Asura: Tale of the Vanquished Review

Good:

A completely fresh look at one of the oldest epics in the country. Good detailing of emotions from a first person POV. Everything about this book was good … except the writing itself.

Bad:

I should reduce another half star for some absolutely abysmal sentence phrasing. The editor doesn’t really seem to have bothered much about … well, editing the script.

Cover of Asura: Tale of the Vanquished

But a very, very good book in terms of the storyline and depiction of events. I’ve never viewed Ravana as anything more than a demon who was a Shiva worshipper and a master of arts as well as a great warrior. Somehow, his inner torments that were brought out in this book (using the first person POV) made him, in the end,  what the author clearly says in the synopsis – “the epitome of a human being”.

One thing I commend is the author’s use of an unknown character – unknown, in the sense that I’ve never heard of him playing any part in the epic in any version – Bhadra. Although he’s depicted as having an almost unbelievably cruel fate, his use as a character has been done to great advantage.

1) The character is used to fill in plot holes between this version and the original Ramayana. He figures into the overthrowing of Kubera by Ravana, in the finding of Sita by Janaka and in many other places. Most of these events are almost impossible to occur to the same person in one lifetime, but for the sake of fiction, I’m willing to overlook that part.

2) He is used to depict the plight of the poorest of the poor and their day to day troubles while the main character of the story, Ravana to depict the highest classes of society. Through a world view more analytical than you could imagine from a “low born Asura”, he shows a world where those in poverty are almost indifferent to who holds the reins. Their suffering is set against the backdrop of the political climate in each scene, which works beautifully to create the setting. While the aristocrats and the nobles side with the winner and ensure their positions, the downtrodden are swept along with the tide of pillaging and looting armies of rival kingdoms or police actions by their own country’s justice system. These poor peasants unite only under the yoke of Ravana during his final battle when they perceive a graver threat than usual to their way of living.

3) His interactions with Ravana are used brilliantly as well. Every time they interact, both viewpoints are shown in successive chapters. In particular, when Ravana rapes a woman whom Bhadra was seeing, some interesting insights into the injustice of a monarch system are shown. The inner thoughts of both Asuras are laid out bare for comparison. It was during these particular chapters that I wished the writer could have been better with his words. The richness in thought is just lost when the writing does not have the power to deliver them.

I dunno how correctly the atrocities committed by Brahmins were depicted in the book. But I’ll be fair here – we’ve heard of Ravana as being insanely cruel in our stories from childhood and I can give the author some slack for having the balls to portray things the other way around.

Ravana’s story, in my opinion, should be retold more often. Children should understand that history is not written only by the winners. You need a spectacularly good villain to make your hero seem all the better. And such a spectacular villain has his own story to tell.

Definitely, a favourite of mine for some time to come.

Rating: 4/5

Advertisements