Book Review: Asura Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan

4 years ago Shaili Desai 0

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.