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Published on: 08/25/19 11:35 AM

Book Review: Raavan by Amish

Insidious villain

And now, the origin story for Raavan. Unlike in the lacklustre telling of Ram`s story in Ramachandra, Scion of Ishkvaku,   and Sita`s tale which,  apart from the big reveal, was a pretty straight affair, Amish gives his Raavan enough of an  edgy personality so as to make him an interesting protagonist.

Picking up from where Sita, Warrior of Mithila ended, and starting with a bang, or a shower of arrows in this case, Raavan`s story has a gripping hook of an opening, the capture of Sita. No golden deer, disguised sadhu or Lakshman rekha here; the earlier book on Sita tells readers exactly why not.

The typical flourishes Amish employs make for interesting detailing. The Pushpak Vimaan  (original owner Kubaer not Raavan) here is a plane-chopper hybrid that is `reasonably soundproof, ` complete with porthole windows and metallic shades, landing and in-flight announcements,  as well as seat belts. Khumbakarna turns celibate and a teetollar, both brothers are Nagas, kept alive with Ayurvedic medicines from Kerala.  (Blistering) barnacles can be cleaned from the hull of ship with a quasi-divine potion. And if you are wondering what barnacles has to do with the ruler of Lanka, well, in this book he`s portrayed as a buccaneer till he gets a foothold in Lanka, a sea captain who conquers the ports of Djibouti and Dubai and sails nothing less than amphibious craft!

There are a few nods to Indo-Greek  history in that the special potion that helped prevent bio-fouling (barnacles growing on the hull, in other words) of a ship came all the way from Mesopotamia. Then, rather interestingly, Vibishan and Shurpanakha`s mother, the second wife of the sage Vishrava, is a woman named Crataeis, of Greek extraction.

The book has more than its fair share of blood and gore but then that’s perhaps what readers want now. The humour is typically slight and there is also a lot of hair-ruffling, seemingly the go-to gesture of affection between people back in the day.

Raavan here is as intelligent, sharp, as legend has it. He is multi-talented; he plays the Raavanhatha stringed instrument, sings, paints (beautifully) and writes poetry too (abysmally). Added to all that is a macabre taste for torture, a fondness for narcotic  substances  and an always- on- the- brink temper. His relationship with his mother (referred to as maa, not Ma, all through) is contentious and at one stage, we hear him express impatience at her `virtue signalling!` The villainy is added on in a phased manner and by the time he dons headgear which has two threatening six-inch-long horns extending out from either side, the picture of the enemy of Aryavarta is complete. And if the reader is looking for the subtle shades of grey here, well, they’ve come to the wrong author, isn`t it?

Kumbhakarna (thankfully not Khumbakaran here) is the surprise package of the book. His personality, his conflicted mind are  all well-etched. Except for the wince-inducing nod to Shabarimala (when Kumbhakarna takes the 41-day oath!),  the reader gets the picture of a well-intentioned, intelligent, brave warrior who seems to be in thrall to his complex elder brother. And this reader quite liked the link to Kumbhakarna`s legendary tendency to sleep the hours of the day away.

As is the trademark of Amish, every single thing is explained again and again to the (presumably foggy?) reader. At times,  the tale goes slack, turns decidedly preachy, most of the sermons issuing from the well-shaped mouth of the object of Raavan`s affection. Elsewhere,   the king of Lanka and his younger brother indulge in a long-winded discussion on why women shouldn’t go to Shabarimala,  and the author`s bid to contemporise matters falls foolishly flat on its face. However, the reason behind Sita`s kidnap is an authorly  tweak which is well done: the motivation is more prosaic than dramatic,  though equally urgent with need.

Another continuity factor is well in place in this, Amish`s seventh book: the italics have run not- so- merrily amok in this book too, like in all the others. Either his editors must feel it`s a particular style they need to keep as is or the author himself must insist on it. But Virgin Goddess, Goddess, the long black mark, the Great Sandy Ganga, a long life, Lord of the Universe, a celestial nymph, the royal sage, sanyas, ascetism, long bamboo sticks, so many words italicized unnecessarily,  is ever so tiresome. But maybe that doesn’t matter too?

There is a big reveal in Raavan, right at the end. But far be it from me to throw in spoilers here.

 Raavan/By Amish/Westland Books/Rs 399/374 pages

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 25 Aug  2019.

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Sheila Kumar • August 25, 2019

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