Thursday, 13 May 2010

Who's story is it anyway? Review: Hanuman's Ramayan

Ever since I began following Tulika and its works the one thought that kept propping itself up constantly was why did we as children not have access to such a variety of books to enjoy. I do admit that there were a few candidates that did a neat job of entertaining us at the time, but the variety was limited. Moreover, what ever we did read was very orthodox and subject to conformity. And it was the very absence of these two facets that impressed me most about Devdutt Pattanaik’s Hanuman’s Ramayan.

Out of the box- that’s what I thought of the narrative. That is because the book is a part of Tulika’s “Our Myth” series which claims to draw upon timeless stories from popular and marginal sources to gently question stereotypes and rigid notions. The series aims to carry forward the spirit of oral story telling and show how myths change and still endure, as the excerpt at the back of the book will tell you. A brilliant initiative, I say.

The story, the illustration – the entire presentation was not what I am used to seeing in a traditional children’s book. And that’s what sold Hanuman’s Ramayan to me, almost. I will explain the ambiguity in the previous statement a little later in the entry. What I would also like to add is that this review is purely from the point of an adult who has no access to perspective of the kids.


For starters I would like to mention the great work designer and illustrator Nancy Raj has executed with Hanuman’s Ramayan. The Madhubani art illustrations on the cover and within the book are quirky, interesting and colourful with the art work complimenting the text wonderfully. Kudos to the publishers for getting the entire package just right. Not too gray with text and the right amount of colour on the pages.

Now for the story. Unlike the impression that the title gives, the book is not about Hanuman’s version of the Ramayana. That concept serves only as a catalyst. The story is about what ensues when Valamiki is apprised of the fact that there lies another Ramayana that is superior to his newly finished epic.

The following pages follow Valmiki’s journey to puruse the work of a story teller who is in fact a mere character in his own literary genius. Once in Hanuman’s lair, Valmiki chances upon the monkey king’s narrative written the foliage of his natural habitat. As he reads the Ramayana, the ancient sage’s curiosity and jealousy are quickly doused as he sheds tears of pure joy. But there is another reason why he cries, as he admits to Hanuman. But I will not spoil the climax for you as therein lies the ultimate message of the story.

The narrative was interesting, humorous, colourful and easy to follow. The drama in the words and setting will keep the reader turning pages eagerly. I can imagine the young tykes pausing every once in a while to ask questions; the answers to which lie in the next page by the way.

I loved the fact that story went beyond the basics of right and wrong, good triumphing over evil, which was the wont of books I remember reading as a child. While those have their own place even in this time and age, the current book under review introduces to the young audiences to the value of doing something honourable without seeking a reward. And of course introduce them to the fact that there is not just one version of the beloved Ramayana or in my opinion of any narrative.

There is a complexity in the message that forces the reader to think. It chooses not to be pedantic, and talks of a higher meaning. As an adult, I can appreciate the message but would a young audience be able do so, I was not so sure. However, having read the sstoryteller's review here, I guess that point is moot. The one hiccup that the book had was the sign off. Personally I would have liked the story to end at the point where hanuman makes his explanation. The final commentary was not necessary and oversimplifies what would have been a perfect book.

This small anomaly apart, the book is one Tulika should be proud to have in its collection, as should the young readers and their parents.


Latin Sardar said...

Interesting... Will pick it up soon..

ssstoryteller said...

i like your perspective
and agree that the conclusion was in fact contradictory to the content of the story
very nicely written

March Hare said...

Thank you!
@ssstoryteller: Really enjoyed reading your review as well. looking fwd to more of ur posts!

Tulika Publishers said...

Wow. Great to read a review written with nuance and passion:) You and the ssstoryteller have been unanimous in telling us the 'conclusion is contradictory to the content' in this book...

March Hare said...

Thank you! Glad u liked it. The observation about the conclusion apart, I really enjoyed reading the book and like I said I wish I could have grown up reading ur books! But it is never too late!

Multisubj Yb TruthSeeker said...

Are you afraid of comments?