Asura by Anand Neelakantan

AsuraThe epitome of malevolent is Ravana. The classic Ramayana is etched in every intellect because it has been told in many diverse forms and manner. Anand Neelakantan transposes that logic on its head – The narrative is from the point of view of Ravana and to avoid religious commotions he has declared his work being fiction and not interpretation. Smart move!

Ravana, as the admired epic goes, is also called Dasmukha (ten-faced) and the raison d’être is expressed by Anand in a thought-provoking manner. Excerpt from his below: –

“The great king Mahabali, advises Ravana to shun other nine base emotions of anger, pride, jealousy, happiness, sadness, fear, selfishness, passion and ambition. Intellect alone is to be revered…..But, in his response to Mahabali, Ravana justifies and exults in the possession of all these ten facets, as they make him a complete man….. Ravana sees himself as epitome of a complete human being; without any pretense to holiness or restricted by social and religious norms…… Our epics have used the ten heads of Ravana to symbolize a man without control over his passions – eager to embrace life – all of it”

Anyone who has taken interest in mythology will note that narrative is similar to popular epic. In a way, Ravana has been pictured as hero. His disposition is of a person who while being livid is also of a very sturdy chief. He can irk, put out courtiers, and loathe his sycophants. His adeptness to govern a copious kingdom in spite of his many issues makes him atypical. To begin with there is no class & caste system in his kingdom. His father-in-law, a scientist, who invents Vimaan (plane) is thinking of a visionary like Ravana.  There are some twisted truths that make us empathize with Ravana but not whole heartedly.

First half of the book is very interesting which takes through the rise of Kingdom of Ravana. However, the book is frail and without substance in the second part. I grappled to complete the last 100-150 pages. In the epic, Ravana is supposed to be supremely intelligent but here he is driven by emotions and makes senseless decisions. There is a lot of pointless information in the book about how the government of Ravana should be governed. Reader seldom enjoys reading inner workings of a kingdom!

The first half is exciting and has a lot of quips for readers genuinely entrenched in mythology, philosophy and psychology. Excerpts for one such quip is given below

“Happiness and sadness are just two eternal truths like day and night. A man of superior intellect is never affected by these emotions. They are not base emotions at all but a reflection of our thoughts, a reaction to our perspective on things we see, hear and do.”

This thought has lingered on long after I finished my book. I rate this book a 3.75/5. Happy reading!

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