This was one book that caught me by surprise initially. Not because of its cover or the title, but the story.
For the title, Asura – Tale of the vanquished doesn’t convey much. Rather, it conveys just enough to push the reader’s curiosity up a bit to find out the story. And the story surprised me. Ever since childhood this is probably the first time I saw Ravana being brought into the center as the Ramayana story teller. For the first time, a Ramayana story is told NOT from the point of view of Rama. And I liked every bit of it.
For the hard core Rama bhakts, a word of advice: Read this book with an open mind. It’s not that the Ramayana is being corrected or anything. A different point of view is being presented. That’s it. For those who don’t know much about Ravana apart from his misdeeds and lustful behavior, he was probably one of the first to abolish caste system.
My take away from the book was that if at all in some parallel universe this is what really happened, then Ravana is only shown to be more and more human. A man who makes mistakes, lives through those mistakes, and then makes some more. No way am I justifying his misdeeds. This is not a post about any justification. I can try to give an analogy here. If you have read Devdutt Patnaik’s Myth = Mithya (another book review pending for later), try reading this book with the same mindset as well: Mostly a blank slate, with no prejudices. That would really help and go a long way in appreciating the story told here.
The story telling here is not extra-ordinary but is certainly well thought. The starting of the story and the character development is what I liked the most perhaps. One can easily relate with the 2 main characters telling their stories in turns. And the striking contrast between them as well as the relevant rules of the times. The choice of the characters (Ravana and Bhadra) is interesting. The 2 extremes of the Asura universe are chosen to tell the story. I liked this choice. If one carefully analyzes the characters, a perfect mirror image can be seen. Both in their thinking, their choices, the situations they face and their decisions. The power of choice and the role of fate are important and the same has been highlighted here. The reader is also made aware of the same through the retrospection that each of the character does from time to time.
All in all it was a pleasure to read this book. Looking forward for more such surprises from Anand Neelakantan. I will definitely give his other books a shot.