Tomorrow is my funeral. I do not know if they will bury me like a mangy dog or whether I will get a funeral fit for an emperor — an erstwhile emperor. But it does not really matter. I can hear the scuffing sounds made by the jackals. They are busy eating my friends and family...”
This is the first-person viewpoint of the most unlikely hero of the Ramayana — Ravana, and taken from Anand Neelakantan’s novel, Asura – Tale of the Vanquished (The Story of Ravana and his people). Perhaps, for the first time, an English-language novel has been written from Ravana’s point of view.
“I was drawn to Ravana, the anti-hero, as well as his people, the Asuras,” says Anand. He grew up in the culturally rich town of Tripunithara, off Kochi. “The Ramayana has been a part of my growing up,” he adds.
Since Anand belonged to a Brahmin family, it was not surprising that they regarded Lord Rama as the god, and Ravana as evil. “But once I started travelling, I got exposed to other versions of the epic,” says Anand, a manager with an oil firm and is currently stationed at Belgaum, Karnataka.
In the Ramayana espoused by tribals and in folktales, Rama and Ravana are given equal importance. “Ravana is considered the fallen hero rather than an outright villain,” says Anand. As Anand came across so many different narratives, a desire arose in him to write a ‘humanised’ version of Ravana. “I did quite a bit of research,” he says. “But, overall, I depended on my imagination.”
So, he would get up every morning and write for one hour. On Sundays, he would do revisions. He created a new character — Bhadra, a commonplace Asura.
Bhadra starts his journey from Muzuris in Kerala (modern-day Kodungaloor). At that time, Muzuris was the capital of the Asura empire ruled by Mahabali. When the empire falls to the Devas, a lot of people, including Bhadra, lose their families. He vows revenge, and meets Ravana, who is a half-caste. His father is a Brahmin, while his mother is an Asura woman. “Ravana promises a new world for the Asuras, and a return to their glory days,” says Anand. “Many Asuras believe in Ravana and follow him.”
Soon, Ravana succeeds in having an empire stretching from Sri Lanka to the foothills of the Himalayas. But Bhadra finds that nothing much has changed in the lives of the common man. Anand adds, “He is a megalomaniac dictator. Ravana means well, but his ego is huge. He is materialistic.”
He found a publisher after a lot of difficulty. In his novel, Anand tries to show the contrast between Rama and Ravana. “Both are heroes, but Rama is controlled by the traditions and conventions and Ravana is somebody who totally breaks away and gets demonised,” he concludes.