Ramayana gets a modern revamp in The Ramchandra Series (Book Review)

Book: Scion of Ikshvaku (Ramchandra Series 1); Author: Amish; Publisher: Westland; Pages: 354; Price: Rs.350

It’s an easy-to-understand moral tale, entwined in mythology, which has the potential to grip the masses, especially the youth, who wants a light read. “Scion of Ikshvaku”, the first book in the Ramchandra Series by Amish Tripathi, would appeal to those who want to know the story of Ramayana told through the modern eyes. Its key characteristics are its conversational language, strong women characters and debates on moral issues.
The saintly Ram, the devilish Ravana, the morally upright Sita, the rebellious Bharat and others are shown as real people with real lives in this book – with attractions to the opposite sex, daily quibbles and teasing between siblings – and the mental tussles between right and wrong.
The use of colloquial language would come as a respite to those who could not follow Ramayana from start to end because of its intricate Hindi or English translations. For instance, Bharat and Ram are discussing whether law and freedom can go hand-in-hand, with Ram arguing that law must be obeyed at all costs, but Bharat says: “The law is and always will be an ass” (a la Charles Dickens!)
The line, “if looks could kill, Raavan would have certainly felled a few today”, as a description of the devil as he enters for Sita’s swayamvar is amusing as we are not used to reading common everyday phrases used for the mythological figures.
Amish had told IANS earlier in an interview that the idea behind the series is to know what an ideal society is. The author tries to do that, mostly through dialogues and repartee between the brothers. Is a ruler with questionable character better than a morally upright one if he takes care of his people? Is lying justified if the truth might hurt somebody? Are truth, duty and honour bigger virtues than victory? These are some of the questions the book raises, even as it gives voice to opposite viewpoints, letting the reader make up for him/herself on which side of the debate he stands.
With modern re-telling of the epic, set in 3,400 BC, the women characters have also been given a voice – and an agency. Sita is a strong character who stands her ground, even if it is to fight the Lankans, which might seem questionable to Vishwamitra.
Though the book retells the story of Ramayana as practically as possible, the mystic element entwined in Hindu mythology generally has been kept intact at certain places. For instance, Ram felt a charge run through his body as he touched the bow of Lord Rudra. Amish, like a practical businessman that he is, goes on to say: “Those seeking only factual knowledge would analyse what happened. Those in love with wisdom would simply enjoy the moment.”
The first chapter, that came out as a promotional chapter before the publication of the book, is intriguing; but is actually a part of the last chapter of the book. The first few chapters are a drudge to read, but after chapter five, the book gains pace.
But then, there are some who might not agree with the testimonial – “Amish is India’s first literary popstar” – on the front cover of the book. this category would find Amish’s language and writing style falling extremely short of expectations. They would find the moral, or what a chapter is trying to convey, very on-the-nose.
And those with an interest in critical reading might find the book too explanatory, lacking any sub-text.
The book has a third-person narrator, inclined towards the Mithilans, especially Ram. The flow of the text is sometimes broken by lines in italics, which are the thoughts of the characters. This aspect of the book could have been formatted better.
Will Amish spawn a new genre of writing? He just might.
(Shaifali Agrawal can be contacted at [email protected])