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Reading Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok Banker. I had already formed a very bad opinion about the book after reading a couple of pages at Odyssey quite sometime ago; and the Terrible Attitude of the writer towards negative reviewers – contentedbloke‘s Amazon review, to be precise. But curiousity got the better of me, and so…

What IS this guy trying to do? He seems to be rewriting the Ramayana as a fantasy novel, terrible plot twists and Dark Lords and Joseph Campbell fundaes intact. Which is not a bad thing at all, we have had enough of watered-down grandmother’s tales – and I cannot think of any English version of the Ramayana which is long enough – there have always been bits and stories chopped away,unlike the Mahabharata, which has the Kishori Mohan Ganguli version as the definitive retelling.

It would have been a good thing, except for the fact that Mr Ashok K Banker is what one might indelicately describe as a hack. One might also call him a Tolkien-wannabe, but that would be a serious insult to Tolkien. He’s at best a Robert Jordan-wannabe, and let me tell you, I don’t like Robert Jordan at all. I think Robert Jordan is a Tolkien-wannabe, and at times a Robert E Howard-wannabe, like when he is writing Conan The Barbarian fan-fiction ( It’s of course a tragedy of sorts that people like Robert Jordan manage to get their fan-fiction published, and then go on making a career out of even more badly written fan-fiction).

Oh my gosh, the language. At the beginning of the book, Ashok K Banker says – “I simply used the way I speak, an amalgam of English-Hindi-Urdu-Sanskrit, and various terms from Indian languages. I deliberately used anachronisms like the term ‘abs’ or ‘morph’ because these were how I referred to these events.” This unique methodology yields sentences like this: “The red-beaded rudraksh mala around his neck , all marked him for a hermit returning from a long, hard tapasya. His gaunt face and deep-set eyes completed the portrait of a forest penitent, a tapasvi sadhu.” One line that makes sense to me because I am from India and know Hindi. But a fantasy reader picking up the book? “rudraksh”, “mala”, “tapasya” in one line, “tapasvi” and “sadhu” in the next – anyone would give up in disgust. I am disgusted becauuse the words don’t gel together at all, in either language.

Some more samples: “It was familiar with creatures that changed their bhes-bhav at will.” “In the bright light of the purnima moon, he could see the helmeted heads and speartips of the night watch patrolling the south grounds, moving in perfect unison in the regular rhythmic four-count pattern of a normal chowkidari sweep.” I mean, come on!!! “Purnima moon”??? What’s wrong with saying “full moon”? Does it make the full moon less exotic to be called “full” rather than “purnima”? Besides, the English equivalent is not “purnima”, it’s “poornima”, which tells me that Ashok K Banker’s Hindi is as seriously fucked-up as his English.

The dialogue – oh, boy oh boy, it’s that perfect B-movie screenplay that will never be made. Probably if you translate the lines spoken by the protagonists word for word into Hindi, you will get the same pompous mish-mash that’s the staple in our hallowed Ramanand Sagar-sir’s serials. For instance –

“It looked like a giant vulture. That round head, long hooked beak, that hunched back. But there was something odd about the body. It was broader than a bird, differently shaped, almost like a -”

“A man? A giant man-vulture, is that what it looked like, young novice?”
Young novice. George Lucas can get away with “You’ve done well, Young Padawan” in every other line, and that makes Mr Ashok K Banker feel he can too. Well, George Lucas is a multimillionaire, and he can get his characters to say whatever he pleases. You, on the other hand, young Ashok K Banker, have a lot to learn. Young novice. Humph.

Mr Ashok K Banker also says, at the beginning: “I based every section, very scene, every character’s dialogues and acctions on the previous Ramayanas, be it Valmiki, Kamban, Tulsidas, or Vyasa, and even the various Puranas.” In the first chapter, he has Rama do things like scan his bedchamber “with the sharpness of a panther with the scent of stag in its nostrils”, and carry a yard and a half of Kosala steel in his hand and do acrobatic martial asanas, while breathing in the pranayam style (whatever that means) while the Dark Lord Ravana sends him subliminal messages saying things like – “You will watch your birth-mother savaged beyond recognition, your clan-mothers and sisters impregnated by my rakshasas, your father and brothers eaten while still alive etc etc blah blah blah, oh, and yeah, the samay chakra, your sacred wheel of time, will repeat the cycle of birth and suffering infinitely.”

