Like most of us, I was introduced to Ram and Sita in my childhood by the most reliable source-my Grandmother.For those who know the Ramayana, The Scion of Ikshvaku is something of a shocker. But for anyone who is familiar with Amish’s previous works, the book meets all expectations; for Amish weaves better webs than a spider.
The characters are familiar since they are taken from Indian mythology but this is as far as the resemblance goes. The story is completely fictitious and only takes a base from the real story.Amish’s effort to chisel out a fictitious mythology from the real one falls flat on the face.
For example, King Dashrath is shown as a man who attacks his enemy just to satisfy his ego and pride. He ignores his son Ram during the early years since he blames his defeat in the battle on his first born son .As the story proceeds, Dashrath turns a full circle when he realizes that he will be remembered throughout history as the father of the next Vishnu- A truly selfish man indeed.
At the beginning of the book, for some strange reason, the wealthy trader Kuber rubs shoulders with Dashrath to cut some cost in trades, thereby reducing a portion of the commission that King Dashrath believed was rightfully his.I thought it was a little far fetched that a king has to live on commissions. In any case, during the following meeting, Dashrath locks horns with Raavan and the unsuccessful meeting ends with Dashrath yelling for blood. He gets ready to get into war to teach Kuber a lesson; despite his dwindling resources that have been drying out and the treasury has no money either. The rest of the chapter is Dashrath screaming his head off to Kaikeyi while she feeds him Rotis.
In the next scene, after great consideration Dashrath has his forces take up a battle formation but Raavan’s army have drawn their war tactic from the movie Braveheart,so, they have a trick up their sleeve. They secretly have brought huge spears, which are laid hidden on the ground. Thus, when Dashrath’s army charges,they run into a pike wall that kills the horses and shatters their charge. To add to this, they’re on a beach and surrounded by ships and a fort, which house expert archers who shoot arrows left, right and center. Eventually Dashrath gets stabbed and falls, and suddenly Kaikeyi decides that it’s up to her to save her husband and charges into the battlefield to retrieve her husband. She gets pretty pissed on the way too and swears at the Sun God like it’s his fault “Damn you, Lord Surya!”
The absurdity doesn’t stop there; according to the royal astrologer, a baby born before noon would be remembered as the greatest king in history, but if the baby is born after noon, it would suffer a great personal misfortune. As a matter of convenience, Ram is born exactly at midday! When the doctor confirms it with the astrologer, I almost expected her to pull out a digital watch with calibrated time sensors to show him the stopwatch. Thankfully daylight saving wasn’t conceptualized back then or it would have been a bigger mess.
The main plot of Scion of Ikshvaku revolves around the point to see whether Ram is worthy of becoming the crown prince of Ayodhya . Ram is exhibited as an ordinary prince-in-waiting who is hell bent on following rules. Lakshman is a warm fellow. Bharat is more practical-a playboy, a true friend and a good brother. I didn’t see much about Shatrugnan, except that he is studious and is always immersed in his books. Being potential crown princes, the brothers start discussing politics in their early teenage. Ram unwaveringly sticks to the laws. Frankly I was a bit fascinated by the portrayal of historical masculine and feminine society of their ancestors. Did he mean the patriarchal and matriarchal societies that exist today?
Meanwhile Bharat is on a dating spree. Perhaps girls grow on trees considering he mysteriously finds plenty of girls in the jungle. And when he is not fooling around with the tribal girls, he has some strong opinions about how to run a kingdom. Ram however, doesn’t seem to be too concerned about Lakshman’s loud whispering or the constant conspiracy theories. Also, Lakshman seemed to have a secret connection to Kolkata considering he was constantly addressing his brother as dada. Ram, however, is more concerned about aerodynamics of the arrow and is usually making some vital adjustments to his annoyingly interfering angavastram, which only the frequent saree wearing ladies of India can relate to.Since the holy men in Ayodhya wore blue robes, I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was an Ayodhyan Pope loitering about too.
Even though the overall scheme of events and the plot follows the original Ramayana, the author gets mixed up at times, like Sita’s swayamvar that sticks out like a sore thumb.
Swayamvar in ancient India was a practice where the woman could choose a husband from among a list of suitors by evaluating their skills through competitions like debates or warfare. The swayamvar from the Mahabharata is possibly the most popular, when Arjuna competes to win Draupadi’s hand. Almost everyone must have heard of the archery contest and the prize-the hand of the beautiful princess Draupadi in marriage. The challenge was to shoot the eye of the moving idol of fish fixated on a turntable mounted on the ceiling, while looking at its reflection in a vessel of rippling water on the ground.
