I, Rama: Age of Seers by Ravi Venu (Cratus Media, pp. 264, Rs.225) is the first book in the “I, Rama Series”. The series is a retelling of the Ramayana from Rama’s point of view.
This is His tale… let Him share His story with you…His account of the Legend. This is the story of that mighty king through His eyes, but my hand. (p.17)
I, Rama is narrated as a flashback to Rama’s twin sons Lava and Kusa, his brothers Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan, and his foremost devotee, Hanuman. It is not a simple straightforward flashback as there are tales within tales and flashbacks within flashbacks. So, even if it is Rama, who is narrating the tale, he narrates it through another’s voice. This volume takes the readers through the origins of the Ishvaku clan, the reign of Dashrath, the birth of Rama and his brothers, Rama and Lakshman’s sojourn to the Dandaka forest with Vishwamitra, Sita’s swayamvar and her ensuing marriage with Rama, and his encounter with Parasurama. The book ends with Rama, Sita and Lakshman being exiled from Ayodhya.
This is what I, Rama narrates, a story that anyone who has read the Ramayana will be familiar with, including me.
Now, how do I write a review of a book that is yet another retelling of the beloved Hindu legend, the Ramayana?
How do I write a review of a book that is part science fiction, part fantasy, part mythology and ends up being an uncooked khichdi of genres?
How do I write a review of a book with that is woven around a unique premise, but is written very badly?
How do I write a review of a book that was much-anticipated, but which failed to deliver?
How do I write a review of a book whose language is so archaic that it made me cringe?
How do I write a review of a book called I, Rama, but one that made me go “Ayyo, Rama”?
How do I write a review of a book that I struggled to complete and then did not want to review it?
I, therefore, decided not to write a usual review. What I have written is this…
To the author, Ravi Venu: What I liked about your Ramayana is (i) it is written from Rama’s point of view; (ii) Kaikeyi’s characterisation as a warrior queen and not just as a selfish queen; and (iii) the origins of Ganga (p.15).
But your narrative style lets the book down. Did you conceptualise this book in another language? Because I am simply unable to understand or appreciate passages like these.
Mother Earth has been alive for many millions of years; she has rebuilt herself over and over again. But for some traces of the past, she does a good job of covering herself like a virtuous woman, waiting to be discovered by a new love and restore herself each time. (p.12)
But then, the wave of awe in the crowd, as I undid the silken thread from the top of the bow, pulled me back to Earth. When I strung the bow, the Divine discuss [sic] emerged out of me and materialized as a shining blue arrow, ready to be shot. It was a divinely blissful, yet magical feeling. (p.220)
I can imagine such flowery paragraphs written in Tamil or Hindi or Marathi or Urdu or even in Arabic. But not in English.The language used is so painfully archaic that I laboured to read every single page of the book. Here’s some unsolicited advice from a reader and a sometimes writer: you must have the ability to think in the language you are writing in. Therefore, if you are writing in English, you must think and conceptualise your writing in English.
To the Publisher, Cratus Media: Please give me an honest answer. Are you a printer disguised as a publisher? Or are you a PR/Media/Communications firm turned publisher? I have to ask this question as you seem to have neglected your duties as a publisher. The editing and proof-reading of the book is non-existent, the layout is bad, the book size is odd … Did it not occur to you just getting the book printed, marketed, reviewed, and sold does not make you a publisher? That the product also has to be good?
To Self: I know that you love mythology in all its forms and across all cultures, and never pass an opportunity to read anything on mythology. Even if it is something that you have read many times before, a new interpretation or retelling of the same tale never fails to intrigue you. But that does not mean that you should not exercise your discretion and caution or listen to your instincts in choosing books. I mean, tell me honestly, didn’t you wince when you read the title, I, Rama and wondered what sort of book title it was? Didn’t it remind you of the that eminently forgettable and unwatchable Hindi movie, I, Proud to be Indian? Please, please give mythological fiction/mythology books a break for the time being.
To the Reader: Please do not bother reading this book. Unless of course you are a great fan of the Ramayana and want to read yet another retelling, in which case, I’m more than willing to give my copy of
Ayyo, Rama I, Rama to you.
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