Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Ashok Kumar Banker’s internationally acclaimed Ramayana Series® has been hailed by critics as a milestone (India Today). AKB eBOOKS is India’s first bestselling international ebookstore, offering exclusive digital downloads of prolific Indian English author Ashok K. Banker’s. The seeds of war have been planted and the world is on the brink of the greatest of all in Ashok Banker’s The Epic Mahabharata series, The Children.
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First, he reworked The Ramayana into a modern, rip-roaring series rife with romance, adventure and passion.
In between, he has been working on Krishna’s story as well in the Krishna Corialis series: In an interview with ibnlive. Given the amount of original treatment you have mahabharatw to your modern versions of the epics, do you think they could be called completely original novels?
And, in the process, compete for awards that are usually limited to fiction?
This is a question that’s best answered by others rather than by me. But I’ll bakner to put it in perspective as best as I can: We often forget that Valmiki, Vyasa, Tulsidas and other great poets bahker epicists of the pasts didn’t claim to have created the sagas or epics. They claimed only to asuok narrating them in mahabhrata own words, based on their knowledge and observations of the events.
In the majority of the narrative, there was no personal observation or fact-checking done – eg. Valmiki was not present at most of the events he described in mahabharatw Ramayana retelling, and Tulsidas and Kamban were definitely not present at any of them since their retellings were written several millennia later. Even Vyasa never claimed to have witnessed every event – especially those that occurred long before his own birth.
So our entire record of itihasa is a record of retellings, passed down from generation to generation. Yet today when we look back and refer to Valmiki Ramayana, it is regarded as ‘the’ Ramayana. The fact that Valmiki freely admitted within the epic itself to having invented entire portions out of his own imagination – with Brahma’s approval and encouragement – doesn’t daunt us in the least.
After all, even itihasa has to be first written by someone. We have to take someone’s word for what happened.
In conversation with author Ashok Banker – News18
So everything we read is a version, a retelling, a subjective point of view of how those events might have occurred. There is no absolute objective ‘truth’ in literature. Even non-fiction doesn’t claim to be truth, merely ‘non’ fiction. Every reteller, from Valmiki to Vyasa to Tulsidas to Kamban, has brought their own sensibility, milieu, cultural outlook, personal worldview, sense of morality, individualism, to bear on their retelling. If you compare the four versions of Ramayana written by these four writers: Valmiki, Vyasa who includes an overview of the Ramayana twice in his MahabharataTulsidas and Kamban, you will find four very different versions of the same story.
Naturally, since Tulsidas and Kamban based their versions on Valmiki, there are strong similarities. But what if another contemporary of Valmiki had written the same story from another point of view? What if a Sri Lankan poet had written it from the rakshasa point of view? What if Sita had written her Sitayana?
In Malaysia, they have a completely different version of the Ramayana from our own. In Thailand, the kings still claim lineage from Rama himself and include the name Rama in their full birth names.
Bookblah: Vyasa Ashok Banker’s Mahabharata
So there are as many Ramayanas as there are people who live to read and retell it. My retelling merely happens to be the most recent, and now, thanks to the success of the books, the most popular English-language retelling of the epic. In time, there could be infinite numbers of other retellings, far better than my own. I would love to read a Sitayana – I have often thought of writing one myself, as a television series if not a book.
I have tried to include the Lankan rakshasa point of view in my own Ramayana to some extent – although I had to make basic choices to avoid confusing the reader with too much variation. I believe there have been any number of other adaptations that people say are bannker directly inspired by my Ramayana retelling or indirectly axhok by my success. In my opinion, what I mean to say is that my retellings are only pathfinders and road-breakers.
Eventually, they are bound to be superceded and outdone, over and over again. There will be as many retellings as there are people willing to tell them. But all these retellings are ultimately only children of the main story itself.
We are all just singers singing our own versions of a great timeless song. I don’t believe we individually matter. I don’t matter as an author. My retelling might as well awhok published without my name on it. I am irrelevant to these books. Having written them, I disappear into the footnotes of history. The Ramayana lives on, and will live on forever.
That is how it should be. So to finally answer your question: No, I don’t consider my Ramayana retellings to be completely original novels. I don’t believe they should mmahabharata given any awards for writing. I believe that in an ideal world they should simply asok published as part of a great Indian cultural tradition. Just as we watch a Ram Leela and see the characters being played – Rama, Sita, Lakshman, Ravana, Hanuman, etc – not the actors wearing the masks, so mahabharwta we retellers must remain behind the mask of culture, letting the greater mahabhaeata be seen and heard, not our own individual selves.
