Book review: Asura by Anand Neelakantan

I had never been a fan of Indian novelists and authors, somehow, they seemed to lack the sophistication and eloquence that only comes with speaking English as the first language. Of course, there are countless Indian authors who could challenge the best from the West.
Putting aside my thirst for memorable literature, I could always read the Indian books from a story point of view. My tryst with Indian authors begins with Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy. I must admit that I was extremely dismissive about the trilogy when it was released. But I gave into my urge to find out how a fellow Indian had portrayed a God I worship. Much to my surprise, the Shiva trilogy was an exceedingly memorable read (albeit, it was unable to satiate my hunger for linguistic beauty).
I was introduced to Asura by my dear friend Miss Jayaraman. I was sold the moment she told me that it was the “Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view”. The last three words, “point of view” were key in making me read this book. I’ve always considered having multiple points of view on a contentious issue, an advantage – as it reveals many more questions that pave way for a deeper understanding of the issue.

I delved into the pages with watered-down expectations, I didn’t expect it to contain verses as beautiful as Shelley’s or dialogues as memorable as Shakespeare’s. I must admit that the structure of the book could have been better. The vacillation between Bhadra’s and Ravana’s narrative abrupt at best. Perhaps the author must have stuck to Ravana’s narrative alone, seeing as it is ‘Ravanayana’. There is a lack of focus on some characters such as Vibhishana in the first three-quarters of the book. There seems to be an irritating status quo with Bhadra’s narrative, it seems repetitive and redundant at times. Bhadra’s helplessness is over-portrayed and he hardly seems to do anything (which is explained by the fact that he’s helpless).
With respect to the ideas and the notions presented in the book, that challenge the existing Hindu system of beliefs, it is a bold attempt. It is an interesting read. Certainly one cannot dismiss this version of Ramayana as a mere slander campaign against one of Hinduism’s fundamental mythologies. As a new-age Hindu, who forms the intersection of traditional Hindu piety and the scientific, logic driven 21st century youth, I have to acknowledge that Anand Neelakantan has presented a very possible sequence of events that may have morphed into the Ramayana we now today.


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