I recently had the opportunity to read an alternate take on Hindu epic Ramayana. Anand Neelakantan’s novel Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished tells the story from the perspective of Ravana, the chief antagonist of Ramayana. At 504 pages, this book is not a quick read and while it is interesting in parts, I feel better editing could have made it a slightly better read. Here is my detailed review:
The Good: The last few chapters that tell the story after Ravana’s death are the best parts of this book. Thumbs up to the author’s idea of using the narrator Bhadra as the cause of Rama’s ruin. The author has strongly attacked the caste system (well done) and his jibes at Kerala becoming God’s own Country where there is no place for man and hence people migrating to middle east, at UPA Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking orders from a foreigner Sonia Gandhi (Vibhishana taking orders from Rama) and at PM Rajiv Gandhi justifying the violence after assassination of Indira Gandhi (India as the place where earthquake follows when a giant tree falls) beautifully capture his frustration and would also amuse those who follow Indian politics.
The Bad: The story could have been completed in half the number of pages this book has because half of the book is taken by author’s rants about superiority of South Indian culture over that of North India, rants against Brahmins, against Vishnu and the middle class. If you were thinking the writer would narrate an excellent story like Amish did in ‘The Shiva Trilogy’, you would be disappointed.
The Ugly: Very poorly written with loads of spelling errors and oft repeated phrases. The author undoubtedly has an anti-Brahmin, anti-North India bias and one sees ample evidence of that. The Devas are supposed to be uncultured and rapists yet everyone is committing rape, which is a very common theme in the book, be it Devas, Vanaras or the supremely cultured Asuras. Ravana is disgusted by black skin tone yet adores his dark skinned daughter and even rapes a dark skinned maid. This emphasis on skin color is over the top and soon becomes irritating, predictable and fails to add to the story or send a message to the readers. The whole skin tone angle is inconsistent and comes across as a forced argument.
Telling the other side of the story is a very interesting premise. But this piece of work is an opportunity lost.