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.