Like all young children of my generation, I grew up on stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata – the two major epics of India. I always loved the stories, but ever since I could think for myself and question right and wrong, I have always been critical of Rama whom I could never forgive for banishing Sita simply because of an ignorant dhobi questioning her chastity. I could never accept the explanation that as a king he was morally obliged to give up his personal rights in the interests of his “praja” or subjects. I could not help but ask “was Sita not a part of this same 'praja'? Did she not have rights as a subject/as a wife? One might argue that as a queen she was equally morally bound by the strict code for an upright human being. Well, we can keep arguing to and fro on this matter. However, this was the very reason I was really excited when I came across the title of this book “I Rama” which was announced on Blogadda. I was really curious now to know what Rama would have had to say on this matter.
The prologue talks of storm clouds brewing over the island of Lanka, which was surrounded by the sea and islands which “looked like pearl clusters in a necklace, linked with each other by backwaters”. This description heralds the kind of word imagery one comes across throughout the story.
The author (Ravi Venugopal) starts off by introducing the background of the story – about how the sages (beings who embodied all the positive energy of the universe) and the rakshasas or asuras (who represented the negative energies of the universe and were trying to stop the sages from achieving their goals) were at constant logger heads. The sages had to think of a way to fight Ravana who had become very powerful and arrogant. He controlled various galaxies and the cosmos and was virtually invincible and his demons were killing human beings and making life for the sages very difficult. The birth of Rama “a human blessed with the entire power of the cosmos” was the very event the sages were waiting for.
The story then takes off in the words of an aged Rama, as he sits on a rock along the Sarayu in reflective mood. He is met at sunset by his brother and faithful, loyal friend Hanuman. Hanuman expresses his desire to hear about Rama's story about his childhood. Rama has been waiting to tell his children this story and willingly decides to narrate it to Hanuman. It starts with the time when he was in his 7th year of training.
Rama narrates the stories of various sages like Gautama, Vashishta, Vishwamatra, Agastya, his father Dashratha's childhood and life, Kaikeyi's background as well as his own early life. While most of these are familiar to us, what is different is that the story is presented in a way as to show how a certain preordained cascade of events are inevitable if a specific event has to happen. To name just one example: Dashratha shooting an arrow blindfolded at a target thinking it was a deer, lead to Sravan being killed. His bereaved, heart broken father cursed Dashratha and set the stage for the successive events of Dashratha being separated from his son.
Or for that matter Kaikeyi being offered two boons by Dashratha and her telling him that she would redeem the promise at a later date set the stage for Rama being sent to the forest, which led to other events which eventually culminated in the destruction of Ravana at the hands of Rama.
The other noteworthy point in this book is the way Rama's narration has been presented in terms of contemporary concepts – inter-galactic travel, portals from other galaxies opening up for travel to earth, energy conversions, ..... the very stuff sci-fi is made of. A very rational and credible approach to the epic - well within the realms of possibility.
The author has also added an original touch - Sita is presented as an articulate young lady who knew the art of warfare, was well-read, was a cook par excellence, had a vision about the future, involved herself with schemes involving social welfare, ..... in other words Sita could very well have been a modern day woman placed in the context of those times.
The one interesting revelation by Rama is that Kaikeyi's drama just before the coronation was not coincidental. She had appraised him about what she was going to do, why, when and how. This was necessary to ensure that Rama got an opportunity at fulfilling his destiny which may not have been possible if he had been coronated as planned by Dashratha.
On the whole, a very well researched, gripping narration with elements of the contemporary and some imaginary characters. The word imagery used by the author in describing various events, the beauty of Sita, the resplendence of Sage Vishwamitra (to name a few examples) is simply wonderful. In three words: “An un-put-downable book”. Looking forward to the sequels.
Here is the link to the website: http://www.i-rama.com/age-of-seers.html
This review is a part of the http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews at http://www.blogadda.com/. Participate now to get free books!