Wednesday, August 15, 2012 1 reflections

Ramayan 2.0 : Some thoughts

RAMAYAN 2.0 : Some thoughts

Two triggers got me interested in Vijayendra Mohanty's (@Vimoh) free e-book 'Ramayan 2.0'. The first was it's size. It is 30 pages long. My instant reaction to it was that of cynicism laced surprise. What kind of a Ramayana book can be this small when even the shortest episodes of such epics tend to run into hundreds of pages? The second trigger, which in some ways counteracted the cynical aspect from before, was the preface by the author and the names given to the chapters. Titles like 'Dashrath and Democracy', 'The vanar who flew', 'V for Valmiki' invited my attention. It was after I had started reading the second chapter, 'Kurup and Ramarajya' that I began seeing the general idea of the entire piece. The big picture was emerging.

For starters Ramayan 2.0 is fortunately not just another retelling. The structure of the tales which the author calls fables follows an A-B-A-B pattern. Here, A is an actual episode from the Ramayana (where Vimoh carefully chooses which events to document) and B is a narrative told from the perspective of animals and birds as if in response to (or as a consequence of) the story narrated in A. I found this approach most refreshing primarily because of the coherence it offered not only to the A-story but also in the metaphors used in the B-story that followed it. The bonding of these pair-stories, if you will, was good reading.

In the preface Vimoh writes that he intended to juxtapose some of Ramayana's stories to events in the present day context. True to this introduction he captures the questions about democracy in the very first chapter where Dasharatha is asked if the next king of Ayodhya could be someone not belonging to the royal clan. A question that has the king stumped but gives root to the idea of democracy that the author is trying to capture. This episode is immediately followed by the tale of a cow which is given the raw end of a democratic society where anyone can say anything about someone and get away with it. By combining these two facets of democracy Vimoh fleshes out a vital aspect of the concept of 'Ramarajya' – a sense of perfection but with a price. The remaining set of fables follow the same pattern with each episode dissecting the true meaning of words like brotherhood and humanity in the midst of serious turmoil. Questions arising from true power and self doubt are thrown at us. Is power merely an illusion? Or is it a secret locked up in every human mind and is merely awaiting the right context to unleash itself? Questions that rise up slowly like soft molehills on the sandy ground of the mind and await the rebellious snake of hard truths to take over.

Vimoh ends the series with the reiteration of the basic idea that Ramayana, like it's counterpart Mahabharata, is all about what lessons one takes away from them. Each retelling ends up, invariably, polishing it further to fit the needs of the civilization in play. Over the centuries such modifications have been put in place to guide the wisdom of the masses so that all these words – democracy, power, humanity, brotherhood – can go beyond just the epics and find a place in the actions of citizens around the world.

'Ramayan 2.0' was a memorable read. I look forward to more such attempts by Vimoh where old objects when seen under new light ignite tiny sparks of introspection and where the marriage of old teaching and new learning finds air to breathe and fly.

Download and read 'Ramayan 2.0' as a PDF at the link here