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.

A diploma, a farewell and some tears

So, this March, I finally left Ahmedabad (although not for good, I hope) because my education is over. I got my post-graduate diploma in Management!

Officially, I know everything now! 😛

Diplomas, all worth something in Crores.
Photo Credits: Hirak Kapasi

I stayed back for some days after the Convocation, hoping to spend some days in solitary confinement, enjoying my own company in my own room, one last time before I bid farewell. Not.

The trouble started when one by one, others started to leave. It hadn’t really sunk in that the two best (till now, that is) years of my Life were over. I guess I had taken it for granted that I would keep coming back to the place which seemed more like Home, the place which has taught me so much, both in and out of the classroom. And then I realized. Even if I kept visiting time and again, the probability of all the people with whom I spent the last two years being at the same place at the same time was almost nil. And we would never meet like this again. That’s when the tears started. *sniff*

It has been a helluva time. I don’t think there is anything that I would not miss (except some people, yes 😛 ) but then, I ought to be thankful to them because they taught me important lessons too (See, how nice I am!).

But most of all, I will miss my room. It was my own space and I did not share it with anybody so no fussy room-mate telling you to clean up (That does NOT mean that I keep a dirty room, of course, I swear! 😛 ) or telling you to keep the volume down (although that also means that there’s nobody to wake you up and you miss classes or important interviews, for which I have been eternally grateful to all my room mates in the past).

My room has heard Elvis crooning ‘Are you lonesome tonight’ softly (I like other music too but Elvis is KING, please do not even try to argue with me), spontaneous parties, assignment discussions, debates on Mathew Sir’s classes and his teachings, discussions about books and movies and music and sometimes marketing, visits by dogs, cats and pigeons, frantic cries of help (when the matching accessory could not be found), shouts from downstairs to turn up the volume (of the music), song requests, minor acts of rebellion and what not.  It also has been privy to the latest gossip, the latest ‘scandal’ to set afoot on the campus and bears the burden of knowing secrets that no or few people know about. But more importantly, it has heard joyous bouts of laughter, felt the pain of people in their weakest moments, and has heard that invisible noise that strengthening of bonds make. How do you say bid farewell to all of that?

Truly, my own.

Like I told someone before, I think I’ve left a small part of my heart there. The next inhabitant may better take care of that precious space!

As I left the campus in Babubhai’s auto rickshaw, I remembered the time when I first came with all my bags to start my first year here. I felt like laughing and said that over used, clichéd line in my heart, “Time and tide wait for none”! In my heart, there was some trepidation because after all, the future was so uncertain. The feeling of having finally grown up seemed to wash over me. At the same time, there was gratitude, to the place for giving me so many memories. For shaping me in a lot of ways and changing my thought processes.

The next time, some ignorant busybody in a train asks me whether I graduated from the Indian Institute of Management when I tell them I was in Ahmedabad, I shall proudly tell them, ‘No, Uncle, I graduated from Mudra Institute of Communications and I am damn glad I did!’