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A Bow Not Yet Broken

Madhumita Chakraborty

Edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh
Zubaan Books, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 338, Rs. 395.00


When asked to review the book Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by The Ramayana, I was initially quite excited. The reasons were many, but primary was the fact that due to the interest of my four-year old daughter in Indian mythology, I had been reading the Ramayana almost every night with her, telling her the story of ‘Ram-Sita’. This bedtime ritual, along with TV shows, movies and cartoons of the epic also offered me the opportunity to go back and revisit the text, which made many of the stories more ‘familiar’, not in the sense of knowledge, per se, but in the sense of recent recollections in memory.   The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, two of India’s best known classical epics, literally got a fresh lease of life in the late 1980s, courtesy, Ramanand Sagar and B.R. Chopra, whose adaptations of the epics on the small screen ensured that Sunday morning television viewing was never the same again. In fact, as Arvind Rajagopal argues in his seminal work Politics After Television, the rise of the BJP and of right wing politics in India can be traced to the telecast of these two serials, especially the former. Since then, the Ramayana has been remade for television at least twice, with one retelling being telecast even now. Anil Menon points towards this ‘long shadow’ of the text right at the start of his introduction to the collection, depicting how the Ramayana is part of our daily lives, right from cockroach poison to Bollywood (Ra-One)!   Of course, as A.K. Ramanujan has so succinctly told us, to the consternation of the Right Wing brigade who succeeded in getting his essay ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas’ banned from the curriculum of Delhi University, there is no one single Ramayana. Departing from the norm of tradition is nothing new in this context, not just in the Indian subcontinent but across South East Asia from Indonesia, Cambodia,  Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Maldives; and each new version reflects different ideological and societal perspectives. This particular book takes off on this premise of multiple Ramayanas, and is a mixture both of re-tellings of the original tales, as well as a journey into imaginative new worlds. There is a total of twenty-four stories in the collection, of which twenty are by women writers from across the South and South East Asian regions, where the Ramayana story is ...

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