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Epic Heroes, Literary Avatars

Benita Fernando

By Prema Jayakumar
Mango Classics (DC Books), 2009, pp.64, Rs.378.00

By Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan
Puffin Books, Delhi, India, 2009, pp. 205, Rs.199.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 11 November 2010

An epic is unashamedly extravagant in its story. An epic will be retold endlessly. And an epic will be relevant always. An epic endures. So, I was curious to read Prema Jayakumar’s condensed prose version of the Ramayana* for children. How does a writer squeeze the universe of an epic into a nutshell?If achievable, would it still be as compelling? Prema Jayakumar’s Ramayana traces the birth of Prince Rama, his coming of age, his marriage, his exile in the forest, his heroic rescue of his wife Sita and his subsequent return to his kingdom. But that is strictly all the story has to offer.The thrill of an epic lies not only in its lavish canvas, but also in the numerous sub-plots and digressive episodes. Apart from a few additional details about Rama’s birth and the Vali-Sugriva rivalry, by providing a version of the Ramayana that is totally Rama-centric, the charm of the epic is lost. Perhaps Prema Jayakumar thought that children might find a complex narrative difficult to follow. But truth be said, children love a good story and even stories within a story. Her narrative appears bland and lacking the usual ornamentation and vivid descrip-tions that epics are so well known for. The author has also written the Mahabharata in three volumes for children. This is strategi-cally a better move by the publisher, DC Books, as children will get to know what an epic truly feels like. It is, after all, the stuff of gods. Prema Jayakumar has chosen to omit the much debated and tricky episodes of Ahalya and the test by fire of Sita’s chastity. These omissions have been mentioned in the ‘Taking Things Further’ section at the end of the book. This is an intelligent move by the author, as the focus has remained on telling a story without analysing inherent issues. Parents may choose to discuss and debate these issues in detail with their children. The ‘Taking Things Further’ section has also made it a point to state that Ravan is not a villain but an ‘anti-hero’. Readers will be glad, as this is a serious departure from the other popular series in which Ravan and his legion of demons are cast not only as racially dark, but also as complete monsters. Prema Jayakumar has been sensitive in providing children with such an understanding of human nature. Prema Jayakumar’...

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