Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Take: "Asura - Tale of the Vanquished"

There are books that move you, books that question the widely accepted facts. But, Asura by Anand Neelakantan is one of those books which questions the beliefs of its reader and pushes them into a blissful turmoil.

While we have read, heard or watched umpteen versions of Ramayana, this one fascinated me as for the first time the antagonist gets to voice his version. Though the preface clearly states its a work of fiction, the book qualifies to be a mythological semi-fiction version of the Valmiki-rachit Ramayana, with references from other versions as well.

Based on Sinhalese folklores which claim Sita of being Ravana and Mandodari's daughter, 'Asura' is a poignant tale of a helpless father waging a war against his own son-in-law as he feels him unworthy of his daughter. While this forms the most intriguing part of the novel, 'Asura' traces the journey of Ravana, narrated by himself on his deathbed and his staunch servant, Bhadra. Ravana, developed by the author is someone you can relate to and the circumstances actually explain his actions and ruthlessness. Now, since the author claims the work to be fiction, it remains a puzzle as to how much of it has been sourced from our scriptures. 

Apart from the father-daughter angle given to the Ramayana we know, 'Asura' also effectively questions ones faith in Devtas. The book contrasts how the Devtas established 'dharma' by dividing the masses into castes and how, on the contrary, the Asuras lived in a free world. The versions we hear normally label Rama as Maryada Purushottam and brand the Asura way of life as unruly and one of anarchy. They brand Rama as the ideal, dharma-abiding king while Ravana is seen as a cunning tyrant who lusts for another man's wife. But, 'Asura' breaks the notion. We are forced to question if we really want an unfair, caste-based society abiding dharma or a free and equal society, as enjoyed by the asuras. Living in Kalyug, the lines between the two seem to have blurred, fortunately! (Fortunate or unfortunate? Another thing to debate upon!)

Asura also tells us about how Rama suffers because he pays heed to his people and sends his wife away, in spite of her being 'pure and chaste'. This is compared to how Ravana accepts his wife, who is violated at the hands of Angada and his monkey-men. Instances such as this and many more in the novel, make you support Ravana and his abduction of his daughter, trying to save her from her indifferent husband. (I again wonder: How much of it is fiction? :/)

Apart from the character of Ravana, the author brilliantly shows us the life of a normal Asura, Bhadra, who turns narrator along with Ravana. Through him, the author tries to show how unjust the world is for the lower classes, something which continues to this day. Another character that I have begun to admire is that of Mandodari, from a 'wooden smile' to 'inconsolable sobs for her daughter during Agnipariksha', she is fierce and fearless. 

Being a staunch believer in Vishnu and a big Bhakt of Rama, I am really happy to have read this book and ignited my inner-turmoil. Like 'The Palace of Illusions' by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni which was Mahabharata from Draupadi's eyes, 'Asura- Tale of the Vanquished' shows us Ravana's version of Ramayana, and questions our age old-beliefs and faiths.

Jai Shri Rama! Har Har Mahadev!