Books on Indian history and mythology are the flavour of the day.
It was a magical time. The euphoria of independence was lingering on and television had just marked its entry in India. Suddenly, a whole generation was watching Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana and B R Chopra’s Mahabharata. More than the content of these soon-to-become-epic tele-serials, it was the feeling of community, of shared pleasure, that gave birth to the tales of nostalgia. The common stories of how the whole neighbourhood gathered in front of a single television, how people took the characters for real and bowed in reverence and how the streets would go empty for those enchanted hours. That generation then passed on the stories to the next, which had already moved on to the coloured version, and some 100 channels. For them, these tales gained even more intrigue.
The bottomline of this long-winded memory trip is that the market, right now, is ripe to revisit those golden times. And that is what many writers seem to be banking upon. Books with a ‘different’ take on mythology and history are the order of the day. It really took off with Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy. The tale of a warrior leader who walked the talk just like us — a novel idea that paid off completely. There were several others, such as The Legend of Amrapali by Anurag Anand and Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi. The story structure, already a hit among masses, give authors a thousand different ways to present it afresh.
The latest in this series is Ravi Venugopal’s I, Rama, a retelling of a timeless classic. The first volume of the book, Age of Seers, is to be launched soon. Ravi, a US-based entrepreneur, has set the book in contemporary times. Ramayana is more than a story, for some it is the moral code of life. Rama, unlike Shiva, cannot be imagined in today’s world. He cannot be the ‘dude’ like Tripathi’s Shiva. He is the prim and proper son and husband, who cannot afford to be reckless, as he has to set an example for others. And therein lays the first strong point of the book. Rama, the narrator, talks like Rama the God. He is identifiable and he does not jar your senses with sudden anomalies in the language.
It is heartening to see Kaikeyi being elevated to the position she deserves, after being dumped as the villain of the tale for thousands of years. As it is, today it would be difficult to renounce the way she acted. Why wouldn’t a brave queen, who fought brutal wars with her husband shoulder to shoulder and had much stronger personality than the other hardly mentionable queens, think she deserves better? Of course she will, says Venugopal’s Ramayana. In here, Kaikeyi is a brave, strong, independent warrior princess, who knows what she wants, and then goes ahead and gets it. That definitely would strike a chord among many women. Venugopal says most Ramayanas are different versions of Sita’s tale. But in his book the tale has been narrated by Rama himself. This change in narration might spell the future of this book.