It’s taken me a while to pick up Ashok K. Banker’s Prince of Ayodhya, the first book in the Ramayana series. And right from the first page the book drew me in and I could see why the author had managed to capture the imagination of a nation famously obssessed with its myths. Admittedly, I love these mythology revisited stories; I love drawing parallels in places, events and beliefs replete in Indian history. And I love the ‘ka-ching’ moment when you read about something familiar.
Yet, surely that’s not enough to get people to read a “story” that nearly every child in the country is familiar some version of which every Indian has been exposed to. There has to be some other draw. And, for me, that was Banker’s writing style; the edgy way he’s written his story and spoken of his characters ensures that none of us have imagined this particular version of the Ramayana, at least! Banker pulls the familiar characters of the Ramayana out of the epic and makes them human …er…fine, superhuman but you know what I mean! He gives them pain and envy and jealousy, but most importantly, the ability to feel; which might sound like a simple enough thing but not when a story transcends to epic and then on to religion.
And then, of course, there are the twists in the tale; the bits that your traditonal Sunday-morning-watched-with-grandma rendition didn’t contain. There are twists in the tale that you did not expect because even if you’re mythology buff (like yours truly)you’d simply never heard of that version of events, but at least they did have the requisite shock value. And if Banker is to be believed they were there in at least one of the long forgotten versions of the epic.
Funnily enough, however, this reconstructed story seems to have elements of Harry Potter to it too; what with Ravana being reffered to as the Dark Lord of Lanka and also displaying some very Voldemort-ish tendencies like appearing in fires and cruelly inflicting his ire on his followers for perceived failure. But I guess that’s just a sign of the times.
Speaking of which, in a lot of ways it also reads more like a modern day epic than the near faithful translation that Banker claims it to be. And this is, perhaps, the area in which, I personally feel, the Amish Tripathi crafted Meluha series gains. I freely admit that my knowldge of historical timelines is far from perfect; yet, often the parallels that Banker draws to communicate an idea seem alien to the era he talks of. These sudden digressions, as they seemed to me, often struck discordant notes; jarring me out of the world where demons walked the earth and dragging me unwillingly into another more modern era. That was not fun. Apart from that I can’t wait for my library to deliver book number 2 which I’ve already ordered (or to forget the spoiler I mistakenly read somewhere :-/). Wish me luck!
A full 5 of a first book!