Scion of Ikshvaku
George Lucas once said that mythology gives you a sense of what a people believes and what they fear. He was talking about a local population limited to a country or region. But there’s another purpose that these fantastical tales serve, which transcends political boundaries: highlight the rational capacity of the hero. Indian mythology is one of the few that built a basis for a major religion, still in existence. And also one that’s been a favourite for telling and retelling in modern literature. Following the Indian tradition of improvisational rendition, Amish Tripathi is out with his own take on Ramayana with the first volume, Scion of Ikshvaku, in his Ram Chandra series.
First things first, it is a brave endeavour to dethrone a God from his unapproachable pedestal that was otherwise out of the critics’ appeal. He did it in the Shiva Trilogy, and does it again in Scion of Ikshvaku, the story of a humanised Rama, prone to all sorts of human fallacies and desires. The story may, at the most, be said to have been inspired from the original epic with several detours where Amish goes oblique and absolutely away from the actual line of reference.
Dashrath, the king of Ayodhya is an infallible warrior and king, but is childless despite being married to three princesses for many years. In a salt-pepper turn of events he comes face to face with Lanka’s warlord, Ravan. On the decisive day of the battle his over confidence lays exposed as he incurs fatal injuries and is rushed away from the site in a brave attempt by his youngest queen, Kaikayi. Incidentally almost at the same time his eldest wife, Kaushalya, gives birth to their first son, Ram. Obviously Dashrath hates the baby and blames his shameful defeat on him.
After all four brothers are born and come of age, they’re sent to Rishi Vashisth’s school with hidden identities. The princes return to Ayodhya years later, finishing their education in several subjects of statecraft and martial arts. Ram is given the job of maintaining law and police in Ayodhya. Dhashrath’s attitude towards his eldest son changes and he announces him as his crown prince. In the meantime Ram and Lakshman help Vishwamitra to stop an Asura attack on his hermitage, following which they head to a remote kingdom of Mithila. This is where Ram meets his sweetheart, Sita, who is not the coy, hesitant daughter of king Janak, but a daredevil who impressively kicks asses. They are married post a dramatic Swayamwar, where Ravan and Kumbhakaran are also present but feel insulted when Ram is declared the first suitor.
The next day Ravan besieges Mithila with a huge army, which is almost impossible to defeat. Ram is forced to use the forbidden biological weapon Asurastra, and Ravan makes a timely escape on his Pushpak Viman. Our prince is a ruthless follower of the rules of the land, and so accepts being banished from the kingdom for 14 years with Lakshman and Sita, who insist upon sticking together with him. The book ends in the 13th year of their exile, when Sita is kidnapped by Ravan.
Amish does a darning well job at building up characters, even better than the kosher composers. Ram initially strikes you as a dull and boring character but he grows up to be deep and disarmingly likeable, while Lakshman shares his impulsive nature with a modern Charlie Sheen. Bharat, the otherwise ideal brother, is painted as an ambitious ladies man. Manthara dons the garb of a wealthy trader who helps Kaikayi put Bharat on the throne.
The book, however, misses the feisty pace of the first book in the Shiva trilogy. It often slows down with longish preachy speeches. An incident of gang rape and murder of Roshni, Manthara’s daughter that anticipates the Nirbhaya case of recent years, appears too forced. Overall, it is an enjoyable book, full of imagination that often shocks and makes you smile at the smart twists in its plot. It may be offensive to hardliners who can still not see their Gods to be subjected to the tools of poetic licence. It’s safe to say, however, that the author means no offence. Amish’s Ram does manage to evoke awe and respect, after all.
About the Author
Amish is a graduate of IIM-Calcutta and worked for 14 years in the financial services industry before turning to full-time writing. He lives in Mumbai with his wife Preeti and son Neel.
Book: Scion of Ikshvaku
Author: Amish Tripathi
Genre: Mythological fiction
Publisher: Westland Limited