Title: Asura: Tale of the Vanquished
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Genre: Fiction – Alternative History/Mythology
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd (2012)
ISBN – 10: 9381576052
Price: Rs. 295 (Buy from Flipkart for Rs.150)
So what do you do when someone challenges the conventional norms that History is always written by the team that wins? What do you do when you come across a book that says exactly the opposite of what our mythological stories tell us? What if all the history we learned in our schools and colleges is make-believe? These are some of the questions that swarm through your mind as you read the book blurb for Anand Neelakantan’s “Äsura: Tale of the Vanquished“. This is a must have book in your collection of mythology books. It raises so many questions about what is real and what is make-believe! A must read!!
The story of the Ravanayana had never been told. Asura is the epic tale of the vanquished Asura people, a story that has been cherished by the oppressed outcasts of India for 3000 years. Until now, no Asura has dared to tell the tale. But perhaps the time has come for the dead and the defeated to speak.
For thousands of years, I have been vilified and my death is celebrated year after year in every corner of India. Why? Was it because I challenged the Gods for the sake of my daughter? Was it because I freed a race from the yoke of caste-based Deva rule? You have heard the victors tale, the Ramayana. Now hear the Ravanayana, for I am Ravana, the Asura, and my story is the tale of the vanquished. I am a non-entity invisible, powerless and negligible. No epics will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero.
When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble to be heard. Yet, spare me a moment and hear my story, for I am Bhadra, the Asura, and my life is the tale of the loser.
Anand Neelakantan makes no qualms about where his sympathies lie. He says as much in the brief bio he gives about himself and then goes on to weave a classic that raises so many questions that you finally cannot sleep before you finish the story.
This story/fable or epic whatever you call it is a narrative from the point of view of the Asuras (mainly Ravana) or as we call them today the Rakshasas and a common man (Bhadra) who got caught between the Devas and the Asuras. When history is written the Aam Aadmi is generally not given a chance to tell his story, but giving voice to Bhadra is the masterstroke the author plays, and boy does it do wonders to the narrative and provides clear perspective on how we must look at history.
Wonderfully woven characters add to the charm of the story and clearly this book has been well researched from the alternative perspective. We all know the story of Rama as the Ramayana, but the author challenges us to consider the story of Ravana and what would have been! I remember my parents always telling me when I was a child, Ravana was a Brahmin scholar who was misunderstood and ultimately his poor choices where what defined him and how till the end he was a brilliant mind! Anand Neelakantan weaves this story in a much similar perspective and voices much the same opinion.
Ravana, the Asura, is born of a Brahmin father and a Asura mother. He gathers followers against Kubera, his brother, who doesn’t treat him fair and is ruling the Sri Lankan throne with Iron hands. He succeeds in it (with tacit support from followers of Mahabali) and becomes a powerful leader and conqueror. His might grows so big that he is able to conquer till the Himalayas. Sita is portrayed as Ravana & Mandodari’s daughter in this book. Fearful of the war that is following him, Ravana decides to do away with the baby Sita, but the child lands up with King Janaka. The book depicts that Aryans (Devas) as having polluted cities with poor infrastructure and a strict caste system that is corroding the kingdoms from within. When Ravana realises that Sita is alive and is to be married off to Rama, he tries to whisk her away to save her from a filthy life, but he fails. However he gets to her in the second attempt and then the War follows.
It was difficult for me initially to digest this wonderful literary work with so many things that were contrary to my opinion about the Ramayana. However, after a slow start, the story picks up pace and so many questions that you finally cannot sleep before you finish the story. The author can plan a further editing of this book to make the narrative tighter (especially in the middle, where it gets a bit repetitive) and easier to read!
What I liked about the book
- The wonderful characterization of the protagonists and the many other people who make up this classic.
- A narrative that is free-flowing and words that are easy to understand.
- An alternative story that does create a confusion of sorts on what might have actually happened!
- Portrayal of Ravana with all his brilliance but in the end that is controlled by his flaws.
- The rat like common man “Bhadra”, who for me is the character that carries this novel on his shoulders!
What I did not like about the book
- Some parts of the story lack a bit of logic (the story of Maricha as the deer)
- Editing could have been tighter in most of the story, but especially in the middle, where it does get a bit tardy and repetitive).
- Some things make you wonder. Ravana , who himself had a bit of a fair streak in his complexion thanks to his Brahmin father, wonders about why Rama looks so dark.But this point is not taken further.
- The way the daily wars are described towards the end, reminds me of cricket matches. Detailed descriptions of daily stroke play, end of the day’s play, and the teams walking out to play the next day.