The Ramayana has, over the centuries, lent itself to many interpretations but has managed to retain its essence to remain fresh and contemporary. Thus, it is no surprise that the ancient epic once again forms the theme of two books, Sita’s Ascent by Vayu Naidu and King Of Lanka by David Hair. Dr Naidu’s slim 168-page novella depicts how Sita, as an exiled queen and expectant mother abandoned in sage Valmiki’s ashram, remains undaunted by the extraordinary circumstances.
What is at the heart of Sita’s Ascent?
It is an exploration of the psychological dimension that reveals Sita’s human condition. It allows identification and empathy, instead of viewing her as a victim. Had Sita been a victim, she would not have survived,” the author says in a note at the end of the book.
In the opening chapter, Sita is on way to Valmiki’s ashram.
‘They had been driving in the chariot for at least two hours. The paved roads gave way to rougher bypasses and then to tracks in the forest. The breeze from the speed of the open vehicle tousled her hair.’ This is as good a description of modern-day traffic patterns as any. The other book by David Hair from New Zealand is aimed at young adults. It is more of a thriller, a tale of adventure set in contemporary context, with the protagonists having undergone several reincarnations to arrive at the inevitable denouement. King Of Lanka is the last volume of a series that started with the Pyre of the Queens, Swayamvara and Souls in Exile.
It starts off with the wedding of Amanjit Singh, the Lakshmana-like companion to the protagonist, Vikram. Ravan, in the form of the evil Ravindra, has already abducted Rasita. Here again, the contemporary ethos is maintained. The initial action takes place in Mumbai where Vikram and friends are on the run, having been accused of the murder of film actor Sunita Ashoka.
The duo then takes off on Royal Enfield motorcycles, like tourists, all the way to Rameshwaram and enters a mythical Lanka ruled by Vibhishana. On being imprisoned by magic for a while, they realise that they were at the wrong place. They retrace their steps to the north and finally manage to find the real Lanka and successfully conclude their mission.