Ramayana: the Game of Life
Book 2: Shattered Dreams
Author: Shubha Vilas
Publisher: Jaico, 2015
Pages: 387 Price: Rs350
Both the Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are brilliant tales about the complex game called life. The good and the evil, the benevolent and malevolent, the divine and the demoniac, all appear in their due proportions at the appropriate times. Though many thousand years have passed since their composition, the stories continue to fascinate readers all over the world because they are still relevant. The virtues and vices portrayed in them belong to mankind irrespective of time.
However, any reader should learn to interpret them according to his/her given time. This is precisely what Shubha Vilas has done with his series of books titled, Ramayana: the Game of Life. While the first book, Rise of the Sun Prince, dwelt upon the life of Rama until his marriage, the present volume takes us through arguably the most poignant events in the life of the royal family.
The author is not merely retelling the story of the epic in modern language; he is taking us on a journey of meditation through the minds of the different characters ranging from the wily Manthara who wakes up Keikeyi’s potential for evil to the egoless boatman who drinks the water with which he has washed the feet of Rama, from Sita who follows Rama to the life of asceticism to Urmila who lets go her husband with the same spirit of asceticism, from the elevated sage Vasist to the fallen sage Ugrasravas.
There are very interesting discussions, footnotes, and other digressions that suffuse the novel. For example, the chapter dealing with Rama’s exile from Ayodhya presents a fascinating discussion on ‘How does one handle reversals in life?’ The author’s suggestions, based on Rama’s example, are very pragmatic and in tune with psychological approaches. He suggests flexibility, focus amid temptations, awareness about the power of responsibility, and steadfastness as the strategies. There are many other similar discussions in the other chapters.
All the major characters are brought alive by the author in a simple yet fascinating way. Literature and spirituality blend comfortably in the book. I was particularly struck by Bharata’s explanation of the whole exile episode:
”Manthara is not to be blamed for what happened. She is a maid after all, what do you expect from her? Even Keikeyi is not to be blamed for this mishap. She is a mother after all, what do you expect from her? She has natural blind affection for her son. Even the king is not to be blamed. He had to keep his words after all, how can he be at fault? Nor can Rama be blamed for the whole catastrophe. He is an obedient son after all, with the burden of setting the right example for the world to follow. If you want to know who is actually at fault for Raghunandana going to the forest, let me tell you, it is my sin that is at fault. Because of my sin, so many people had to suffer.”
Bharata’s sin is in fact the sin of the whole mankind. It is an endless continuum of the sins of commission and omission, the sins of callous indifference and unwarranted interference, the sins of greed and envy, of all the normal human vices and foibles. Bharata was taking up the sins of the world on to himself. Yet another Messiah whose message would meet the same fate as those of all others.
Anyone who wishes to take a novel journey through a very important section of the Ramayana may find this book alluring. It is not a literary experience that the book provides, however; it is more spiritual and psychological.
Those who are put off easily by the miraculous and the supernatural may grimace while reading certain parts. The author is a religious person by profession though he holds degrees in engineering and law. If you can suppress your scepticism when confronted with the irrational, you will find the book rewarding in many ways.
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