Sunday, December 04, 2011

Books I read in 2011 - Part 1

Over the next few posts, I shall be putting up short reviews of some of the books that I read this year. Here is the first in the series.

The Ramayana Series by Ashok Banker: This 6 book series (a 7th book titled 'Vengeance of Ravana' was later added by the author) is a retelling of the great Hindu epic. Everyone has read / heard the story of the Hindu God Vishnu's avatar in human form battling the great demon Ravana. As I have noted previously on this blog, I was a sceptic when I started reading the first book 'Prince of Ayodhya' since most of my memories of Ramayana were tinged with the Ramanand Sagar produced TV series that we grew up watching on Doordarshan.

However, this series is a far cry from the soap-opera that I remembered. The book presents Rama, Lakshman and Sita well versed in martial arts and not shying away from taking up sword and spear to defend their land. Also, the country is not a "soft" state; it is a modern nation with highly evolved politics, military warfare and trade.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this series is that Ravana hasn't been reduced to a caricature. He truly emerges as a champion who won over the Gods with his devotion and defeated the humans in combat; an emperor who ruled a prosperous nation and a general who was brilliant at warfare. The sheer brilliance of his character lends a great deal of weight to the hero who must champion against all odds.

There are portions towards the end of the series where one feels the author hurries along and the narrative stumbles. Important battles within the great war seem to have been suddenly won without much explanation.

The reason why I loved this series is because it has renewed my interest in the Ramayana as an epic. It is all too easy to get carried away by the majestic Mahabharat, what with all the wars being waged and dynasty politics. But it took this version of Banker's Ramayana to remind me that this is also the story of a simple prince who loved his princess.