PLOT: 2/5

Being born in the historic city of Agra does more to you than just Taj Mahal, it nurtures you in a society where Ram is enacted, glorified, worshipped and loved.

I had the privilege of growing up in the place where the tradition of Ram Leela and Ram Baraat has been celebrated from over hundreds of years, with the present form starting from the year 1885.

For us, Ram is born every year, and for a month each one of us witnesses his life story right from his birth to his departure from the Earth.

The locality which wins the bid to become Janak Desh and build Janak Mahal considers itself as truly blessed by the Lord Shri Ram himself. Such deeply rooted is this culture in our lives, that, for one month we forget who we are, flocking in lakhs of numbers to witness the Ram Leela and especially the Janak Mahal, Ram Baraat and Ram Vivaah.

I was born and brought up in such a society, and therefore my faith in Ramayan is absolute.

So, when I heard about Asura: Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan from my friend, I was utterly shocked. It was beyond my comprehension why would somebody want to write about “Raavan”, the perpetual evil force in our lives.

As I dug deeper, I realised that this is not a conspiracy theory as suggested by my friend but an author’s attempt to present the losing side’s point of view.

I found the description of the book very intriguing and decided to order it. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It was that good. It did to me now what Harry Potter had done to me in my school days. It was absolutely irresistible.

The concept of narrating the story from the defeated’s point of view is really good. What I especially liked about the narration is the fact that the author is narrating the story from the point of view of two people and the contrast between the two narrations is remarkable.

Ravana narrates the story from the time of his birth, telling us about the hardships he faced as a poor in Lanka and his big ambitions which led him to Mahabali before finally making him the King of Lanka.

Once he sits on the throne of Lanka, the narration is from the point of view of the King. In stark contrast to this, we discover Bhadra, a commoner who though completely loyal to Ravana is misunderstood a lot many times and narrates the story from a poor man’s point of view.

While we all have heard that Lanka was the golden kingdom, Bhadra tells us much more about the situation in a commoner’s Lanka.

Another good thing about Asura by Anand Neelakantan book is that the author does not seek to defame the Ramayana, or glorify Ravana, he just makes an attempt to bring out the loser’s tale.

He makes us question the norms, and realise that maybe the evil is evil because it was depicted so, maybe there is another story or another rationale behind Ravana’s actions which ultimately led him to his defeat.

Why did Ravana abduct Sita? Did he really intend on making her his queen or was there some other reason behind it. Maybe there was another rationale behind his action, maybe his intentions were not as bad as have been portrayed.

Winners always defame the losers, maybe that is what has happened with Ravana too.

What I also liked about the book was the portrayal of Asuras and Devas as not gods and demons but two contemporary civilisations fighting for glory and kingdoms. They were as human as any of us are now.

While writing this review of Asura by Anand Neelakantan, I was trying hard to remember things which I did not like.

But in my search for the flaws of this book, I couldn’t come across any. It is almost unbelievable how a debut author has done such a commendable job in his very first book.

The theme, narration, side plots, characters, research and most importantly the climax are all done beautifully.

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that though we knew the climax of this book from the very start, with Ravana showed dying in the very beginning of the book and from our common knowledge of our own mythology, the interest of the reader is kept alive and ignited till the very end.

Kudos to the author for coming up with such a brilliant plot and for articulating it so beautifully.

PS: Heads up to Mishta Roy for the beautiful cover design. I just love Asura by Anand Neelakantan.