Title : Asura - Tale of the Vanquished
Author : Anand Neelakantan
Publisher : Platinum Press
ISBN : 978-93-81576-05-2
I enjoy reading retellings of our age old epics and do not mind how different authors enthuse their creativity and imagination in the same to bring out different perspectives. I guess I must have read and reviewed close to a dozen such books which are either purely fictional or are reporting of the original story with some twists here and there.
However, 'Asura' is the first book which walks the readers through the situations and circumstances in Ravana's life and how the same made him the person he was. It was indeed interesting to read how author's flight of imagination soars in this book and brings a completely unique angle to the whole story. It would be unfair for the readers if I talk about that unimaginable twist in the review here, it is better left un-revealed.
We all are well conversant with the broad storyline of Ramayana, however the same story appears to be a completely modified version when it is narrated by different characters which are very much a part of the story or when it is being reported by a third person. In Asura, author works on the pretext of what if the opposite side - the Asura side, has its own story to tell. How many of us know about that side of the saga? Throughout the book, the narrative oscillates between Ravana and another character Bhadra whose life was ruined by Devas. Ravana has some very strong reasons for doing what he did, including being present in the Swayamvara of Sita, followed by her abduction which led him to his own doom.
The story begins with Ravana nearing his death in the battlefield and his whole life flashes past through his eyes. A Shiva devotee, an accomplished veena player, a fine scholar - Ravana opens his heart and shares his inner feelings through the pen of Anand Neelakantan. As is the case with any human, Ravana is not immune to vulnerabilities, inabilities, fears and weaknesses either but it is interesting to read how these frailties do not eclipse the strengths of his character, some of which soar really high. I specifically liked the part where he unconditionally stood by his wife and that is the part where the author subtly tries to draw parallelism between Rama's way of dealing with his perfection vs Ravana managing with his imperfections.
Asura is not Ramayana, it is Ravanayana. In Ravana words, "For thousands of years I have been vilified and my death is celebrated year after year in every corner of India. Why? Was it because I challenges the Gods? Was it because I freed a race from the yoke of caste-based Deva rule? You have heard the victor's tale, the Ramayana. Now hear the Ravanayana, for I am Ravana and my story is the tale of the vanquished."
Thus Asura becomes the epic tale of the subdued side and another addition to already inundated literary world of mythology in varied makeovers. However the editing needs to be tighter which would have reduced the length of the unnecessary portions in the story. There are many typos too which could have been eliminated with at least one more iteration of editing. The first half deals with a lot of guerilla wars when Ravana tries to establish his kingdom in Lanka and the details become too overwhelmingly drab at some places which readers would want to skip. Though I enjoyed reading Ravana's tale, I found something really amiss. Ravana has been portrayed as an able ruler who stood by his people but somehow he fails to create the aura which Anand attempted to create in this book. I don't know whether to blame it on my conditioned mind or lack of magic in narration, Asura ends up being just another view point, nothing more nothing less.