Amish is India’s most celebrated author. His Shiva Trilogy broke many records so expectations from his Ramchandra Series are huge to understate it. He found a new genre where he was telling the age-old stories for the new audience of the age of rationality. He was a naive writer in his first book, in the second and third he worked hard on his language but somewhere lost his own touch. In Scion of Ikshvaku, this first book of the new series, he again goes back to his own language – language that rattles between ancient and modern worlds.
The story of Ramayana is well known. However, we usually start the story with the birth of Ram and his brothers. In Scion of Ikshvaku, Amish takes you back a few years and talks about Dashrath – his father as a Chakravartin king. He talks about his fight with Ravana of Lanka and how the power and money were moving from Bharat to Lanka. He brings in the strained father-son relationship – the characters of the four brothers and the two subgroups in which they stay throughout the story. This part of the story goes till the capture of Sita by Ravana in Dandakaranya.
In Scion of Ikshvaku, the relationship of Ram and Sita as equals is something new. The portrayal of Sita as a warrior princess is interesting. Her fighting battles and laying strategic plans seems a blend of what most modern day women end up doing.
There are many gaps in his research that are jarring as a reader. There is a mention of smashing idols and shrines. And if you really see the timeline of Ramayana you would know that the concept of idols and shrines is much later. When talking about Shukracharya – he mentions Egypt – which I am sure is a later name. He mentions cliffs on Sarayu – am assuming he has not visited Ayodhya – for there are and there can be no cliffs in that plain geography. The Draupadi Swayamvar has been merged with Sita Swayamvar – remember hitting the moving fish’s eye was Arjuna’s doing not Ram’s. Then words like Bees Quarter, Crisp Salute, Examination stand out for being a bit out of context.
Now, what I found annoying was the induction of whole Nirbhaya case in the Ramayana story. I understand that the author was writing this book when the Nirbhaya agitation was at its peak. While it was not easy to not react to that – to take it to the story of Ramayana, in my opinion, is taking it too far. When I was reading the character list – I wondered where the name Roshni comes from which is obviously an Arabic word. Later I realized, he just used the synonym for Jyoti – the real name of the victim in Nirbhaya case. The gory descriptions and the justice delivered is something anyone would agree with. It brings forth the debate between the law and its interpretation. It makes us think about the need for human judgment when the written law is too objective.
I would not mind it as an independent story set in ancient times but I am having a difficult time digesting it as part of Ram’s story.
Yes, there is a story of Sita being captured or a Sarupnakha being attacked. But I do not think Ramayana days were as bad for women as they are today. At one place where he says – Women began to venture out alone at night. I felt he is transporting modern day issues to ancient times. Having said that, I am conscious of the fact that every era that retold the epics in India, added its own conflicts to the story of the pre-existing characters. However, it has been done at a level of thought process or a conflict that the society needs to resolve.
Amish brings in the concept of the age of feminine and age of masculine. I liked the nuances of these ages as he describes them. However, they get lost in the narrative and pop up now and then through the story. I hope he builds upon this concept in his next books in the series.
I wish the language of Scion of Ikshvaku was a bit more coherent. That would take you back in time where the story belongs. It is a craft I would have expected Amish to pick up by now.
Amish’s logical replacement of events that can not be explained is what makes his stories so popular. Especially, for the current generation of readers. If we should replace the elements that are beyond our understanding or should we make an attempt at understanding and deciphering them is a question that demands debate.
Both Ramayana and Mahabharata are living epics because we connect to the conflicts their characters face. Both stories have undergone changes over time adding the new dimensions. Since we are living in the age where rationality rules, so the renderings of our times will have dominant strains of rationality.
I am reading this book too late when Amish is already promoting the next book in the series. So, in all probability, you would have read this book. If not, you can read it as another interpretation of Ramayana. And then tell me what do you think.
Read our review of Shiva Trilogy