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Political Play
Ratan Sharda
Book review: Scion of Ikshavaku 15 July, 2015
Amish Tripathi, the much celebrated author of blockbuster 'Meluha' series has now launched a new series on Lord Ram, whom he refers to as 'Shri Ramchandra'. The first of this series is Scion of Ikshavaku.
Generally we refer to Lord Ram's clan as Raghu's clan (Raghukul), he takes this lineage back to the beginning - to King Ikshavaku. He says in his interview that he is trying to narrate history of Vedic times that began around 12000 years back and is an unbroken continuing heritage of India. Thus, with the title itself, you can see that Amish is deviating from the normal known narrative.

Having been brought up on Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas, I must admit that Amish's interpretation was a bit unsettling and I had to adjust to his characters who are quite different from what we understand through this most popular version of Ramayan (or Ram's story). I am aware that original or 'authentic' Ramayan written by Rishi Valmiki treats Ram as a human who attained greatness with his deeds. To that extent Amish's effort to show Ram as a normal human being is close to the original story of Ram. However, he has taken quite a few liberties with interpretation of events and characters, generally to a good effect, bar a few jarring notes.

I may admit at the risk of verbal lynching by today's youth that I haven't read 'Meluha' series on Lord Shiv. So, his story telling was quite new to me. But, once I adjusted to his style and got into the flow, I could enjoy it. Since there are unusual twists and turns, one has to read with expectation of the unexpected – more like a thriller.

Nearly all his characters find a new form and their own distinct personalities. I do not wish to kill the anticipation of readers by unravelling the well done characterization of various characters, so I will not get into details. I liked neat delineation of characters of three brothers of Ram and then Sita. His strength is humanizing the characters who are seen more as super humans or gods and members of the animal kingdom; are presented in a different way. Kaikeyi is portrayed in a different shade. The way he weaves characters and story through geographical identification helps one absorb the story much better.

Amish's effort at humanizing the story goes well with different interpretations of incidents in Ramayan. Some of the incidents that stand out are Shurpanakha's disfigurement, and the earlier battle between Dashrath and Ravana. His twist to the bow of Lord Shiva in Sita's swayamvar unfortunately sounds like a copy paste of Mahabharata swayamvar. I didn't quite fall for his description of Pushpak vimana and I found his description of 'Bharat' of that time as 'India' grating. Repeated use of 'India' brings the reader back to the present frequently while she/he is deeply immersed in a 5000 year old history of Bharat. He has stuck to the names and idioms of those times otherwise. Amish's Mithila or Janakpuri is fascinating flight of imagination so is the post swayamvar battle between Ram and Ravana. As the story races towards climax of this book with abduction of Sita, reader looks forward to the next book of Scion of Ikshavaku with breathless anticipation.

As I read this novel, I recalled an earlier very good effort at contemporary presentation of age old story of Mahabharata titled 'Krishnavatar' by Late K M Munshi in multi-volume format. Though he didn't deviate from the main story as accepted by most of the Hindus, he managed to present Lord Krishna and other characters as humans with the super human qualities and human frailties. He explained the supposed miracles as result of human skills and natural phenomena. He too added a few twists in characters. For example the way he presented Bhima and Yudhishthira. One could believe that the story of Mahabharata was actually history which may have been embellished in subsequent periods by imaginative writers. What Krishnavatar lacked was elaborate weaving of philosophy in story telling.

What sets apart this new narrative of Lord Ram from any other interpretation of Ramayana is writer's highly imaginative and knowledgeable presentation of issues of ethics or Dharma in present times. Reader can easily identify with the moral dilemmas that modern human society faces, juxtapositioned with the dilemmas that Ram, Sita or other characters faced.

He presents and talks of current ethical or dharmic issues through exchanges between Ram and Sita, between Ram and his Gurus, or between Dashrath's sons in their times. Amish's deep study of these issues from old scriptures and new texts is apparent. The way he weaves problem of ethics in matters relating to governance and individual duties and issues of rule of law show his real skills. This is where he succeeds as a presenter of on ancient story mapped out onto modern world.

While weaving in the issues of rule of law and governance in his story, Amish talks of Masculine and Feminine elements of human nature and what should be dominating thought for a ruler. However, to imagine that he is advocating muscular way of governance would be misleading. For those who are familiar with principle of Purush/Prakriti or Yin/Yang his views would sound balanced. But, for those who are brought up on Western view point of civilization, this would be difficult to understand, let alone digest. One can come out enriched from reading this book due to this philosophical interplay.

I am sure this book too will find a large audience globally. No doubts, purists will crib about Amish taking liberties with the original Ramayan like they did in case of Meluha series. This is more likely because not many Hindus have read Shiv Purana or stories of Lord Shiv, while most of the Hindus are quite familiar with Lord Ram's story.

His success lies in getting the young generation interested in ancient Indian culture and history through his books. As the younger generation tries to relate itself with ancient heritage she/he has inherited; I am sure, it will get into more serious reading to find her/his roots. And not just end up imagining that what Amish has written is actual history. For young readers reading Amish is beginning of journey of self discovery.

About The Author
Ratan Sharda is a citizen journalist. He has authored books like 'Secrets of RSS'. A marketing consultant by profession, Mr. Sharda is a keen observer of the country's political scenario.
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