India that is Bharat has the oldest functional culture and civilization.
And, it is enriched with the oldest literature.
While some people call it mythology, the archeological and astronomical evidences prove that a lot of these tales actually happened.
Of course, some stories are definitely metaphors to convey timeless wisdom.
There is material to write on and by, so that it remain available as is through eons. Then, how these literary gems are survived? Well, through the ancient most tradition of Shruti and Smruti (or Smriti).
The stories remain alive through generations and spread over various parts of the subcontinent and beyond. Of course, over time, a lot of incidents are added/modified/removed based on the social, political, geographical and cultural preferences and circumstances.
Indian culture is open to interpret and reiterate the things as per one’s understanding. It is perfectly ok to have an opposite opinion or even no opinion at all.
Following this tradition various authors wrote their own versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata also. Sometimes they go far beyond and twist or even distort the most reliable versions of these epics in their interpretations.
Today we are neither going to talk in favor of or against of these re-imagining, re-telling, re-interpreting these epics.
Five Tales From The Ramayana
Westland ( August 9 2021)
Westland (February 14 2023)
|# of Pages
|234 (Paperback) 4121 KB; 235 (Kindle EBook)
We are going to talk about one such book written by Anand Neelakantan from literary aspects.
The book is – Valmiki’s Women : Five Tales From The Ramayana.
Let us start with the cover page of this book.
This Is Here In For You
Of course, we believe in the proverb Don’t judge a book by its cover (we add the word “only” at the end of it). At the same time we acknowledge the importance of a well designed cover page in a remarkable number of purchase and/or read decisions.
As you can see the cover page of Valmiki’s Women : Five Tales From The Ramayana is simple.
It is obvious to expect colorful illustrations of the five women talked about in the book on the cover page. The book follows the similar path but uses dual color illustrations of 3 women engaged in a conversation in a natural backdrop. The light brown color in the background makes it decent looking and black and white illustrations on the same complements it.
Overall, a simple cover page.
The Book And Our Thoughts About It:
Usually we talk about a book in two distinguished segments, each dedicated to the plot and our views for the book respectively. As, this book is a collection of short stories, we shall be merging both these segments here.
This book talks about 5 prominent women we see in Ramayana. They are:
- Bhoomija (Sita)
- Meenakshi (Surpanakha)
Amongst these stories, 3 of them are already published as separate short EBooks and we have already shared our reviews for them, rather than discussing about them, I am sharing quick links to those reviews here.
- Bhoomija: Sita – Book Review
- Meenakshi: The Story Of Raavan’s Sister – Book Review
- Shanta (The Story Of Rama’s Sister) – Book Review
So, our discussion would mainly be focused on the re-imagined stories of Tataka and Manthara present in this book.
As Anand is known for his re-imagining of tales from the loser’s perspective, the canvas and the course of the stories are quite opposite to the most reliable versions of these epics. So, you should go ahead reading this book only with an open mind.
In these stories you meet with Manthara, Bhairava, Shashanka, Nemi (KingDasharatha), Kaikeyi, Prince Yudhajita (Kaikeyi’s twin brother), Maharaja Ashwapati, Sambrasura’s, Romapada (the king of Anga), Rishyasringa, Vibhantaka, Shravana kumara, Tataka, Maricha, Subahu, Suketu, Sunda (a gandharva), King Sumali, Vaishravana (or Kubera), and others.
This book shows the situations of poor/unprivileged people in Ayodhya in quite an emotional manner. The soldiers who fought for the king, upon getting injuries and losing limbs etc., gets awards etc. but, their life from that point forward becomes a burden for them as well. The administering body forgets them and they are left on their own. We see such situations in the modern world. The author says:
Bhairava cursed himself for the umpteenth time that day.
Fate was a tricky thing. He knew a few among the beggars were former soldiers.
The kingdom honoured its heroes with useless brass bracelets or copper plates etched with flowery words after every war.
No one likes poverty or enjoy being a poor. Sometimes the circumstances and sometimes the attitude of the people is responsible for it. In the following line, the author utters an ultimate truth.
… for the well- to- do, all poor were ugly. Poverty was ugly.
Of course, there could have been a few exception, but the mindset of people, by-an-large is same as mentioned by the author.
The author has good command over language and his wordplays are delight to read. Here is a simple line where contradicting elements are weaved together, nicely.
Manthara hadn’t heard a more beautiful lie in her life.
The emotions and feelings of poor and rich, male and female are same. Everyone of us wants to be apple of someone’s eye. We want to feel wanted or needed by others. The self-esteem is often depended on how much our importance is acknowledged by the society. The author beautifully elaborates these emotions as:
That brought a smile to her lips. Someone was fighting for her! It was a beautiful feeling to be wanted.
The author beautifully represents a parent’s (especially, the mother’s) relationship with her ward as:
‘No one ever grows up enough to be immune to natural beauty and no one ceases to be a child for their mother, don’t you forget,’
Here is another such conversation that most of the readers will relate to. Though, here it is representing love between a wife and her husband.
‘Why is Ma angry with you? You did not do anything wrong,’ Maricha said.
‘That is her way of showing love, son,’ Sunda replied.
The author infuses sarcasm quite authentically in writing. Here is an example:
Maricha didn’t know what one could do with gold coins. Were they edible? Did one cultivate them?
See, how different, a tribal person (or the one who lives in the jungle with minimum needs) think, for the basic most necessity (in an urban fellow’s eye).
Whom we can call civilized? It is kind of a “Yaksha-Prashna”
Both of the genders (male/female) have their unique attributes. Here, the author pinpoints one:
Women fought different kinds of wars that depended not on the sharpness of their arrows but on the sharpness of their mind.
All the characters in the book are strong regardless of their gender, caste, creed, financial or social or political status. But, the women are found even stronger then their counterparts in this book, for sure. And, that makes your reading experience, even better.
If you look for fantastic lines, you will love reading the following:
Time flew despite Manthara’s wish to hold it still.
In order to avoid spoilers, I am not quoting lines where some key-events are happening. Of course, the Ramayana is well known, and there is nothing to be a spoiler in terms of its content. However, this is the author’s interpretation from his perspective when seeing things from specific character(s). So, that is quite different from the popular and most-authentic version of the epic.
I am quoting some lines from the story of Sita (Bhoomija), as it remains relevant always.
Eat what you catch until someone catches you and eats you; that was the rule of the world.
And this one for the simple yet interesting description of a scene.
That night, when the moon had hidden behind ink- blue clouds and the forest waited with bated breath, when the air was pregnant with rain, the cobra had snaked up to their nest.
These quotes must have given you a fair idea about the literary quality of this book.
If you can read with an open mind, this is a good literary experience.
Around 7.5 stars out of 10 from literary perspective.
Quick Purchase Links:
- Buy - Valmiki's Women by Anand Neelakantan - Paperback - Amazon IN
- Buy - Valmiki's Women by Anand Neelakantan - Kindle EBook - Amazon IN
- Buy - Valmiki's Women by Anand Neelakantan - Paperback - Amazon US
Over To You:
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