Book Review: Ramayana The Game of Life – Shattered Dreams

Growing up in an Indian Hindu household, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, narrated to you since childhood by your mother and grandmother. As you grow up you further see the epics played out on the silver screen by TV actors in popular TV serials. Whether you ever pick up the epic or not, you end up with a vague idea about the plot.

How then is a modern-day English reinterpretation valid or even relevant, especially in face of other readily available  English translations?

Yes, it is relevant.

In his series ‘Ramayana The Game of Life‘ based and inspired by the epic, Subha Vilas has rewritten the incidents of the Ramayana in chronological order. What makes the book all the more charming and relevant in today’s society are the engaging little insights that Vilas provides to the epic. The reader is not left floundring in the dark, trying hard to glean the knowledge and wisdom inherent in the epic. Subha Vilas has interpreted every facet of the story in painstriking detail and written down his interpretations in small excerpts throughout the novel. The language is simple and easy to comprehend.

One of my favorite parts in the novel is when Sumantra summons Rama and Sita to Dasaratha’s chamber. He is going to banish Rama for fourteen years and Rama, the avataar of Vishnu, in his infinite knowledge already knows this. He looks at Sita and places a garland around her neck, symbolizing (according to Vilas) that in the future all he will be able to give her are forest flowers. Sita smiles at him, indicating that she would stay with him despite his change in fortunes.

What follows this charming incident is a small box note by Vilas listing out the importance of communication, even silent communication in a relationship.  In this way the book can also be seen as a Guidebook to Life, and since each such lesson is enshrined in a box, it is very easy to just flip the pages and read the short extracts, without having to read the entire novel each time.  Some of these are tenets on management and leadership, and bears relevance in even today’s corporate world.

Each page further has little footnotes explaining Sanskrit words or cultural traditions of that time. In this way, the book helpfully transfers the reader back to the era when the epic was originally written, and gives us a brilliant insight into the life and society of ancient India. Some of the footnotes also contain motivational expressions, not unlike the extracts I mentioned before. For instance when Dasaratha visits Kaikeyi and foolishly promises to give her anything she asks for, the footnote derides his decision and all such decisions made spontaneously and recklessly out of lust and without proper consideration.

The character development throughout the novel too is commendable. The book is about Rama but Vilas has not ignored the other characters in his life, who help and support him in all his decisions. One commendable aspect of the book is that it portrays Sita to be as important as Rama. She is his courageous companion who braves all difficulties to support her husband in his time of trouble. Lakshmana is shown to be a caring, devoted brother. Dasaratha’s love and pride in his sons too is well established. Even Bharata who only appears at the end of the book,  is shown as a dutiful and filial brother.

Let me now list out what I didn’t like about the book:

  1. This book doesn’t provide a modern day retelling of the Ramayana. There is little explanation provided for the more fantastical aspects of the epic. The narrative has stayed true to the original epic and sceptics like me might find parts of this book rather hard to digest.
  2. The dialogues are long, repetitive, overly-melodramatic and irksome at places.
  3. There is very little empathy between the characters and the readers. Subha Vilas has placed his characters on a divine pedestal, and readers are only meant to read about their actions, but not question them.

All in all, read this book if you are inclined to learn about ‘Ramayana’ or want a self-help/guide book rooted in Indian culture and mythology. Read it to learn, but not to discern. 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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Things You See On Mumbai Locals #5: The Hand of the Modern Indian Woman – The Best Of Two Worlds

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From in between the half a dozen Nike and Adidas armbands, the symbol Oum tentatively peeks out

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– this is the arm of the modern Indian woman. The red tikka or vermilion mark contrast sharply with her GreenDay t-shirt. She is just as punctual for the first day, first show of the latest Tom Cruise thriller, as she is for every puja or religious ceremony in the temple. She revels in her culture and is unapologetic of her bold sexuality.
The way the young girls in Indian metropolitan cities have assimilated the modern day trends with the traditions of the past is admirable and worthy of being written about.
In my college, for instance, girls have the option of choosing between two ways of dress – ethnic or western. A girl can, if she so chooses dress in tight figure-hugging jeans and a tee or a short black dress, but she would look just as attractive in an azure blue salwar suit with silver lace on the duppata and dangling silver earrings, with a tiny diamante bindi to finish the look. You could also, and many do, combine both forms and mix ‘n’ match – an ethnic kurti over jeans, a duppata thrown casually with a dress, or something as insidious as a traditional block printed dress or a tie and dye shirt….options abound, and the modern Indian woman is determined to make best of all of them.
If you move from her wardrobe to her food habits a similar fusion prevails. For instance, today on the train it was the birthday of a passenger. She is in her early 40s and travels regularly to work with a group of her middle-aged friends, who all wished her with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!’ today. She distributed packed chocolates and wafers among them, and they gifted her a packed red box that contained coconut barfi. Or the other day, I overhead a 30-something woman tell her friend that the manchurIan balls she prepared for her son’s birthday party had been praised by all, as had been the rice payasam she had cooked.
Just like the sacred thread which hides underneath the more modern accessories, underneath the modern exterior, the Indian woman has preserved her heritage and culture. Over the years, instead of discarding one for another, we have chosen to learn from all that’s new and modern while not forgetting the wisdom of the ages. Be it in her wardrobe or her kitchen – the modern Indian woman has skillfully fused the best of both worlds.

