Raavan – Enemy of Aryavarta by Amish

Stories steeped in mythology are my all time favourites and I won’t deny it. That’s the one main reason why I got hooked to Amish (and also some of the other Indian writers) in the first place. The completely different perspective, or way of looking at these mythological characters makes for a very interesting read, and of course makes us question the age-old, handed-down-the-generations versions. Ravaan is the third book in the series, after Ram and Sita.  For those who haven’t read the first two books, please read them before you start this one for better appreciation of the story line. Also this book review may have a few spoilers (though unintentional) so read it at your own risk.

UnknownRavaan takes the story back to the years before either Ram or Sita were born. Yes, Ravaan is said to be considerably older to either of them. This book is about Ravaan and how he gained his notoriety and infamy. His being born to an indifferent mother and an abusive father, his anger at being ignored and humiliated, his silent suffering of the physical pain due to the physical abnormality (yes, he was a Naga too) – all this lay the foundation for the aggression and hunger to prove his worth at every stage. The steady build up of his character, the not-so-gradual coming of age and the need to shoulder the family responsibilities at a tender age, bring out his inherent traits early on.

Ravaan is portrayed as a strong personality – huge and powerfully built, dominating with overwhelming presence. Also an intelligent person, someone who is passionate about improving himself. He is well read, is an artist par excellence and a musician with immense talent. He could not only play an array of instruments including the Rudraveena, but also invented the RavaanHatha, a double stringed musical instrument. His business acumen was unmatched and ensured he reached the target he set for himself. He was very clear what he wanted and worked diligently towards it. By the time he was twenty five he had a fleet of ships, was one of the busiest trader and was rich beyond imagination. All this he could achieve with his undying devotion and love for the Kanyakumari. She was his muse, his inspiration, the torchbearer of his soul.

The first time he met the Kanyakumari was a little boy in his father’s ashram. But that brief encounter changed him and inspired him to be the best of himself. Many years later he even went to meet her and selflessly helped her in her efforts to assist the village where she was residing. All that was fine until she gets killed. Then all hell breaks loose and the story gets a little “filmy”. The angry hero avenging the death of the love of his life was very dramatic and a tad too violent. I personally found the descriptions of torture out of place and uncalled for. There was always a violent streak in Ravaan, which was highlighted from time to time in the book. The Kanyakumari’s death unleashed the violent animal within him and there was no stopping him. With Amish’s creative style of writing, he could have conveyed the whole scene with just wordplay. This kind of narrative was for the masses, not his readers. That was my first disappointment.

As the story moved on, Ravaan’s hatred for the Aryavarta appeared far-fetched and unnatural. His purpose in life was the destruction of Aryavarta, and nothing could change his mind. Not even Kumbhakarna, his dear beloved younger brother, the voice of reason and sense. He doted on Kumbha (as Ravaan would call him lovingly) and would otherwise do anything for him but this one aim in his life was non-negotiable. Kumbha could not get his brother to put his grief aside and move on.

With the success, power and wealth came the ultimate malaise which inflicts all humans – arrogance and inflated self-worth. Ravaan also suffered from it and it became predictable that his end would be because of his ego. His total lack of respect for the Maharishi Vishwamitra during the swayamvar brought out his pompous arrogance for all to see. He would have resorted to the only way of avenging his insult had he had his way – massacre everyone. He put no value to the lives of others especially if it came in the way of his achieving his goal. His throne was perched on the bodies off many innocents and was coloured with blood and deceit.

The book keeps you glued as it meanders through the life of Ravaan and his many struggles. He was from Aryavarta but had long ago moved to Lanka as a child. That was where he grew up, that was the place that accepted him and his family with open arms, that was where he gained success. Yet he always sought acceptance from the land of his birth, where he was shunned, where his brother was to be killed at birth because of his deformity. This was unfathomable. Ravaan could never accept this reality and that was his undoing. The brothers often talked about it but there was no conviction in the arguments. Also some conversations between the brothers were condescending. Kumbha being the sensible one, tended to be preachy in some places. The bit about the Sabarimala felt misaligned, something put in as an after thought. It was similar insertions that felt like avoidable digressions.

I felt as if the author wanted to say things which are relevant to the current times and wanted it said through the book. That did not happen. Instead it affected the flow of the story and did not feel like it was a part of the original storyline.  On the whole a good one time read but cannot say it’s on the same level as the Shiva trilogy (that was something else!). So happy reading!

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