This is not about me. It is about you, about us, about all of us and the culture we share. I am just one voice in a crowd who starts singing a national anthem. That does not make it my song. In humanising the figures from the epics as you have – including endowing them with very contemporary instincts, thoughts and ideas – do you feel you’re adding a lot to the originals? I have added the love and passion I felt for these stories. The curious thing I found about the ancient versions, especially the Valmiki Ramayana, was how cold and remote it could be.
I feel that’s why Tulsidas’s commentary is much more popular today than Valmiki’s retelling. Because Tulsidas banjer and interjects his own observations and opinions at every point, telling us how he feels about Rama’s sacrifice, Sita’s pain, Ravana’s anger, etc.
This is a great story and Valmiki laid down the bones beautifully. I dressed up the skeleton, fleshed it out and brought it to life in my own clumsy way. But my only intention was to bring it alive, to make the reader feel, see, hear, smell, react, experience Again, like a national anthem, you cannot sing it without feeling some emotion. In the same way, we should feel the power and majesty of the epic when we read it.
That’s all I tried to do, very clumsily I feel, but in all sincerity and with great passion. My life of course, I poured my entire life-experience into the retelling and continue to do so. I can’t write a page or line without feeling as if I am writing about people around me, living breathing people with epic problems and challenges.
Life is always the root. One’s own heart is always the well spring. As for literary influences, when I began my Epic India plan back in the late s, I started by dreaming vaguely of writing epic novels about various periods of Indian history and itihasa. I read voraciously across all genres with literary fiction and crime fiction taking up most of my bookshelf space.
There was never a single work or author I can point to mqhabharata and say ‘that inspired me’. When my first ‘Devi’ stories and other stories and poems began coming out in the 80s, people compared me to various writers – I remember one reference to Rimbaud, another to Walter Scott. In the 90s, when I published more ‘fantasy’ and ‘science fictional’ stories, I was sometimes compared to other SF authors of earlier times. In the s, after the Ramayana Series began to be published, almost two decades after I had been working to develop that particular style of narration, people began to compare it to the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings films, and god knows what else!
But the fact is, at the time Harry Potter wasn’t even written by Rowling, let alone published, the LoTR films were only released after my Ramayana was written in fact my publishing contract for Prince of Ayodhya predates and as for Tolkien, I had read him a long time ago and knew that his particular style just wouldn’t do for banekr I desired to write. For a non-writer, it may be difficult to understand this, but a mahbharata does not miraculously appear on the day it’s published.
It’s the result of a lifetime of thinking, working, learning to write, developing one’s style, sensibility, etc. What I consciously did during the decades between my first dreams of becoming an epic author and the time I finally succeeded in writing something I was satisfied with, was study the way epics themselves were written: Even today, I find Harry Potter very childish, boring and unreadable, even though I can see why children enjoy mahabhqrata it; I just can’t understand why grown men and women mahabhqrata it entertaining!
Fantasy and SF today is utterly boring and mindless. It’s like the slasher films of the 80s, or like Bollywood trash: Fantasy is like a parody of the epic form.
Follow the Author
What I was trying to do was go back to the source itself, to write epics. It’s a word that’s forgotten, a genre that’s fallen out of popularity. No publisher was willing to put the word ‘epic’ as a label on my books and won’t do mahabbarata even now – because there is no such genre, category or label in commercial publishing.
But the fact is, these are epics, plain and simple. That’s what they were then, and that’s what they are now. It doesn’t matter whether I wrote them or Valmiki or Vyasa or anyone else, that doesn’t change the work itself! How do you expect the increasingly intolerant India to respond to your reworking of the epics – especially of Krishna’s life, which is perhaps doubly sensitive with the Hindu right?
I’ll disagree with that – it’s Rama’s life which is the sensitive area, not Krishna’s. In fact, Krishna is a much more liberal deity and the Mahabharata which is the primary source of Krishna’s life story is a mahabhsrata ‘greyer’ epic as mahabharaa all know. But even so, it’s a bit late to be asking the question, isn’t it? mahabharat
The Epic Mahabharata
It’s been over eight years since Prince of Ayodhya was published, it’s been through over reprints, and there has never been a whisper of protest. On the contrary, I’ve had some right-wingers trying to climb aboard the wagon, so to speak, because they maabharata the potential publicity of what I was doing for their own gains.
A well-known PR firm actually wanted to sponsor me last year by using their extensive paid news coverage to promote my Ramayana Series retellings as a symbol of the new changing Hindu India. They even expected me to have their political party head honchos shaking hands with me and releasing my new books at various bookstores.