Siege of Mithila – Book Two of The Ramayana
As long as this book lasted, I was reminded of one trashy pseudo-mythological serial I used to watch with great enthusiasm as a child. Remember ‘Chandrakanta’? Yes, that exact same one with the exaggerated characters with exaggerated eyebrows. My mother groaned and groaned about how utterly tasteless it was, and I agreed and continued to watch. Weekend after weekend, I watched. There was no way I could tear myself away from the display of magic, shape-shifting characters, super drama, and that ultimate hook of ‘What happens next?’
The ‘Siege of Mithila’, like ‘Chandrakanta’, seemed to be excessive at all times. Ashok Banker seems to have gone on an overdrive with the second part, in words and their content, making it the second fattest book of the series with 522 pages. There’s so much happening on every page, it’s almost vulgar. Even the writing is so adjective-ridden, that one sentence feels like a mouth so stuffed you cannot chew or swallow. Sample this: Around noon, they had left behind the rolling grassy plains where wild horses, elephant and rhino roamed freely and entire clans of lumbering hippopotami rolled cumbrously in mud pools, and the path had begun undulating constantly, seemingly unable to stay flat any longer, while thickets of wildbrush, sage, bamboo and bizarre profusions of multi-hued wildflowers bounded on either side. My editor hands have wanted to slash in half almost every sentence in this book. There might be readers who appreciate this style of writing and call it giving attention to detail, but I find it onerous. Why, even the first mention of the ‘Siege’ part of the ‘Siege of Mithila’ happens after 300 pages!
Another disproportionate element are the many, oh so many episodes involving sorcery and magic. Because I’ve not read any other version of The Ramayana, I don’t know if they’re part of the original or fanciful creations of the author. While I love and encourage different interpretations of old tales, I’ve found too many things in this book gaudy. Women turning into snakes, people running through magical corridors, men going underwater for missions… you get my drift. Perhaps I’ve read too many ‘realistic’ versions of epics like ‘Yuganta’ and have lost the taste for such work.
But did I stop reading? No. Could I stop reading? No. Why? Because Banker knows how to hold his reader’s attention. And even though I point fingers at the lack of refinement, I must give hand him merit as a writer. It’s like commercial cinema – flashy, given to hyperboles, silly even, but entertaining. Very, very entertaining. Banker makes for a very successful thriller writer, and never lets his pace flag. So long winded as it may seem, you willingly accompany the entourage of Brahmarishi Vishwamitra, the princes Rama and Lakshman, their senapati Bejoo, and an incognito Sita & her bodyguard into the woods and under the oceans, fighting beasts, dacoits and demons and into Mithila for an impending Asura invasion. Parallely thrown in is action from the demon-worshiping Manthara and Dasaratha’s queens in the Ayodhyan palace. Oh, and not to forget a swayamvara and the grand culmination in, guess what, a sorcerous episode.
Am I going to read book three? Yes; because I sure as hell want to know ‘What happens next?’
This post was submitted by Urmi Vaz.