Wow. That’s all I can say. The last time I heard lines like this was while watching this film called Rudraksh. I wonder which version of the Ramayana that scene was based on.

Oh, great, now they have started talking about the Last Great Asura War. I am going to give this book thirty minutes more of my time, and then bid this fanfic writer a nighty-night.

Afterword: The stuff above was written last night. I read for about 15 more minutes, and gave up. Watched Stephen Chow’s Fight Back To School 2, a nice comedy that washed away the dregs of frustration brought about by PoA. I think these US publishers are really smart people – they have refused to release the subsequent books in the series until Banker cleans up his act (i.e his writing), and he refused. A vriddha dog can hardly learn new tricks, after all.

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52 thoughts on “

        • I would really like to see variants of Rakshasas this way, asuras with wings and riding fierce creatures. All these imagery of rakshasas on chariots and horses is a by-product of Amar Chitra Katha/Ramanand Sagar.

          • Really? How about a Ghatochghatch(I think it is arguable that the name has no established spelling) turning into a dragon-faced(and winged like those dinos in Jurrasic park) red-eyed flame-breathing humongous monster tearing up the ground with his huge tail, flying low and roasting the enemy instantaeneously? Does that excite you too?

            • AFAIK, Ghatotkacha (not Ghatochghatch, there exists no character with that name) was Bheema and Hidimba’s son in the Mahabharata, and *not* a character in the Ramayana.

              I think it is arguable that the name has no established spelling

              It does, by my definition of “established”, which is seeing the same version of the name in one or more of the Big Books – the Rajagopalachari version, KM Ganguli, Kamala Subramaniam, and even the ACK books use “Ghatotkacha” as the established spelling.

              Now about Ghatotkacha turning into, as you say it, a dragon-faced flame-breathing monster – that’s quite acceptable, and understandable. Rakshasas were supposed to be masters of illusion and would employ a great deal of tricks to frighten their enemies.

              As this passage from the KM Ganguly version of the Mahabharata illustrates:

              Becoming fire and ocean, and, once more, Garuda and Takshaka, and once again, a cloud and a tempest, and then thunder and a large mountain, and once again, an elephant and then Rahu and the sun, they thus displayed a hundred different kinds of illusion, solicitous of destroying each other. Indeed, Alamvusha and Ghatotkacha fought most wonderfully, striking each other with spiked clubs and maces and lances and mallets and axes and short clubs and mountain-cliffs. Riding on horseback or on elephants, on foot or on car, those foremost of Rakshasas, both endued with large powers of illusion, fought with each other in battle.

              winged like those dinos in Jurrasic park

              I really didn’t figure out what you meant until I thought of Jurassic Park 3, where they show Pterodactyls which are the only dinosaurs with wings – I understand that you’re trying to point out that Ghatotkacha takes on the appearance of a flying dragon – what exactly is the problem with that?

            • Mahabharata, and *not* a character in the Ramayana.
              When did I say I was discussing the Ramayana? Gaahh!! Even I know that!!
              Rakshasas were supposed to be masters of illusion and would employ a great deal of tricks to frighten their enemies.
              So if he did any actual damage as the dragon it would be unfaithful to the original, eh? *disappointed*
              I understand that you’re trying to point out that Ghatotkacha takes on the appearance of a flying dragon – what exactly is the problem with that?
              Huh? I don’t have any problem with that. I quite like the idea actually.

        • For me, a cartoon is a cartoon. :)

          I *am* glad that Disney didn’t get hold of it. They would have treated lot of aspects with such irreverence that the story would have been unrecognisable…

    • Personally, I think a Disney version would not be too bad. They massacre the story, true, but the final product is pretty classy. Though I would hate to see the characters speak American English…

  1. I actually finished thw whole book. I gave up during the first few chapters of the second one, Siege of Mithila. Ugh.
    Sampling:

    And yet, before long, you will beg me to lay my hands on you and give you the gift of my seed. It is our fate, my sweet one. It is our karma. (Thus spoke Ravana to Sita)

    The third one is out too, but I’m gonna save my money.

    • no

      No way man, that wasn’t really there!!
      What really freaks me about these new-gen nincompoops is that one writes the book and another gets a brilliant idea to make a movie, and forever after that, I’ll have to bear with know-it-all New Yorkers who go, “But Ram DID say to Sita, ‘you will beg me to lay my hands on you and give you the gift of my seed’. Your Gods are so…sexed-up man!”