Instead, here we suddenly have Prince Ram Chandra of Ayodhya shooting arrows at the fish trying to win the hand of the princess of Mithila, Sita. Imagine my surprise at the blatant mix up of the scenes. For a moment I thought I was possibly confused, but then how could I be? I am named after the Pandava prince Arjuna-the invincible archer. Dear Amish, the Ramayana and Mahabharata are two different epics altogether!
In some chapters, I was appalled when I came upon the parts where he has taken extreme liberties. One such is Manthara being depicted as a wealthy business woman of Ayodhya instead of the poor handmaiden. According to our mythology, Kaikeyi banishes Ram to make way for her son Bharath to become the crown prince, while Manthara poisons her ears against Ram. But in this book, the exile is self-imposed and Ram adamantly banishes himself against everyone’s wishes for using mustard gas on Raavan’s troops. He must have perhaps secretly planned an extended honeymoon in some jungle resort with his newly wedded wife.
We all know Sita is a strong character, but Amish stretches it by appointing her the prime minister of Mithila. Sita’s introduction is quite unsettling too .She is shown facing an angry mob for saving a boy- thief. The mob attacks her and she fights a few of them without breaking a sweat. I wonder, which kingdom will have subjects that would dare to attack the Prime Minister, just to punish a petty thief.
Another such incident is Manthara’s daughter and Ram’s sworn sister Roshni being gang raped by a group whose leader was a juvenile. The law did not allow the death sentence for him. Perhaps Amish didn’t expect the readers to find the glaring similarity between Nirbhaya rape case of Delhi and a fellow being acquitted because he was minor.
Yet again, “Pushpak Viman” is a mythological flying chariot but here this flying ship had helicopter rotors! The story took place in an era when there were certainly no helicopters. As far as I know and have read, the “Pushpak Viman” was a chariot and had small wing-like contraptions on its side. It was said to resemble the body of peacock and said to have traveled faster than any other chariot and hence termed as flying! The technology of Pushpak Viman is said to have been way ahead of those days. It would still have been acceptable to portray it as a hot air balloon, but comparing it to a helicopter is outrageous.
Again there are some glaring differences. As per Hindu mythology, Jatayu, is the nephew of Garuda-the Eagle.All scriptures say that Garuda happens to be the greatest enemy of the Nagas. But here Jatayu is a Naga himself and so is Hanuman .The Nagas here are described as a feared race of deformed mutant humanoids with astonishing martial skills. These Nagas are mutant-human entities who are perpetually either too happy blindly serving the humans, or destroying them outright.
When you set a story in a certain period, you are obligated to stay true to that period. “Police” was coined around the 15th century, yet he goes on doodling about the police force of Mithila. If you thought this was bad enough, it gets worse. There are terms like courtrooms, judges, scientific experiments, glass and metal, diplomatic offices, and biological warfare! The wheel was only invented in 3500 BC and you are already on to biological warfare in 7300 BC ! At this rate I expected Ram to bring in the U.S Peace Corps and Coalition forces along.
At some places I felt the author’s imagination was going over board. Instances when the subcontinent is called ‘India’ are too modern, especially during 3400 BC. There are references to the Big bang theory, split atoms and the Ice age .The language is so contemporary that it becomes jarring at various places with the choice of words like” pay the bills”; Bharat says “what the hell”, Lakshman says “the law is an ass”. Guru Vashishta says “I love my India”, as for the icing on the cake – maybe Ram practiced fencing with the three musketeers in the gurukul; since he often uses the French term “Touché”.
If I wasn’t confused enough, the people of Ayodhya were equally confused too. First they hate Ram because the King hates his own first-born since he considers the boy an ill omen and blames him for the defeat in the battle against Raavan. Next thing you know the King loves Ram for saving his life in a singular hunting expedition. So suddenly the people of Ayodhya love him too. Again to add to the confusion, when it’s time to choose a crown prince, Dhasharath is still confused. So he ends up making Ram the commander of the police force of Ayodhya; And Bharat, the external affairs minister; possibly because he is good at having affairs since his Gurukul days.
In conclusion, the book does not have any great literary merit, although there is a considerable improvement from the shocking language of the Shiva trilogy. Amish’s writing has definitely improved if compared to his previous works but still his world building skills need more work. But despite, these issues, I have to mention that the learning of Ram while in Gurukul are impressive and noteworthy. The Scion of Ikshvaku begins and ends with Sita’s abduction, just like a snake with its tail in its mouth. After I read the book my reaction was exactly how all Indians react to annoyance- slap the forehead with the palm and exclaim “Hey Ram!”