Two things have changed since I read the first two installments of Shubha Vilas' Ramayana series. Firstly, I've realised that the author in question is a man - his name being Shubh(a) and not ShubhA as I'd previously thought; and secondly, my interest in the epic has peaked. The Ramayana has, for some reason, assumed an important place in my life and therefore, the author's request for a review was more than welcome. However, because my last review wasn't exactly kind, I was surprised when the author asked me for a second. As an author-in-the-making, one understands that it cannot be an easy task to place one's hard work at the altar of someone's opinion. But it is rather flattering as a critic because you know that your words are being taken seriously and objectively.
That said, my opinions haven't much changed since the last time. While I still admire the author's crisp manner of writing, I also still find his 'moral footnotes' unnecessary, and sometimes even mildly hilarious. I mean, how does one react to a line like this?
"Instead of tea, if one drinks a cup of responsibili-tea, the struggle to remain awake would be a happy one."
With an #smh, right? A little condescending laughter, maybe? Or just plain wonder at how Jaico's editors let these things pass?
But then that's the author's USP. Perhaps there will be some readers who will appreciate this 'humour' (if that's what it is supposed to be), and his tendency to preach. Sometimes, there are pages where he explains the significance of certain actions of certain characters. Some of the reasons cited seem plausible; while some others seem quite preposterous. Then again, there's no contesting interpretations in mythology/religion and it is best left to the discretion of his readers.
I, for one, ignore these explanatory sections and footnotes and read the book as one would a simple rendition of the Ramayana in prose. For those who are familiar with the epic, it helps jog one's memory pertaining to its various myths and sub-plots; and for those who are reading the Ramayana for the first time, it is a great 'starter pack'. It is a true version of the epic with no fictionalisation, as many current authors are wont to do. Don't let that strange cover illustration of what looks like Rama attacking for Jatayu mislead you.