      • Thanks. :)

        Once I accepted the fact that Banker either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the original, it didn’t annoy me as much. Besides I am crazy. Crazy enough to buy the other two books too….

    • That’s a nice review! And I wish the Banker had seriously read the Thomas Covenant novels and Feist’s trilogies before attempting to write this novel. Even a cheap ripoff would have been much superior.

      • Thanks. :)

        And yes, his books would have been less painful had he exhibited even a hundredth of the talent possessed by Donaldson and Feist.

        Ooh! I have the first book of the last chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and yes, I’m bragging. ;)

        • I saw the book too – both in India and the US. But I don’t think I can read Book 1 and wait for three years for the next two to be released. What I’m experiencing with George Martin’s Fire and Ice series (waiting for two years for his fourth book to be released), I don’t want to undergo again. :)

          • Heh. I would have shot Martin for the delay, but that would delay the rest of the books forever… :)

            But I don’t really have the patience to wait for the other books before I read this one. So I’ll be restless and annoyed for a week or so, but then I’ll re-read the entire series when the last book comes out. :)

  2. :))

    This is the second time I am reading about Ashok Banker today. This being the first.

    –Now this article which I’ve linked is just not worth anybody’s time, it’s extremely lousy.

    • Personally, I think out of those 31 reviews on Amazon, at least 15 of the positive ones are by Banker’s own people/acquaintances/friends. The way he responded to ContentedBloke’s review – which brought the book’s rating down to 2.5 stars – and was followed by glowing reviews giving the book 5 stars each was despicable, to say the least.

      And there are those morons (NRIs, in all likelihood) who start an anti-American tirade in their reviews of this book just because the US editions of the subsequent books in the series are not being printed. As if it takes away the fact that it’s a lousy read. Bah!

  3. Yup, Mr. Banker writes the worst fantasy ever. And he’s worse than even Jordan, who is really pathetic. I managed the first book of the WoT, then gave up halfway through the second. Never looked back after that. Now, if you like some real dark fantasy, I’ve got the perfect book for you. Check this out. Tell me if you’re interested, and I’ll send it to you. That ought to help you recover from reading about the giant man-vultures :)

  4. This unique methodology yields sentences like this: “The red-beaded rudraksh mala around his neck , all marked him for a hermit returning from a long, hard tapasya. His gaunt face and deep-set eyes completed the portrait of a forest penitent, a tapasvi sadhu.” One line that makes sense to me because I am from India and know Hindi.

    Come, on! Half of fantasy books are full of strange words. Tolkien of Sindarin and Gnomish and Quenya and ….

    Good Review, bad point.

    • Tolkien is full of strange words, agreed. But he generally does not bring words up in a standard English sentence. He either quotes full lines or brings words/names from other languages into the conversation WITH EXPLANATIONS. This book, on the other hand, does not even have a glossary.

      A good analogy would be this – Prince of Ayodhya is like A Clockwork Orange minus the good bits and without a glossary. There. Happy?

  5. Oh, good. I was tempted to buy it when I saw it in a bookstore in Chennai yesterday.

    Actually, I was tempted to buy the whole trilogy. Thanks a lot!

      • Re: huh?

        i want dead man walking score. this does not score.

        just read the “review war” at amazon. ashok banker seems to have the longest email signature ever. i first thought he was posting it as a case in point thingy, but then it noticed that it appeared with both his mails.

        here goes:

