Google+ Followers

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Krishna Coriolis, books 1 and 2

I am very, very impressed by Ashok Banker. I like his writing style, I like his topic, and I find his books absorbing.

What is interesting is that despite writing in English, using slang and the vernacular, Banker somehow manages to retain the essence of the epics he is re-telling. It may be the usage of Sanskrit words like rishi, maatr and pitr which lends his version of the stories authenticity and regionality. And it may be the fact that he deals with them respectfully, passionately. The fact that Banker has done a lot of research to give a rich and detailed rendering is not lost on you.

That said, he has a slight tendency to melodrama, and he is sometimes a little redundant where there are large descriptive passages. I really enjoy his dialogue, though. I've read the beginning of his Ramayana series (I will finish it now) and it seems to me that he has evolved from that series to this. His Ramayana, despite the attributes I mentioned in the above paragraph, sometimes seems like a foreign fantasy rather than an essential Indian epic. In the Dance of Govinda I felt that I was reading about the Krishna we know from our childhood tales, which is no mean feat.

Slayer of Kamsa leads up to the birth of Krishna. Kamsa gets progressively worse, rampaging around Mathura, killing innocent people, disrupting the peace treaty negotiation between Vasudeva and Ugrasena (his father), allying with Jarasandha, and when his demon form comes to the fore, imprisoning his parents and Vasudeva and Devaki, and usurping the throne. It therefore paints a grim, dismal picture as many innocent people are dying and being imprisoned, and who cling desperately onto the prophecy that the eighth child born to Vasudeva and Devaki will be the slayer of Kamsa. The book ends with the birth and transportation of Krishna to Nanda's household as the whole city of Mathura miraculously falls asleep, allowing Vasudeva to safely leave Krishna at Nanda's household.

As I was while reading Banker's Ramayana, here, again, I was astonished by the depths of misery to which the city and its people sink, and the extent of Kamsa's depravity and inhumanity (it is emphasized that he is not human...)
As children, when we hear or read these stories, we hear blunted, censored versions that are mild and narrow in their depictions of 'evil' and grand and moralizing in their depictions of 'good.' The antagonist, be it Ravana, Kamsa, or Duryodhana, commits obvious, glaring sins, and is punished for it. In Ravana's case his 'sole' trespass is the kidnap of Sita. Here, we see more complex, intricate portrayals that convey the extent of tyranny that would require God himself to take human form and come among us physically to pull us out of nightmarish depths. It is no simple, on-off sin that requires elaborate defiance and warfare; it is cruelty in its highest form, cruelty that makes life hell for many. As you read of this cruelty, you find yourself awaiting deliverance as desperately and as eagerly as the victimized citizens.

I felt that Vasudeva was beautifully drawn in Slayer of Kamsa. He becomes far more than a good man who fathered Krishna; he becomes a 'hero' in his own right. There are splendid conversations between Devaki and Vasudeva as they try to resolve the menace that her brother has become. Vasudeva, who is rational, and yet idealistic and non-violent, does not agree to catch Kamsa off-guard and kill him. He wishes to try to talk to Kamsa, to reason with him and negotiate. Devaki is aghast, telling him that Kamsa is well past listening to reason, but Vasudeva refuses to be convinced. Kamsa tries to kill him, not once but thrice. Each time Vasudeva is miraculously saved, the weapon either coming to a standstill in front of him, disintegrating, or even turning on its user. The first time Vasudeva stands his ground, trying to reason with Kamsa even as his comrades try to warn him of Kamsa's rising temper. Vasudeva's strength of conviction and courage are remarkable, as he fights for what is just regardless of what he believes the consequences of his actions may be.

Dance of Govinda was considerably lightened by the presence of the infant Krishna and Balarama. The joy he brings his parents (both real and foster) and Vrajbhoomi resonates through the book, overshadowing the grim realities of Jarasandha's rule through Kamsa, and giving you many smiles. Being superhuman, Krishna communicates to Yashoda (his foster mother) - and on occasion his father and real parents - telepathically. His dialogues are calming, teasing or innocent as the occasion may require. Somehow, despite the fact that Krishna has supernatural abilities, and knows far more than any normal infant ever would, Banker manages to give his actions an undertone of innocence and sometimes even a childish gaiety. Things are still grim in Mathura, but the citizens know as well as the reader now that deliverance is on the way.

I am unable to decide which book cover I like better. The Slayer of Kamsa cover is more sophisticated, but the Dance of Govinda has a beautiful Krishna on it...

Coming up next: Krishna Coriolis, books three and four.