The guts of doing what is right: Review of ‘The game of Life – Shattered Dreams’
Ramayana, like any other epic anywhere else in the world, is as good as the way it is interpreted. I mean, if you read a badly interpreted version of even the Bhagwad Gita, you might not really find anything of sublime essence there… the same is true of this book that is interpreted in a way that the thriller lovers today might find engrossing.
The book ‘Ramayana – The game of Life: Shattered dreams’ written by Shubha Vilas that I am talking about is the second volume and deals with the drama that preceded when Rama is sent to vanvasa (exiled) and ends with Bharata accepting his role with the sort of detached involvement that we are all aware of. Of course when there are nearly three hundred and sixty seven pages telling us the story of this period, the characters included are far more than the ones we come across in stories that describe the period in less than two thousand words.
With this introduction in place let me throw you right in the midst of the way the tale or tales are retold, like, for instance, when Bharata is about to be told to reach Ayodhaya where there is an emergency, he is woken up from his siesta where he is subjected to a dream where he sees ‘the honourable king struggling in a slushy pond filled with obnoxious slush’ and there is a ‘ghoulish shrill laughter shattering the night’s silence’ and he also sees ‘a rusty-complexioned ghastly demoness appear out of nowhere’. There is the ‘clippity-clop of the jackasses and the morbid laughter of the demoness’ ringing in his mind and he experiences a lot of dissonance within. It is inclusions such as these that hold a reader mesmerised and the book goes on with a convergence of well-known and the not-so-well-known facts of the story. The writer does not fail to mention that ‘the ominous dream that had wrecked his mental peace foretold many shattered dreams’. This is the sort of imagery that the book is filled with.
Even the beginning where King Dasaratha admits that he is ‘now weary, old age has decayed my strength and rendered me unfit to fulfil the demands of the royal crown’ and goes on to declare that he now ‘cannot do justice to the weight of a zillion expectations. I long for rest and wish to hand over this burden now. Like the bull that after years of slogging for its master needs care and rest, I, too crave for some repose’. We know that it is time for Keikeyi and Manthara to take centre-stage.
All that I am trying to say is that the book captures not just the story but also the mood of every moment with allusions that invoke dread and reluctance. This part of Ramayana has all this and the writer has indeed captured it rather well. She has even given us sub-headings that, once they are written in one straight line, will convey just this. Precisely. Look at Chapter three that begins with ‘boons become curses’ and after a short digression into ‘revelry and reverence’ goes straight into ‘a mind game’ and expectedly ‘poison takes root’ with ‘payback time’ completing the cycle of this dreaded moment.
Some of the chapters in this book go on to add value to interpretations in interspersed boxed texts where the writer goes beyond expression and the thriller bits and dives into a bit of pedagogy as well. So we have boxed texts with titles like ‘learnings from the volatile behaviour of Lakshmana and the composed behaviour of Rama’ and the five management mantras that Rama reveals when Bharata comes to him in a state of disorientation to his forest abode. Rama lectures him on good management and leadership traits in a bid to hand over ‘all the knowledge that he would need to rule for the next 14 years’. These mantras are like short zen quotes and I particularly liked the ones under ‘reputation management’ where Rama’s concepts are great for not just the PR guys but also for everyone looking to get his or her image corrected. Rama recommends Bharata to ‘Dress royally. The regal appearance of a king gives confidence to the subjects’ and adds ‘Make yourself available to hear your subject’s grievances. First-hand interaction with the leader gives hope to the subjects’. As I read them all I realised that they do have a relevance not just to the common man but also to the political leadership of our country and even to the administrators and the corporate leaders. I liked one in the ‘team management’ section where Rama declares that the ‘army chief should be cheerful, wise, courageous, well-behaved, loved by his subordinates, efficient, born and raised in a family that imbibes Vedic values and culture’… or the one where Bharata is told to ‘honour courageous warriors in public.’ I mean, look at the way honest and straight-forward civil servants are constantly transferred and not allowed to do their job… I hope you get the drift.
If you think the book is all about only those interpretations that can be super-imposed on current events, you just need to wait for the parts where metaphysics comes rolling in. I loved the bit where Rama says:
‘Just as the puppet has the freedom to move as long as the string attached to it allows, a human being has the freedom to only choose a response to any situation that befalls him or her. Destiny, which is under the control of God, is the decider of good and bad fortune. But humans can choose how to react to the decisions made by god. He can never really change the decisions once made.’
I know that there will be a lot of existentialists who might pooh-pooh all this… and I also know that there will be people who will want to disagree with this, saying, ‘Is this really included in the original Ramayana?’ To tell you the truth I have not read the original and so I will not be able to answer this one, but I know that the blurb states that the author has taken Valmiki’s Ramayana ‘as its guiding light’ and that the book has taken its facts from Kamba Ramayana and Ramacharitramanas, as well as ‘folk philosophy from the Loka Pramana Tales to demonstrate how the ancient epic holds immediate relevance to modern life’.
The author had the guts of writing what is right, is the way I interpret the book… just as Rama, the main protagonist has the guts of doing what is right.
Title: Ramayana – The Game of Life: Shattered Dreams Volume 2
Author: Shubha Vilas
Publisher: Jaico Books
Price: Rs 350/- (in 2015)
On Flipkart: Buy Ramayana
13 April 2015