Book Review: Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished

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  A very impressive review of book-Asura by Riku Suraj, which I cant resist to post .

How to Define Dangerous Books

Sometimes the only force that can take you through to the end of a book this bad is the sweet thought of revenge: of how you are so going to maul the author in your review once the book is done and dusted.

This is a book that is so painfully badly written (500+ pages of tripe!) that ordinarily it should not merit much thought, but the fact that it tells a story that so many would want to hear, and might believe too easily, makes it dangerous nevertheless, and worth discrediting.

Also, the idea of giving voice to the victims, of inverting the historical bias of “history is written by the victors” is quite interesting. This was the reason I could not resist picking up the book.

The Tale Of The Vanquished: The story of the Ravanayana has never been told. Asura is the epic tale of the vanquished Asura people, a story that has been cherished by the oppressed castes of India for 3000 years. Until now, no Asura has dared to tell the tale. But perhaps the time has come for the dead and the defeated to speak.

Written through a distorted prism of historical victimization, this book is simplistic beyond imagination, is replete with misprisions, and makes no attempt either to capture the poetry of the original epic or show any sort of fidelity to its philosophy. Instead it mangles every aspect of it.

The author is clearly a Dravidian fanatic and tries every angle to work his fever-pitch hatred into the epic and its ‘historical atrocities’.

In effect, the author wants to fan the North-South Divide (the Aryan Vs Dravidian political flame) and the caste divide, and is extremely vitriolic in his language throughout. The hatred is obvious in every page.

The two main threads running through this atrocious and fanatical novel are:

1. Hate the North Indians, they brought all evils into society.

  1. Our only weakness is our lack of unity, let us band together, Brothers, we are the original rulers of India before these intruders came into our lands.

The basic thesis is this:

India was originally ruled by the Asura kings and Tamil was their language and it was high culture and complete equality and what not – a la Mahabali’s paradise – celebrated through the Onam festival of Kerala – the book assumes that fable to be the default condition of India. In a classic nostalgic narrative, this Mahabali’s India is evoked throughout as the Golden Age of India. According to the author, then the ‘Aryan Invaders’, a bunch of uncouth barbarians came and overthrew the Asura kings (all due to their own lack of unity) and established an uncultured primitive society throughout India. Yes, the barbarians not only won every war but they conquered the whole of the sub-continent – and this is in spite of the fact that the Asuras were so advanced in technology that they even had flying chariots (the Pushpaka Vimana) and stuff. Go figure.

Then the main narrative takes over – Ravana, an ambitious youth, rebuilds some semblance of the original glory of the Asura’s and eventually starts capturing back the mainland from his base off it in Sri Lanka. During one of his conquests, he fathers a girl child who was abandoned and then adopted by the king of Mithila – yep, Sita is Ravana’s daughter in this narrative – can’t have the good guy indulging in random abductions, can we?

Then Ravan watches with great sadness as Sita marries Rama later in life and decides one day that her life with Rama will never be really cool and abducts here – in her own best interests, mind you – because the Aryan society mistreats women and Ravana doesn’t want that for his daughter. So in keeping with the high moral principles of the Asuras, he kidnaps her and keeps her captive against her will – way to treat them equal, eh?

Rama launches an attack and as usual (but not before Lakshman disfigures and rapes Ravana’s sister, provoking the now pacifist Asura king), the lack of unity is the undoing of the Asuras – Ravana’s own brother plots to dethrone him.

Eventually Rama triumphs and then institutes the caste system, Sati system and every known evil – all dictated by the Brahmans. India degenerates into all sorts of chaos and loses her position as a moral force and a political force in the world. The dark ages descend and Rama was the initiator, Ravana was the last hope for the Tamils – the golden age was lost forever.

Now the funny thing is that the whole novel is written at a time when the whole Aryan Invasion theory has been thrown out of the window, more or less. It was part of the ‘divide & rule’ policy and this author wants to bring back those heydays of old. It is politically motivated twisting of facts. There is hardly any justification for the inventions that the author has indulged himself in.

