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A Re-telling Again

Vinod C. Khanna

By Shubha Vilas
Jaico Books, Mumbai, 2014, pp. 252, Rs. 250.00


This book is not a summary of any of the well-known Ramayanas; it is a full-fledged re-telling of the great epic . Indeed, as Shubha Vilas tells us , his friend ‘em-boldened’ him to ‘rewrite’ the Ramayana. A little later the author does clarify, ‘This book keeps Valmiki’s Ramayana front and centre, yet explores other versions , gently weaving in aspects of Kamba Ramayana’s beautiful poetic analogies and folk tales that are in philosophical alignment with Valmiki’s Ramayana.’ This is Book 1 narrating the ‘Balakanda’ which Vilas has entitled ‘ Rise of the Sun Prince’. Other kandas will follow; there is at the end of this volume a ‘preview’ of the second book, the ‘Ayodhya Kanda’, with the title ‘Shattered Dreams.’   A good review begins by giving the reader a summary of the contents of the book. But having noted that it is a retelling of ‘Balakanda’ primarily though not exclusively sourced to Valmiki that question is more or less answered. There are occasional flourishes which go beyond both Valmiki and Kamban but which of these are the author’s original contributions to the vast and ever-growing corpus of Ramakatha and which are borrowed from some folk Ramayana the reviewer cannot say for it is practically impossible to keep track of the countless folk narrations of the perennially popular epic.   While there is nothing particularly startling in the book which cannot be traced back to the great Sanskrit epic or the masterly Tamil narration, there are some interesting new approaches. For instance, he ‘decodes’ the names of Rama and his siblings, and indeed of many other characters in the epic. Further, he splits his account into chapters with revealing titles and these are further sub-divided with each sub-division having even more illuminating titles. Thus Chapter IV which covers Vishwamitra’s arrival in Dasaratha’s court to take away Rama is entitled ‘Happiness—Not always Satisfaction’ which is further divided into ‘Dasaratha enters worryhood as Rama enters boyhood’, ‘Dasaratha endeavours to mould destiny’ .. ‘more anger and more agony’ etc. Perhaps the most original view expressed by the author—at least the reviewer has not encountered it elsewhere—is to hail Vishwamitra as the hero of Book 1.   One of the challenges facing anybody seeking to ‘rewrite’ in English an ancient epic, whether it be the Sanskrit or Tamil version, is the kind of language to employ. How does one capture the tone, the texture, ...

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