I, Rama written by Ravi Venu follows for the most part in the latest trend of having first person narrative of popular mythology. It tries to reframe the narrative of Ramayana from being a battle between good and evil to that of a more complex, multi layered fight for ensuring survival on earth. It is meant to offer a view into the world as seen by Rama.
The Ist part is the Age of Seers, an insight into the Brahmarishis who Rama comes into contact with and the great sages who shape his life and his destiny. It charts his journey from boyhood where he is sent to the forest to combat the Asuras and learn the art of becoming a king to his exile along with Sita and Laxman.
While the journey that Rama takes is extremely interesting, especially because of the smaller stories that the author weaves into the book, the language is very off-putting. It vacillates from waxy, poetic and verbose to crisp, curt and almost pedestrian at times. The attempt to bring sci-fi into the tale through energy channels, spikes, missiles, and launchers was disturbing. At one point, especially when Kaikeyi talks about the sacrifice they will have to make, the book reads a lot like something out of the Percy Jackson series. While mythology, no matter its origin deals with good against evil, what made Indian mythology special were the infusion of Asthras and Gandharavas and Asuras and their Amrut drinking counterparts. By neglecting that part, the author has made Ramayan sound like every other Greek drama. The use of science fiction inspired narrative by itself would have been more digestible if the book was written with that intent. It ends up being neither a complete mythological rendering or belonging to the science fiction genre.
The idea of a retelling of an epic such as Ramayana from the view point of one of its characters does hold some interest. What would have made this book a true epic would have been to centralize one of the other characters in the epic. A Ramayana from the Laxman’s view or even hearing about the story from Sita would have offered greater depth to the novel and given the epic a more multi-dimensional quality.
Ravi Venu’s strength is in the retelling of the little heard Kaikeyi story or the stories of Lanka, Ravana and the Brahmarishis. Devakurni’s “Palace of Illusions” worked for two reasons, one the story of draupadi was retold in a manner that gave the great epic a quality that had not been wholly explored, and also enabled the viewers to judge the characters and their emotions and actions in a different way. It also helped that she stuck to narration of the events as told, rather than add an evolutionary, scientific or fiction element to it. While Kaikeyi’s story does add to her character and her demands, there is very little by way of newer revelations. The original Ramayana in its entirety is Rama’s story. The author could have elevated his narration to a whole other level had he bought Laxman, Sita, Hanuman or even Ravana or Vibhishana to the forefront. The trilogy does offer some degree of promise. How Rama narrates his life sounds promising but does not fulfill any curiosities about reading more into the epic.