Art & Culture

Daily Recco, May 13: Asura, the tale of Ravana and his people

Rajeshwari Ganesan
Rajeshwari GanesanMay 13, 2021 | 15:35

Daily Recco, May 13: Asura, the tale of Ravana and his people

In his debut novel, Anand Neelakantan manages to tell a version of Ravana's story without the usual demeaning of the other side: Ram and his riverine civilisation.

In some versions, he is among the most erudite scholars in the Hindu and Indic tradition of knowledge; and in others, he is denigrated merely on the basis of his race and his mixed parentage. But none of that really matters in the way most people recall him in our times — the embodiment of evil. But he too is said to have lived, perhaps laughed, felt joy and sadness. That is a story that was mostly left unthought of till Anand Neelakantan wrote Asura: Tale of the Vanquished about life from Ravana's perspective.


The book is an excellent effort in storytelling with elements drawn from various academic disciplines like critical analysis and subaltern studies, mixed with our postmodern love of greys and anti-heroes. And the book manages to tell a version of Ravana's story without the usual demeaning of the other side — Ram and his riverine civilisation.


It's a story almost all Indians know well. They know what happens and they know how it all ends. And Asura begins at the end and looks backwards. It remains a rivetting read. Not because it tells the story but for its exposition of the point of view of a character Indians in many parts of the country build effigies of each year just to set ablaze.

The very first pages of the book have Ravana lying on the battlefield with his dying thoughts. He recounts his life from his own perspective. He lines out some of the motivations that led him to make some of his decisions. Such a point of view is usually buried deep in arcane academic texts, but here it is out in the open in easily absorbable language and prose.


The book also shifts from Ravana's point of view to the story parallelly told by Bhadra, his servant. Bhadra's point of view is from the ground, not mighty. It creates the space to describe the results of Ravana's decisions and actions, an outlining of the kind of society he has shaped and presides over. It is a great foil to the narrative put forth by a character whose ego was large enough to tussle with the gods.

Also interesting in Asura is Ravana's explanation of the motivation to abduct Sita. This is one of the key points of controversy among those comfortable with the traditional Ramayana when Asura the book released in 2012.

Any which way you see it, Asura is a great read. It is a sign of the growing maturity among both Indian authors as well as a testament to the intelligence and openness of the Indian readership. Pick up this bestseller not to rush through it, but to savour and internalise it.

Last updated: May 13, 2021 | 15:35
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