Ramayana: The Game of Life

Source: www.amazon.in
Earlier this month, BlogAdda delivered a copy of the second volume of Shubha Vilas' translation of India's favourite epic story: The Ramayana. Titled 'The Game of Life', book two in this trilogy is ominously called 'Shattered Dreams'. Yet, it is not a tragic story. It is a story that exemplifies duty and honour over everything else; at the cost of anything else. That doesn't seem too practical in today's times; yet the story has lessons that are timeless in their relevance. I have read numerous versions and translations of this mega epic but this particular series stands out for its painstaking listing and explanation of spiritual and life lessons, drawn from the experiences and actions of the lead characters. Sometimes, the footnotes come in the way of the story but then, the Ramayana was never meant to be just an entertaining story. It was always meant to be an example of how we must ideally think, behave and live.

In terms of writing and flow, I have absolutely no complaints with Vilas's translation. Since the story is spread across three parts, there is ample time to dwell over every single dialogue and turning point in the story. I don't remember reading the tale in such detail before. In fact, I'd like to get my hands on the first volume of this trilogy as well. The third is yet to be published. However, the way I viewed the story as a child differed greatly from the way I see it now. Now, as an adult, there are certain aspects that do not appeal to me. For instance, why are all the chief Gods and characters male? Why are the female characters only assigned the status of secondary Gods or cohorts? Additionally, how can God, an attribute-less entity be ascribed with such human qualities? Indeed, I've always found Indra's depiction to be lustful, egoistic and a lot of other things that God definitely doesn't stand for. There are a lot of facets I admire in Hinduism; at some points in the tale, I got goosebumps as well. But to accept every teaching and word as the Gospel truth - that would be alien to my character and unacceptable to my logical capabilities.

My advice to you as the discerning reader, is to accept those parts that resonate with you and make peace with those that don't. The story reeks of the inequality and patriarchy of those times; at some points one wonders, isn't this taking the principle of sacrifice too far? Isn't it equally important to have self-respect and fight for one's rights? After all, women have suffered for centuries because they allowed themselves to be subjugated. What victory can there be in bowing to injustice? These questions did plague me when Rama and his faithful retinue of Lakshman and Sita calmly proceeded to their exile of fourteen years. If indeed such events actually took place and God actually descended on this planet, I wonder why He can't pull a repeat performance now, when the world is mired in the destruction of nature and morality.

The other major issue I have with The Ramayana is the clear demarcation of people as good and evil. Humans are built in shades of grey and every one of is capable of exceeding greatness as well as unscrupulousness. This truth when fused into literature; makes for a believable and relatable story. In the Ramayana, people are either perfect to the point of giving up their own lives to honour another's word or promise; or so utterly evil that they would be unaffected by the death of their spouse. I can neither sympathise nor despise characters who are so clearly unreal. I understand that it is easier to deliver certain lessons when there is no doubt about which side to support but I think the Mahabharata paints a much more realistic picture of man's desires, failings and redemption. In fact, the portrayal of self-sacrificing and angelic individuals suffering at the hands of plotting, scheming demonic ones reminds me in an unsavoury way of today's soap operas that thrive on drama and tear-jerkers.

Nevertheless, my problems are with the story itself'; and not with the content of this particular book. As far as versions of the Ramayana go, this one scores really well and if you're looking to refresh your knowledge of this massive saga, go for it by all means. I don't think there is anyone who doesn't know at least the basic plot line of the Ramayana. It is after all more a part of the Indian ethos than a religious text or sermon. If you've always wanted someone to extract the wisdom out of the tale and present it in an easily consumable format, Shubha Vilas's Ramayana will certainly do the trick.