When every child in India knows the story of Ramayana since it was in its mother’s womb, writing a book on Ramayana is no less than lifting the Shivadhanusha. Shubha Vilas lifts it quite successfully in his first book on Ramayana known as Rise of the Sun Prince. Shubha knowing that everyone already knows the story, gives his book a startling start. When the book starts Sita is already in the Walmiki’s Ashram. By this masterstroke Shubha hooks the readers to the known story with his different treatment. The book tells many little known facts. I did not know what is the meaning of Ram until I read the book. I did not know that the monkeys in the vanar sena were actually demigods reincarnated. For the first time I came to know that Ravana means one who makes other cry. Did you know that Kubera, yes the same one who is treasurer of demigods, is Ravana’s step brother? Why does Kumbhakarna sleep all the time? If you are interested in such mythological tidbits, then Rise of the Sun Prince will surely delight you.
Ramayana itself is all about lessons of morality. Shubha keeps the narrative akin to a pravachan in a Ram Katha. His writing style is simple, lucid and easy to comprehend. Just see how beautifully he describes Dasharatha’s reluctance when Vishwamitra asks Rama’s help to kill the demons. “Vishwamitra viewed Rama as an unpolished diamond and himself as the jeweler who had the tools to polish that diamond. Unfortunately, the jeweler did not own the diamond, and the one who owned it could not see the radiance it could emit on being polished.” His commentary, underlining the moral lesson, comes in the form of footnotes. You can perfectly identify with adages like combined strength can enhance individual capabilities. Another comes in the form of peer pressure faced by Vibhishan. Can you imagine mythological characters feeling peer pressure like today’s adolescents. The book is full of such references in an attempt to make the age old Ramayana contemporary. The footnotes gel so well with the narrative that you wonder why the footnotes were not incorporated in the narrative itself. There are footnotes on almost every page. It is troublesome to read the foot note and again revert back to the narrative. Shubha successfully incorporates boxes for laws of sharing, dependence, balance, awareness, trusteeship, discrimination, self control and the principles of marriage. The same could have been done for the foot notes as well if he wanted to keep the story and the commentary apart.
Though the blurb of the book claims to tell the story of a little known stone maiden, she is none other than the well known Ahilya or Ahalya as spelt in the book. So the stone maiden which in a way is made highlight of the book isn’t the one. The highlight of the book is the tussle between Vishwamitra and Vasistha. This part involving Trishanku along with these two mighty teachers indeed brings out a little known story which can give fast paced thrillers run for their money. The book has one or two Sholkas in Sanskrit here and there. They give you feel that you are reading an ancient text. At the same time Shubha has refrained overusing them, which is a good sign as most of us don’t know the language and conveniently skip them to read the English meaning given beneath them.
Shubha’s book comes with a magnificent cover. It is hard to take your eyes away from the colourful cover. The book drifts away from many known facts as well. So there is no mention of Anjani, Hanuman’s mother, sharing a part of the divine dessert which impregnated wives of Dasharatha. There is no Sita Swayamwar. As a result there is no Ravana’s failure to pick up the bow. There are couple of imaginary scenes like Rama and Lakshmana trying their archery skills on a woman’s nose ring and Rama throwing a mud ball on Manthara as a five year old child. It is said that the latter incident deepened Manthara’s hatred for Rama. This is unheard of. There is no any reference given for the same. Another line in the book “ The most prominent demigods were made captives to cut vegetables in Ravana’s kitchen,” made me laugh aloud. The writer describing Rama and Sita’s love at first sight, did not appeal to me. He has described the first sight and the resultant uneasiness of the love smitten Divine couple in a very filmy way.
This book, the first in the series, tells the story of Lord Rama from His birth up to His marriage. The book contains a preview of the next part in the form its first chapter. The book describes the 24 qualities that make a true hero as told by Narada muni as an appendix.
In Shubha’s own words Rise of the Sun Prince, is essentially about fighting grave internal battles and overcoming great odds to emerge victorious and become exemplary. Let me make a confession here. While I was reading this book, my reaction towards those whom I had termed selfish, liars and untrustworthy completely changed. I cooperated them ignoring their shortcomings. So I give full marks to Shubha for bringing out this change of heart through his commentaries.