Facts:

  1. Ravana’s father was Visravas – Ravana was an aryan himself in all likelihood. (+ He is known to have followed the Vedic rituals that are so derided in this book – and technically that was the criteria for Aryanhood, just as Vibhishan in this book does)

  2. Ravana was a North Indian himself too, before traveling down south and capturing the kingdom that belonged to Kubera (who is himself supposed to be Ravana’s brother – an earlier wave then?). So if anything, he must have been one branch of the Aryan Invasion that spread across India (as per that theory)

  3. Dark skin is not a characteristic of Non-Aryan, nor is white skin a characteristic of Aryan:

  • Rama was himself dark-skinned.

  • So was Krishna, later (and Arjuna, for good measure).

  • So was Vishnu himself, the supposed god of the ‘white-skinned’ Aryan race (btw, Shivites Vs Vishnavites is another virulent theme of this book – Vishnu worshipers are shown as the uncouth Aryan stock while Shiva worshippers are the Dravidian stock, according to the author.)

  1. Sita is Ravana’s daughter purely because she is dark-skinned? By that logic, Rama too could have been an Asura prince? What, if any, racial conflict is the Ramayana supposed to portray then?

  2. Plenty of Rakshasas were fair skinned and hence cannot be a simplistic racial characterization.

  3. Dravidians are not always dark-skinned – stereotypes are for idiots, surely?

  4. Recent genetic studies have shown the racial stocks to be hopelessly intermingled throughout India and gives no evidence of any distinct racial divide between North and the South.

  5. Except for the language, not much divides the so called Aryan and Dravidian culturally, genetically, religiously or historically. Even the linguistic divide shows the potential for being bridged as a common ancestor for proto-Tamil and Sanskrit is investigated.

  6. One more thing, the book boasts of being ‘Ravanayana.’ The name ‘Ramayana’ is formed from ‘Rama’ and ‘ayana’, translating to “Rama’s Journey,” not “Rama’s Story.” Shows the level of knowledge that was brought into this ‘rewriting’ of Ravana’s (and his people’s) story.

A Note to the Readers

Dear Readers, the author is clearly misguided and the book is clearly a fanatic’s attempt to rekindle old hatreds. Please do not take it literally. Take it as an inventive, if extremely badly written, exercise in reversing the so called historical bias of victors, and leave it at that. It merits no historical discussion, and is definitely of no political relevance.

This book is a blatant attempt to fan anti-brahminism, North-Indian hatred, and basically blame every ill of society on this ‘historical injustice’. It does have a call for caste-solidarity, but even that is not a noble call, considering that it is caste and not class that is being called to unite.

For me, the scary thing about this is that such sentiments are already high in many cities. So many North Indian friends of mine complain about the increasing xenophobia towards them in South India, even in metropolitan cities like Bangalore. Speaking in Hindi in Chennai is a sure fire way of being discriminated against. Similarly, the North Indian cities too are treating the South Indians in a derogatory manner and treating them as encroachers.

The stereotypes that are popular about ‘Tam-Brahms’, ‘Mallu accent’, ‘the gali-speaking Delhiite’, ‘chinkis’, ‘Yuck, South Indian idli-dosa??’, ‘the uncouth Bihari’ etc., are all manifestations of this. Not to mention the crudeness of delusional movies like Chennai Express: Ayyo, Rama, what’s aappening?

This mutual alienation is very dangerous and could easily be the cause for major riots in our densely packed cities. This sort of fanatical historical narratives only add fuel to this fire and should not be encouraged.

Instead of banning books that ‘offend’ religious and racial sentiments, we should be more careful of such works which provoke those sentiments and tries to convert them into blind hatred. Those are the dangerous ones.

Links:

Come south, young man, but here be dragons

The Great North-South debate rages

Labels and stereotypes – Do the roots of racism lie in the stereotypes we create?

Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines – would be a nice corrective (as a modern, opposing conspiracy theory, but perhaps closer to the mark).

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