Following an extended marketing campaign, the first book, Scion of Ikshvaku, of the new Ram Chandra series by author Amish Tripathi, was released on 22 June 2015. Building up to the much-anticipated mythological thriller by the author of the bestselling Shiva trilogy were full page newspaper ads, a dedicated website, exclusive Kindle offers and YouTube trailers.
Celebrity endorsements had also been seamlessly integrated into the marketing strategy, including a reading by Gul Panag, testimonials by Karan Johar and the launch of the book cover by Akshay Kumar. The post-promotion after the release of the book sees Kotak Mahindra Bank launching a themed debit card featuring the cover of Scion of Ikshvaku and a discount on any book purchased at Crossword. The bank also launched ''Tweet to Order'', where customers can order the book by simply tweeting #Book Scion 262.
So, does the book live up to the hoopla? I got my pre-ordered copy from Amazon on 23 June, and was not disappointed. The book is a rollercoaster ride taking readers through the familiar tropes and themes of Indian mythology, but with new twists and turns provided by the author. There is no doubt that Amish is a storyteller par excellence, and succeeds in surprising the readers with an age-old plot that he thickens with deep mystery and open-ended questions. You are forced to ponder over previously told stories and to engage with the question of how they apply in contemporary times.
Various adaptations of the Ramayana have emerged ever since Valmiki first told the tale. In general, there has been a proliferation of retold, reinterpreted epics and mythology. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni, Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik, the works of Ashwin Sanghi and Ashok Banker and so on have left the readers intrigued by the different interpretations of our age-old tales that we have been enchanted by since our childhood. Amish is arguably the most accomplished reteller of these tales with his riveting books that also provoke deep introspection into the myths as well as one's own self.
Here are some aspects of Scion of Ikshvaku that I believe make it stand out:
Twists on tradition
Amish excels at creating new stories from longstanding mythological tales. He veers from accepted versions at several junctures, making the book a surprising read - for example, he writes of the Swayamvar of Sita which is a borrowing from the Swayamvar of Draupadi in the Mahabharata.
"Manthara, who is generally depicted as poor, downtrodden maid serving Kaikeyi, is portrayed as the wealthiest businesswoman of Sapt Sindhu."
Strong character building
Shatrughan, the youngest brother of the Ram, has been fleshed out beautifully and is represented as a great intellectual. Manthara, who is generally depicted as poor, downtrodden maid serving Kaikeyi, is portrayed as the wealthiest businesswoman of Sapt Sindhu; her daughter Roshni is the rakhi sister of the four princes of Ayodhya. Ram, on the other hand, comes with far more baggage than the original epic. He is a neglected prince who has to bear the brunt of being born on the same day as his father Dashrath's defeat to Ravan at battle. Yet he is that law abider and protector, who will become a great leader setting an example for the others to follow. What we do see of Ram in this book is just a curtain raiser and his character is likely to develop further in subsequent books in the Ram Chandra series. It will be particularly interesting to read Amish's take on Ram's abandonment of Sita, but that's something we'll have to wait for.
The episode of the rape of Roshni and the punishment of her rapists reminded of the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012. The parallels were hard to ignore: the main accused in the book, Dhenuka, was also a juvenile who could not be sentenced to death by law. The fictionalised version frustrated just as the real case had, although in the book we do have the satisfaction of seeing justice prevail, albeit outside the ambit of the law.
All in all, Amish's easy-to-read prose and page-turning style is a treat for those who like their reads to be fast-paced and sprinkled with Bollywood-style masala. And while this book, like the Shiva Trilogy (which apparently sold more than 2.5 million copies) may not qualify as a great piece of literature, it succeeds in provoking thought and encouraging conversations among readers.