Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Review : The Valmiki Syndrome

Title : The Valmiki Syndrome
Author : Ashok K. Banker
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 978-8-184-00141-9

'Work Life Balance' is indeed a tricky topic, almost like walking on a tightrope and more so in the current age when 'more' and 'higher' seem to be the mantras. There seems to be a maddening rush these days to earn more, purchase more, possess more, acquire more but Banker raises very apt questions - Is this desire for more, leading us to a cult of self-help? Is life only about self-help?

Ashok K. Banker who has made an indelible mark on Indian literary firmament through his Ramayana series, Krishna Coriolis and new Mahabharata series, draws parallels between the story of Ratnakaran (who later transformed into Maharishi Valmiki) and those of contemporary Suhasini and Sara in 'The Valmiki Syndrome'.

What is Valmiki Syndrome? Banker defines the Valmiki Syndrome as - "the struggle, the constant, never ending attempt to balance both sides of the scale and relentless pressure to keep them perfectly aligned."

He begins his narration by first penning down a disclaimer about his book through some very interesting analogies:
Just as The Bhagwat Gita is not a management textbook.
The Ramayana is not a misogynistic religious tract about Good versus Evil.
The Mahabharata is not a manual on the art of war.
Similarly 'Valmiki Syndrome' is not a self-help book, or a how-to book, or a manual, guide, textbook or codebook for anything.

Ratnakaran, the bandit earned his livelihood by looting and killing people but once, coaxing of Narada to get an answer to a very simple question from his family, led Ratnakaran to confront the Valimiki Syndrome. This incident metamorphosed him into a completely new individual - Maharishi Valmiki.
As Ratnakaran's journey of self-realization progresses in the book, the author weaves the modern age stories of Suhasini and Sara bringing to forefront, the dilemma - "the question whether one's primary dharma should be towards achieving one's goals, or fulfilling one's obligations to one's family." Suhasini, being the prime bread earner of the family began her journey with all the right reasons but while marching ahead on her career path with well deserved successes and accolades she failed to acknowledge that she had left her family far behind somewhere. Whereas Sara, the rebellious daughter of rigid Maharashtrian parents, listened to her heart and walked out of her parental home to carve a niche for herself but her heart kept beating at the right place.
Using the stories of Ratnakaran, Suhasini and Sara as conduits, Ashok Banker conveys the significance of introspection and some soul searching in order to get answers to these three basic questions :
Who Am I?
Who Do I Wish To Be?
How Do I Become That Person?

It is imperative to realize that none of us is an island leading a solitary existence. So while an individual gets sucked up in the demands of achieving one goal after another on the simple pretext that the same is being done for the loved ones, he/she runs short of time and energy to assess when the fine balance between the duties towards work and home starts getting compromised. For that elusive right balance, the growth has to be sustainable and only then it can be maintained.

So push the pause button of your life for a moment and check back once, do you have your loved ones in close proximity with you or have you lost them somewhere in your pursuit of building your career.

Reflecting transformation in the Indian society, the author has wisely chosen females as the  protagonists of his stories struggling to strike a balance between work and personal life rather than men donning the traditional role.
Ashok Banker is a brilliant writer whose words flow seamlessly through the three stories. Every  argument proposed is riveting, captivating and has the ability to motivate the readers to think, rethink, analyze and strive for that elusive balance. However,  having read his take on mythology through his earlier compositions, I do feel that he excels in that genre much more than he does in the garb of a modern day story teller. His forte is mythology, unquestionably.

The umpteen number of books trying to educate people on how to emotionally handle the personal front, assume that people are dedicatedly working towards furthering their career goals. However I feel, there is a small lacuna and Banker could have scored a brownie point here if he had talked about those cases where people make the work-life balance an excuse to not put their best in their work fields. This would have made his work a well rounded study of the topic.

Moreover, I can't help questioning the relevance of this book to Indian context because the truth is, there is just a very small fraction of our urban population which can actually relate to what the book talks about.
Having said that, with the deluge of self-help books that are available on the shelves, 'The Valmiki Syndrome' has the substance to stand tall amongst the crowd. The last chapter which actually deals with the syndrome is sure to stir the inner-self of every thinking individual and at least would initiate the exercise to evaluate how to prioritize and manage the life on personal as well as professional fronts. 

This review appeared in the newspaper : 'The Tribune' 


  1. Congrats Vibha on getting the review published in the paper ! Lovely review and makes me want to read this book...I think I will like it.

  2. Your last two reviews have introduced me to yet two more new authors, both of which have written interesting sounding books judging by your reviews. However I am not going to add them to my ever growing wishlists. Whilst I love to discover new authors I must try and clear the TBR shelves here at home which I think is going to take me some time!

  3. Thanks Ranjani. Go for it.

    Thanks Lindy. I can totally understand, how TBR shelves keep expanding so very often so need to prioritize.

  4. Hey Vibha,

    I see some Indian books here. Got a reading challenge for you:

    Would love to see you there. :)


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