Book Review: Asura Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

I miss MICA. Yes, I do. It’s not like it was Utopia (In some ways, though, it probably was, compared to real life). People living together in a campus means that there are bound to be the usual jealousies, back stabbings and the constant need to hide your insecurities by pretending to be someone you are not. It’s like an entire zoo of human emotions, in perfect biological balance. Just like society all over.

However, there are lots of things that I thank MICA for. Apart from the friends that I made (the ones of course who stayed till the end) and the great time I had, there are some things that you take away from MICA for which you’d always be in debt. One of them is the conditioning that an institution like MICA provides. The wide range of events happening on campus has something to offer to everyone (if you were intelligent enough to take advantage).

I first heard Anand Neelakantan speak at Reverie, the annual Literature festival hosted by the Literary Committee of MICA in early 2013. He shared the stage with Mallika Sarabhai, for a talk on ‘Mythology through the lens of art forms : Dance & Literature’, which revolved largely around the portrayal of women and the demonization of everything non-brahmin in our religious texts. Here’s a video of the same.

That is how I came to know about Anand Neelakantan’s book ‘Asura : The Tale of the Vanquished’. It was only later that I got a review copy and read the book, co incidentally finishing the book around Dusshera, this year. I was going to write about it on Dusshera, the day being perfect for writing a review of a book on Ravana. But one thing led to another and things in my life (or rather in my mind) became a little chaotic which led to inactivity on this website. But let’s not get into that. By the time  I write this review, Anand Neelakantan’s second book ‘Ajaya’ has already released (Check out the book on Flipkart | Amazon| GoodReads). But then, better late than never!

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Book Cover (Image Source: GoodReads)

Asura Tale of the Vanquished is a story of the Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective. As part of readings for a class on ‘Imagining India’ at MICA, I read this essay by A K Ramanujan, titled ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ (Yes, it’s the same essay which was scuttled out of the DU syllabus).  No doubt, Anand Neelkantan draws influences from all the different folk versions that exist, of the Ramayana.

The book is written from the point of view of Ravana, alternating in between with a narrative from the perspective of Bhadra, a fictional character who is an untouchable. Bhadra stands for the marginalized common man, filled with all the classic positive and negative qualities embodied by man.

Anand Neelkantan writes an interesting story, in the sense that it portrays Rama as essentially a weak person full of failings, in his bid to be a God while Ravana, even when he is  defeated in the end, somehow emerges as the better person. You end up identifying more with Ravana with all his negative human passions than Rama, an unfair god who society forces you to emulate. Essentially, it brings to light how ‘Sanskritised’ everything is in our religious literature, and how we look for justifications, when we encounter problemmatic episodes (most of them which deal with the caste system and the portrayal of women) in them.

When it comes to the language and writing in general, it is decent enough and certainly not to be regarded as anything more than that. But you should treat Asura as an alternate narrative to that existing in the space of popular literature on mythology and read it for precisely the same reason.

About the book: Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished | Anand Neelakantan | Leadstart Publishing | Fiction | 504 pages | Rs. 250.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the kind people at Leadstart Publishing, for review.

Book Nook #2: 3L Library in Defence Colony Market, New Delhi

It’s been a pitiful state of affairs these past few weeks. I have been sad and discontented because of things not really going well on any front, especially work. I am still discontented but I am learning to take it better. I guess the pressure will always remain as long as this sales stint lasts. One just needs to not be too harsh on oneself especially when things aren’t in one’s control.

There are so many things that one sees and ponders about in the course of a day. A sales stint means that I travel across the breadth of the city of Delhi every single day of the week (except Sunday, thank god).  Auto wallahs have become both, my dearest friends and enemies.

A sales job, particularly in FMCG, can be grueling and extremely demotivating. You will get shouted upon by your boss, a purchase manager in a top hotel, the distributor or a random shop keeper during the course of the day. You may be lucky enough to not get kicked out by a disgruntled shop keeper. In all this, one needs to find a reason to smile everyday and motivate oneself before the start of each day.

A sales job will also quickly make you understand that having got a MBA degree from a good B school, does not entitle you with special privileges or benefits. Nothing comes easy in life. Probably, this is why they say that if you can do sales, you can do anything in life.

But there are also some advantages to being in sales. You get to see many places; places you never even knew existed. Having been assigned South Delhi as my territory, I have seen it all – the big intimidating bungalows in Panchsheel Enclave, the hip and happening Hauz Khaus Market, Nehru Place and its population of upwardly mobile white collared work force, the narrow lanes of Kilokari Village, the dusty roads of Jaitpur and the always choked street of Chattarpur Mandir. You get the experience the vibrations on the ground, the nation’s heart beat, especially before important political happenings in the country. I could feel the anger among people just before the Delhi Elections. You also come to know about different perspectives, a break from your own closeted thinking, being used to a specific view point as a product of your environment and upbringing.

And then, sometimes, you come across tiny gems, hidden away in places where you would least expect it. And so, here comes the second post in the Book Nook series.

This time, I feature the 3L Library in Defence Colony Market. I found it quite by accident when I was at the market for a sales call.

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3L Library, 49, Defence Colony Market, New Delhi

It is located just behind Moets and is a place from where you can buy or rent second hand books. For renting, you need to get membership which is very easy, all you need to do is register your name and details and pay a deposit. There is a fixed amount of books that you can rent on each visit. You can also buy books instead of borrowing books. It also rents out movies and DVDs.

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The place has a big collection of books, especially Mills and Boons. I just stood and stared at the familiar purple colour (the Mills and Boons branding) that I saw in 4-5 shelves.

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Apart from that, there are many popular authors available. You will find a lot of mass paperbacks. However, there are also some classics here and there.

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So, did you know about this place? Or have you tried out their services? Do you like reading about such places? Do leave a comment with your experiences.

You can also contribute to the Book Nook series by writing in to booksandalotmore@gmail.com with the subject ‘Book Nook’ about your favorite reading spaces anywhere in the world (or in outer space, if you’ve been there 😛 )

Book Review: The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth has been a much awaited book, especially for fans of the thriller genre. The only other book by Forsyth that I have read is The Fist Of God and I found it to be quite interesting. Reading it was like stepping into another world altogether, a covert world which is unfamiliar for common citizens of this world.

While The Fist of God was a story set in the Persian Gulf War, The Kill List features the war against terrorism. There exists the Kill List, a very secret list of the top terrorists to be captured and assassinated by American Government Agencies, at all costs. The story sees ‘The Preacher’ being added to this list and follows the chase by American agencies to find his identity and capture him. Now, the ‘Preacher’ is a terrorist who brainwashes Muslim men around the world, to assassinate ‘non believers’. A series of killings by different Muslim men bring this dreaded terrorist to the attention of high level agencies and US Marine Kit Carson is entrusted with the responsibility of eliminating him.

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Coming to my thoughts on the book, I felt that the story was appropriately fast and would satisfy most readers of this genre. However, this is not the best of Forsyth’s writing. The Fist of God was so much more interesting and had so many twists and turns. This book on the other hand, just seemed predictable. It’s the usual thriller, not really too much different in tone and style. Good to read ? Yes. But, spectacular ? Definitely not.

About the book: The Kill List | Frederick Forsyth | Random House India | Fiction | 352 Pages | Rs. 399.

Note: A copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, to me.