It is interesting to note that Ashok K. Banker’s version of the mythological saga Ramayana is published under the genre of ‘Fiction.’ For it well feels like one, thanks to the surprisingly eerie details Banker fills our mind with.
Banker reconstructs the epic poem, and painstakingly so. I’ve read the first book – of the series of six–and found it to be immensely engaging. In fact, I finished the fat volume in no more than 3-4 sittings (of course, it helped that I’m unemployed at the moment), and though it will probably take you a few more sittings, every minute will be worth it. This, provided you are ready to accept Banker’s version of the tale.
Banker puts his disclaimer well, in the prologue. No two versions of this eons-old tale are same, as it is passed down from grandmother to her grandchild, orally, he says. What we hear today, is the dumbed-down version of the story, the original being in cryptic Sanskrit verses. He insists that the Ramayana most of us know today is reduced to a mere “moral tale,” as opposed to the actual story of Prince Rama, which is packed with amorous escapades of King Dasarath, grim details of the battles fought, detailed explanation of the way Ayodhya’s seemingly unconquerable armed soldiers worked (Ayodhya translates to ‘the unconquerable’), physical description of the asuras, uncouth mannerisms of Queen Kaikeyi, astounding powers possessed by the great seers, and so on.
Book One is a mix of all of the above. It begins with Rama having a vision of the horrific misfortune that awaits to befall his beloved home city of Ayodhya, ravaging it to nothingness. We see the story – if I may call it that – move on to how sage Vishwamitra warns Ayodhya’s king (Rama’s father) of the impending doom with the imminent and eventual rise of the Ravana. After much debate and persuasion, the father’s heart in the king reluctantly allows Rama (and Lakshman) to accompany the learned sage to a forest to rid it of asuras and other demons. Meanwhile, Ravana, of course, is readying a colossal army to capture Ayodhya, and eventually the whole of Prithvi lok.
To praise Banker’s work seems embarrassing to me, for those who have read him will testify of his prowess with words and ability to transport the reader to the actually place of the event taking place, in the book. Read his work to know the fascinating times of yore – their traditions, practices and talent. Their social and moral dilemmas, and eventual decisions are mirrored in the book. Banker sprinkles a few Hindi words here and there to bring this nascent part of the Ramayana to life. I’ll admit the book did feel tedious to me a couple of times, but I blame that on the lateness of hour I read into.
For those of you aren’t interested in this book, for the only reason that the subject is of mythology, I urge you to pick this book up as fiction, if nothing else. For the tale is imaginatively told.
This blog post ends here, for the second book, Seige of Mithila, beckons me much.
Title: Prince of Ayodhya (Book One of the Ramayana)
Author: Ashok K. Banker
Pages: 517 | Price: Rs 350