Retelling Ramayana in contemporary idiom
The Ramayana has, over the centuries, lent itself to so many interpretations but managed to retain its essence to remain fresh and contemporary. Thus it is no surprise that the ancient epic once again forms...art and culture Updated: May 17, 2013 00:50 IST
The Ramayana has, over the centuries, lent itself to so many interpretations but 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 noted storyteller 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 with Sita, 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.
This is the first novel of Dr Naidu, founder of the Vayu Naidu Storytelling Company in London. The modernity extends to the language and imagery used. Keeping with the oral narrative traditions, her prose sparkles with action and emotion.
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 slip roads west of the capital 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 of 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, the Sita of Ramayana. Amarjit and Vikram have to locate Lanka and rescue her to save the world from annihilation.
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 take off in 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.
Both books are published by Penguin. Sita’s Ascent is priced at Rs 299 and King of Lanka at Rs 250.