        Best wishes

        Ashok K. Banker
        Princely praise for Ashok K. Banker’s
        PRINCE OF AYODHYA: BOOK ONE OF THE RAMAYANA
        “Magnificent…tremendous…a milestone” India Today
        “Vivid, unforgettable images” The Telegraph
        “How well Banker tells his tale!” Indian Express
        “Banker has beaten the rest” The Statesman
        “A ripping good yarn” Publisher’s Weekly
        “Jeweled prose, lush descriptions” Library Journal
        “A marvellous landscape of princes, demons, mages, and lovers” Kate Elliott
        “Entertaining and illuminating” SciFi.com
        “A thundering good story” Dave Duncan
        “A refreshing change from generic fantasyland” Starburst
        “Wow!” The Alien Online
        “As welcome as a lush oasis in a desert” Sword’s Edge
        “Extravagantly, grippingly, wholly appealing” BSFA Journal
        “An intelligent revival, rarely seen in fantasy literature” Dreamwatch
        “Stunning, impressive, entertaining Indian myth” Enigma
        “Huge in concept” John Jarrold, SFX
        “Highly recommended” SfBookcase.com
        “Wonderful, almost Matrix-like, highly entertaining” SFCrowsnest
        “Fast-paced and impressive” Kitabkhana
        “Enthralling” Harriet Klausner, Book Magazine’s No.1 reviewer
        “Highly recommended” Paul Goat Allen, B&N.com
        “As globally relevant as Gilgamesh, Cuchullain and Beowulf” Historical Novels Review
        “Excellent” Bookloons.com
        “Feel the arrows zing past” Curledup.com
        “What a debut” Polaris
        “A magnificently rendered labour of love” Outlook
        “Banker’s creation will become a classic” January Magazine
        Barnes&Noble.com’s main SFF selection for August 2003
        Locus Notable Book for September 2003
        Crossword Bestseller September 2003
        *****
        Readers are raving over Ashok K. Banker’s
        PRINCE OF AYODHYA: BOOK ONE OF THE RAMAYANA
        “More promising than Rowling’s Harry Potter series” H.R. Bapu Satyanarayana, Mysore, India
        “I tore through your book…the night before my chemistry exam” Romit Bhattacharya, Irvington, NY, USA
        “For fans of epic myths, a must read, wonderfully complex” A reader from Slough, Berkshire, UK
        “I couldnt stop reading it and would recommend it to anyone” Aarti from Cardiff, Wales, UK
        “I loved this book. I can’t wait for the next part.” Ruth Griffiths from Carlisle, Cumbria, UK
        “I thanked Mr. Banker silently for introducing me to something new, something that excited and amazed me.” Fraser Ronald, USA
        “I read entranced through the night. I await Banker’s sequels and I thank him for giving the Ramayana back to me.” Renuka Narayanan,India
        “I found the exchanges between the characters just as riveting as the battle scenes.” Renee, Ontario, Canada
        “A great and simple adaptation. It’s a very well written story.” Donald S. Buckland, New York.
        “I loved this book! It was hard to put down. I highly recommend Prince of Ayodhya.” Kristin from Minnesota
        “Bravo Mr. Banker, I can hardly wait for the next installment” Scott Masterton, Blaine, Minnesota
        “This is storytelling at its best, you have truly done something remarkable.” Gautam Chikermane, New Delhi

        i think we should start a long mail chain with him, stick to bottom posting and keep history. sounds fun!

        btw, was this one of the books you were about to pick up from crossword before miss marple caught you red-handed?

    • oddly enough i liked it. now i can’t say i know much abt the original ramayana-as in other than the basic story. or that i’m a great one for points–i wouldn’t know that mujras were performed only in the slave dynasty. but i know what i like–i read the book –and while so many people didn’t like it—i notice they felt it was irreverent and derived from other books–i hadn’t read those fantasy series–so for me it was quite a nice experiance. well guess i’m the odd one out.

  6. Hehe

    Been catching up on lj action over the last week, when your post caught my eye.

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud with this:

    >One might also call him a Tolkien-wannabe, but that would be a serious insult to Tolkien. He’s at best a Robert Jordan-wannabe

    A harsh indictment indeed! ;) You know, I once did a short SF&F quiz on the stuff that Robber Jordan stole from various people. It was quite revealing, even when I avoided questions on JRRT and the more obvious sources.

    >Ashok K Banker is a wanker.

    Ah, but that means his Ramayana is a seminal work. [sorry: can’t resist randomly applying that one ever since I heard it]

    • Re: Hehe

      Dan Brown and Ashok Wanker should spend time reading their books to each other. On a deserted island. With no food or water. But I have a feeling they’ll kill each other before they die of starvation.

      • Re: Hehe

        >Dan Brown and Ashok Wanker should spend time reading their books to each other. On a deserted island. With no food or water. But I have a feeling they’ll kill each other before they die of starvation.

        With the shade of Ayn Rand to adjudicate. Mmmmm….

        I don’t hate all three enough to wish for their death[or exorcism, as the case may be]; dementia followed by drooling idiocy will do just fine. But wait….they already….oh, never mind.

        QoTD: Mr. Brown? That sounds too much like Mr. Shit.
        Tarantino owns.

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