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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review : 'Govinda' by Krishna Udayasankar

If you haven’t read the regular Amar Chitra Katha versions and your knowledge of the other Mahabharat versions is not well… sufficient, then you might be wasting your time reading this one. Krishna Udayasankar’s ‘Govinda’ is probably just another version of the epic.

What makes it different, are firstly, the simple yet almost lyrical language with which she writes it. One can almost see ACK volumes come up in the book; there were times when I almost stopped reading because I remembered how the scene played out in the comic. 

Firstly, the names. Govinda Shauri is of course, Krishna. Draupadi, who becomes the unlikely hero of the book is simply known as Panchali. Then of course, we have the Dharma, Bhim, Partha, Nakul and Sadev with the usual cast of characters, like Veda Vyasa, who is addressed as Krishna Dwaipayana. 

And a few surprises too. There are the Firewrights, First Born, the Secret Keepers, which are all characters, essential to the story of this book. Sounds straight out of the Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it? (The similarities are breath-taking but in another blog, perhaps)

We are introduced to the ‘fact’ that Rukmavati or the erstwhile Rukmini is not really Govinda’s wife, but his heir’s, Pradymna’s. One sees the fact that Govinda is not married nor will be, but his love for Panchali is very much there.  

It is not a fresh thought, especially if you have read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s version of Draupadi’s Mahabharat, ‘The Palace of Illusions’. Yet something about the sequence of events grips one’s mind. Panchali’s role in this book has grown from the earlier shier versions into becoming not just another character, but a bow and a sword wielding heroine. 

She does not remain in the background as you are used to reading, but is the person to look to for politics and administration as you see her delving into her inner emotions of not just love but he affection and her intelligence, which shine through. 

There is the growth of Shikandin, from the half man/half woman character into a completely different role, of Govinda’s close friend, and also a warrior and a father of Yudhamanyu. It is probably best if one read this book, as a Mahabharata, which could/might have been. 

Logic, psychology, philosophy and science are all subjects which one has heard of, but never really associated them with Mahabharat per se.

Or where else would you see the Brahm weapon, which should come up again. And definitely Asvattama’s wider role, in the latter books, I’m guessing. Here’s looking forward to the rest of the Aryavarta Chronicles, and Udayasankar’s version of events. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review : 'Asura: Tale of the Vanquished - The Story of Ravana and his People' by Anand Neelakantan

What makes Anand Neelakantan’s ‘Asura: Tale of the Vanquished’ special? Is it the never ending prose, with which he describes Lanka’s emperor? Is it the words he uses to perhaps understand the man and his times? Or perhaps it is his views on the state of the country, the causes, and their results?

No. It is not. 

What truly makes it special is the effort with which, it was written. And the subject, which makes it all the more interesting. Ravana makes not just a subject in the book, but he carries it forth albeit, a little precariously. His views are put forth with a sense of justice, making him not the villain as he was always portrayed, but as a man, with all the views, values, and the ability to drive him over the edge, on which he stood.

The story begins with watching him die. The End. But with very poignant words, when Ravana says with true regret, “I only wanted to return to my childhood and start over again, every single damn thing, again, again and again…”

He goes on to describe who he was, what happened and what could have happened. The one thing that struck me is how much it reminded me of a history text book, pages and pages of history almost being lectured to me. There are pages, I felt could have been done away with.

But still, I read on. So many parts of mythology, which I did not know, never read and probably was  never interested in. Rama’s society takes on an evil note, but so does Ravana’s. I met characters all over again. Characters, whom I wold not have read about, or given any importance to in the Ramayana. But while reading the Ravanayana, you are forced to give them all another thought.

Of Ravana’s wife, of his sister, of his friend, of his sons both illegitimate and otherwise. And of Ravana’s first born, of his daughter, Sita. I was interested to know of so many wonders of Lanka, of the wonders of medicine, architecture, and arms, and contraptions like the Pushpaka Viman. It had me in awe.

A good book, with so much potential falls short. Falls short by its length, and one can see that the author’s words in a few areas are so ill-written, that it reads as if it were a lecture. I think that the book could have been written, if the author had forgotten to lecture his audience. Though it is well meant and is almost close to every human being’s thought process, it loses its essence.

Yet, I bought it and read it.

Because of the protagonist. Curiosity got the better of me, and I could see the reasons behind the decisions. The decision of a man and his words, “…, God is a very personal thing and prayer needs to be spoken silently in my heart.”