Amish's Scion of Ikshvaku: A tame Ram, valorous Sita and the Big Bang Theory
India / Opinion/ Sheila Kumar| Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Agreed, Lord Ram is whole different kettle of, er, spinach from Shiva - Amish Tripathi's focus, protagonist and swashbuckling hero in his earlier runaway hit trilogy - but Ram Chandra, as Amish calls his hero in his recently-released Scion of Ikshvaku, is a more muted figure, a sedate man totally given over to formulating and following rules and laws that make for better living. That is, better living as Ram would have it. So there of course, can be no room for wild dancing, the occasional smoking up or even of passions that threaten to run amok.
To cut to the chase, Amish's Ram is borderline boring. Worse, the writing here lacks the spark that made the Shiva trilogy quite an enjoyable read, despite the less than literary style.
We meet Ram and his ('built like a bull') younger brother Lakshman in the forest at the fag end of their exile. Sita has just been captured by Raavan of Lanka. Ram is anguished but in a controlled way. Laskhman is anguished in a not-very-controlled way. And then, it's cut to flashback.
Ram, King Dasaratha's eldest son and heir, was born on the day the king lost to none other than Raavan on a battlefield far from Ayodhya. The defeat turns to perpetual ashes in the mouth of the king and so, he isn’t too inclined to gaze too fondly upon the son born on that inauspicious day. Ram grows up unloved and carries all the requisite chips on his well-muscled shoulder.
But Ram perseveres. He becomes police chief of the city, and the crime rate drops. He doesn’t exactly cover himself with glory when insisting the law be followed in a gang rape and murder case, when the citizens bay for the offender's head and Ram points out that the man is a juvenile, so a different set of laws apply to him. He gets caught in the innuendo-filled politics between his guru Vashishta and Vashishta's colleague Vishwamitra. He also breaches the gulf between his father and himself.
Vishwamitra takes Ram away from Ayodhya, with the faithful younger brother is in tow. An interesting angle is how Lakshman's mother Queen Sumitra fills his head with enough conspiracy theories involving Ram, to keep Lakshman eternally suspicious and extra vigilant. Eventually Vishwamitra takes the brothers onto a not-so-important landlocked kingdom called Mithila and that’s when the story turns interesting.
This walled city is built on an unusual, canny pattern, and ruled by a woman prime minister, King Janak's adopted daughter Sita, a woman rather handy with both sword and knife. Ram and Sita meet, it's love at first sight for our Ram Chandra; Sita, on her part, merely feels the pull of attraction. Also, she is intrigued by the prince in workman's clothing.
The language is contemporary and this reviewer for one, was a trifle unsettled by people going 'Wow', Bharat stating that the law is an ass, a vanquished soldier being referred to as 'a poor sod', someone telling someone else to go take a hike and so on. This just may work for younger readers but I’ll need to confirm it with some of them first. Then, Ram's younger brothers call him Dada, which is fine. But when Raavan's brother Kumbhakarna calls him Dada too, it has you wondering if they used that term for elder brother down south in those days. Because they certainly don’t, now. More seriously, there are italics all over the place, and not entirely the right places for them to be either. Kaikeyi, younger stepmother. Devas, the Gods. Apsaras, celestial nymphs. After a while, these italics start to distract because of their awkward placing. There are numerous references to India, some talk of modern Gujarat and Konkan, and one wishes Amish had not brought in these modern flourishes because the story was doing well without them.
Here and there, the writer attempts to go in a bit deeper; he talks of the Big Bang theory, split atoms and the Ice Age, as well as the masculine and feminine ways of life, but fleetingly. Maybe it will all be touched upon again in the books to follow.
The reader's takeaway is a substantial one, though. That in the end, it all comes down to lands conquered, lands lost, egoes damaged and vengeance declared. As also a warrior prince's 'visceral hatred' for the ruler of a faraway isle. Maybe a woman's abduction in a forest clearing was just the catalyst. Oh, there's also some bad karma…Ram Chandra’s, in this case. Above all, there is the leitmotif that everything that happens is preordained to happen.
Yes, comparisons are odious but this reviewer preferred Ashok Banker's retelling of the same stories. Then again, there are many Ramayanas, right?
Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish (Westland Books)/Pages: 354/Price: Rs.350