Book Review: Ramayana-The Game of Life : Shattered Dreams by Shubha Vilas

RamayanaWhat happens to an epic such as Ramayana in the age of globalization and technology? We know well by now of the new lease of life that the epic received with its televised avatar in the 1980s. Shubha Vilas the author of this new series on the same epic seems as fascinated by the tale of Rama as so many other writers and artists. His project reminds me of the great works of Hindi novelists such as Narendra Kohli and of Amrit Lal Nagar. Going by the blurb of the book under review, the narration is that of the ‘riveting drama of Rama’s exile‘ and is aimed at teaching us ‘how to handle reversals positively‘. The book is a sequel and is the second part of a series that the author wishes to complete. The nine chapters of the book are organized according to the sequence of events as outlined in Valmiki’s Ramayana and other regionally popular versions such as Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas and the Kamba Ramayana.

The book makes for a not so smooth reading. Vilas writes while facing obvious difficulties of translation. His language in the book is colloquial and at times quite informal. Vilas seems to be in a hurry to address a modern audience that in his view does not care so much for the poetics and details of presentation as much it cares for the ultimate product that can be quickly read and done away with. Take for instance the scene from the first chapter where Dasaratha has had a bad dream. Vilas calls it a nightmare

Between his delusions and his consciousness, Dasaratha realized that he was in fact fighting two monsters- the monster within and the monster outside, Everything had become a big blur. Which of these two monsters was he fleeing from?“(p.2)

Another instance from the book dealing with the Kaikeyi-Manthara episode where he writes:

Kaikeyi was disturbed by Manthara’s constant babbling. She said “Don’t go in circles or mince any words; just speak clearly, without fear. What’s on your mind?” (p. 86)

It is not that one gets merely a sense of ‘loss’ in this translation, one also gets a sense of an imposed contemporaneity as far as an attempt at adapting the text for a new age audience is concerned. It ends up sounding like a desperate bid to make the epic sound fashionable and hence marketable. Instances abound where the flow of sentences is interrupted by words and terms (read expletives) written in ‘quotes’ which do not add to the quality of the tone and tenor. Despite these weaknesses, the innocence and the personal attachment and admiration of the author for the epic is amply visible throughout the text. It would have turned out to be a much more enjoyable read had the author spent some more time reflecting on the readership that he wishes to generate. Ramayana in my opinion cannot merely be a new age self-help book bereft of its music. It has to necessarily have a magical rendition to it for there lies its real character. Reversals of fortune and ensuing problems in life may well be addressed by reading about monks who sell and do not sell their Ferraris. I don’t really know much about those things. Coming back to the question that I ask in the beginning I have this to say- what we have come to call the era of globalisation and of new technology, is an era where frivolity goes unnoticed. The epic is bound to lose out substantially on its aura and beauty!

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New Year

From the album “Fieldwork”

Today is the first day of the fifth and final year of my life as a Ph.D. student at the Department I love. It was four years ago that I registered myself as a research student. These years have been immensely productive. It has been a lot of fun exploring the depths of my own ignorance with regard to questions of the human predicament and social relationships. I have come to recognise the complexity of certain concepts which I would be engaged with all my life. So I think. The first year of these four was spent mostly doing ethnographic field work and the remaining three were mostly spent in Delhi University making all possible efforts at making sense of all that the field experiences could teach me. The coursework, colloquiums, seminars, workshops that I attended have made a huge contribution to this effect. Hoping for a great final year.

Today is also the festival of Vijayadashmi or Dussehra. When the country celebrates the triumph of good over evil and exhilarates at the burning effigies of Ravana, the demon king, I grab this opportunity to be amused once more by the splendor of the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In the light of my quest for understanding Indian society and social relationships, I consider these two texts to be immensely significant. Special regards for the great fifteenth century poet-saint Tulsidas who wrote the Ramcharitmanas, a book that I admire. Here is the great Indian vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi with one of the devotional songs Tulsidas penned.

It is a special day also because my blog has recorded some 300 hits. Happy Dussehra to all and happy new year of research to me!