I’ve never been much of a Ramayana fan. I’ve read several versions right from ACK to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita and The Book of Ram. Asura too, if it can be counted as a ‘version’ of the book. But somehow The Ramayana has never fascinated me as much as The Mahabarata. Maybe because it is too goody-goody for my liking.
This version is a seven part series (phew!) and this book is just part one. So the narration is detailed and unhurried. Unhurried, but fast paced because I finished the book in two longish sittings on the train while going on my holiday and getting back. It starts off right from the very beginning with how Valmiki got recruited into writing the Ramayana with the background story of his transition from Ratnakar to Valmiki.
This is the Balakanda section and the real hero here is Vishwamitra rather than Rama. But ofcourse, Rama overshadows everything and everyone as he is meant to. Tadakka is killed, Ahalya is ‘restored’, Subahu is burnt to ashes, Maricha is sent flying 800 miles away. Vishwamitra tells the boys stories about Ganga and other rivers and his and their ancestors. Mantras and weapons are shared, wisdom passed on. Moral science lessons are imparted. Rama, of course, is so good and obedient that it almost hurts. Gaah. If a god is born human he should exhibit some human characteristics. A couple of shades of grey won’t hurt, Rama. Lakshmana is just a faint shadow, he does nothing much in this book other than stop a baby Rama from crying. Ravana and his family get their due mention. Still fresh in my memory as the ‘good’ people from Asura, they are once again painted with that black tar brush here. Dasaratha is the scaredy cat who keeps marrying women to avoid a Kshatriya hating rishi from destroying him. 353 wives and no sons. Serves him right for giving away his only daughter. (Again, Shanta is fresh in my memory after I watched Vaisali last week and read up more about her)
I’ve always been a sceptical semi believer and so I read this book as mythological fiction rather than as The Ramayana. And since I didn’t read it with any reverence, I found the capitalizing of letters when referring to Rama and Sita distracting. This book is pure prose, simple prose and so I felt that the gushy descriptions of the beauty of Rama and Sita were bit funny and out of place. Moon, sun, lotus blossom beauty. All this works better in poetry or poetic prose. So were the exaggerations such as Ayodhya having twenty million palaces and a moat so large that clouds mistook it for the ocean. And referring to Dasaratha’s council of ministers the Big-M was simply hilarious.
The footnotes on every page were extremely distracting and so I stopped reading them after a point. Again, I am forced to draw comparisons to Devdutt Pattanaik’s style of afternotes in each chapter. I prefer trivia tidbits rather than blah in the footnotes. And moral lessons and rules to improve the quality of my life? I’ll give that a pass please.
But yes, I enjoyed the book a lot. Nothing new here, but it was a good read. I’m not eagerly looking forward to the next six parts, but when they’re out, I will most certainly read them. ( Also, there’s some rule and order in which The Ramayana should be read. And if you start one kanda you just have to finish the rest or you’ll get seven rebirths of bad luck something. I hope Shubha Vilas isn’t bringing bad luck to us)