where readers are told the other side of the story about Ravana and his people-caste system, war and political scenario as well as exploitation. The author also succeeds in painting the image of Rama, who is far from being Maryada Purushottam (perfect husband), a weak figure in the classic Ramayana that glorifies him. The book ends on a good note and despite the fact that Ravana is slewed in the war, he emerges as the winner-he smiles in defeat.
What doesn’t work?
Neelakantan courage should be lauded in depicting the relationship between Ravana and Sita as father and daughter. Sadly, there is a lack of proper characterization and face off between Sita and Ravana. The classic clash between both characters seems to be transported straight from Valmiki’s Ramayana and Neelakantan’s Ravana. The author should have worked more on dialogues between Ravana and Sita which would have constituted the forte of the book. Moreover, the narration by Bhadra is crisp at the start but it gets repetitive as the book evolves and reaches monotony in the middle and the end of the book. In terms of language, there are certain mistakes which the author has ignored in terms of grammar and typos which could have been avoided in a book like Asura.
On the whole, Asura-Tales of the Vanquished is a honest effort where the pieces are gathered and interwoven in an effective manner to give us the perspective of Ravana, King of Lanka. There is no such thing as good vs evil and it’s only our perspective that matter. Thee best thing is Neelakantan’s social message for equality and caste-less society that breaks unity and deterr growth of human being as equal entities. Asura is a clever take on the ugly capitalist-cum-patriarchal society that has exploited human beings and which has degenerated into conflicts and human tragedy. Matters to -ponder on! Neelakanthan’s Asura-Tale of the Vanquished is a must read and, despite drawing on mythological figures from the dark past, is a light read that deftly tells us the story of Ravana that has been lost in silence or, may be, suppression of nations. I don’t know. Make sure you grab a copy and enjoy the journey of Ravana with an open mind.