A Tale of Beans and Brews – the Coffee Culture

The legend around coffee goes that an Ethopian goat-herd discovered coffee after he noticed strange effects on the behaviour of his goats after consuming the plant. The earliest credible sources of coffee drinkers (according to Wikipedia at least) appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi shrines of Yemen. Throughout history, the bitter brown bean has formed a part of culture, often extending beyond the dinner table. In East Africa and Yemen, coffee was used as a part of native religious ceremonies. As these rituals conflicted with the beliefs of the Christian Church, the Ethopian Church had once banned the consumption of coffee. The drink was also banned in the Ottoman Empire during the 17th century, and has also been associated with rebellious activities in Europe.

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Coffee today has become an intricate part of the modern Western culture, rapidly being assimilated by many countries in the global village. Often the act of drinking coffee goes beyond the mere consumption of the same. Chains of coffee-houses and cafes, notably Starbucks or Café Coffee Day among numerous others, have become an all-too-common sight in Indian metropolitan cities. Drinking coffee is part of the morning ritual for many students and young professionals alike. I have many friends who cannot fathom starting a day without the caffeine buzz that coffee provides. As the day progresses, coffee becomes a motif for social interaction. Friends call each other up, ‘Hey, let’s meet for coffee’. Life issues, romantic estrangements, social problems and contemporary affairs alike are discussed over steaming cups of cappuccinos, espressos or lattes in the winter; and with ice-cubes or a scoop of ice-cream in the summer, or have a frappe.

downloadIn the romantic context, ‘going out for coffee’ may sometimes involve no coffee at all. Cafes are actually one of the most popular spots for a first date. Ask your friends, if you don’t believe me. I bet 9 out of 10 of them will have had their first date in a coffee house.

‘Coffee breaks’ too are a time for socialization and interaction between members, during a meeting, a seminar or on a normal workday. Coffee houses, like the one in Kolkata, has been reputed for being the rendezvous spot for the intellectual elite.

Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the brain – this much is scientifically proven. Thus coffee now is synonymous to studying or working late. An interesting fact: the Computer Language JAVA, which is used for most internet applications, was named after Java Coffee. Incidentally, the programmers were in a meeting trying hard to find a name for their new language, and they were having cups of coffee. And suddenly someone joked that they should name the language JAVA, and the name kind of stuck. You might also have noticed that the logo of JAVA is a steaming cup of coffee, reminiscent of that night.

coffee2Many global transactions are hidden behind a cup of coffee. A veritable network of complicated social and economic relationships are stretched across the globe on the basis of coffee. Coffee is primarily consumed in the developed and rich countries of the first-world, but grown in relatively poorer countries. It is the primary source of foreign exchange for many countries. The production and transportation of coffee requires continuous transactions between people thousands of miles away from each other, and the coffee drinker. Moreover since coffee is not naturally grown in most European countries or North America, it hearkens back to the colonial rule and is a souvenir of its legacy today. It was only when European colonizers settled in Africa and South America that coffee became a part of the ‘Western’ diet. Its history is the history of colonial rule and colonial struggle.

Coffee is also a lifestyle choice. The choice you as a consumer make about what kind of coffee, which brand of coffee, and which coffee house, says a lot about your life style. You may choose to drink only organic coffee, natural decaffeinated coffee or coffee that has been ‘fairly traded’ through schemes that pay full market price to the small coffee producers. You may choose to patronize an independent coffee house over corporate coffee chains; or you may just make it at home yourself. Next time that you drink a cup of coffee, pause between sips to appreciate all that is the ‘coffee culture;.

Now, you have to excuse me……I am going out for a cup of coffee 🙂

CCD

The Coffee I had. It is a Crunchy Vanilla Frappe, with butterscotch. I like it cold. How do you like it?