Asura : Tale of the Vanquished has been on my to-read list for quite some time and I decided to finally get my hands on it when I came across it in
a Kindle deal. This is also part of my read-more-Indian-authors campaign for myself.
By the time I got to the book-4 years too late- the author Anand Neelakantan has already written books based on Mahabharata and has signed on to write 3 books as a prequel to Bahubali, the big budget, multi-lingual movie. Until after I finished the book and did some research I didn’t even realize that the author is a Malayali (though I suspected so from all the Kerala references). He is an engineer from Thripunithura, Kochi.
Every Malayali worth one’s salt is aware of
the version of Ramayana in which Sita is Ravana’s daughter. In this book, Anand Neelakantan explores this interpretation of the story through the eyes of two men, Ravana and Bhadra.
The story is presented to us through the eyes of Ravana who is at his death bed. Ravana needs no introduction whatsoever and has always been portrayed as the quintessential villain- the hot-headed, immoral, greedy, lustful, yet learned, artistic and mighty Emperor of Lanka. Yet, Anand Neelakantan paints a more human picture of Ravana, who is virtuous yet flawed.
The biggest tragedy of life was that we grow up and achieve our boyhood dreams.
-Ravana, Asura : Tale of the Vanquished
He is brave and courageous but isn’t immune to fear. He is passionate and compassionate, but also jealous, competitive and selfish at the same time. He is a victim of his own ambitions. He is ideologically progressive, yet practically regressive. This Ravana is by no means the villain, but neither is he the hero.
Another person who narrates the story to us is Bhadra, an Asura commoner. He introduces himself to us thus-
I’m a non-entity- Invisible, powerless and negligible.No epic will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama- the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero. When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble.
Yet, spare me a moment and hear my story, for I am Bhadra, the Asura, and my life is the tale of the loser.
-Bhadra, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished
Though he calls himself ‘a non-entity’, Bhadra is quite pivotal to the story. Not only does he appear at decisive moments of the story, but he also functions as the third-eye whose sole purpose in life is to survive inspite of the many disappointments, betrayals and humiliations thrown at him. To us he adds a different dimension to the story by being the all-seeing-eye. He is representative of how the battle between the Devas and Asura has affected the Asura population. He is representative of what caste system, or any other discriminatory system of rules, can affect the lives of the population. He is representative of the hollowness of war and the trail of destruction it brings forth.
This book though fall into the genre of mythological fiction, but is socially and politically relevant. It raises serious questions on castism, racism and misogyny. By the end of this reasonably long book you will find yourself posing serious existential questions. This book made me question my concepts on victory and success. It made me question my concepts of a hero and a villain as this story has neither a hero nor a villain or maybe it has a hero and a villain in more than one character. It made me question morality and it sheds light over the distance between concepts like good and evil, God and mortal. It also shows you how the gender divide is the elephant in the room that you can’t ignore.
Rating : 4/5
Verdict: If you are anything like me, who loves mythology and its different interpretations, you have to read it one. But, expect to feel the wrath of failure, the sting of betrayal and heaviness of loss as you turn the last page. And, also, expect to question concepts that you have long taken for granted.
ISBN : 9780008115289
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Genre : Mythological fiction
Pages : 504 pages
Leadstart Publishing House, 2012