In August 2010, I embarked on a journey into the past. Now that journey is finally ending, not in a lovers’ meeting but a book launch next week. I am talking of writing the script of Amar Chitra Katha’s complete Valmiki Ramayana, in six volumes.
It’s here at last! and it will be launched in Bangalore on the 14th of October. Watch this space for more details!
Meanwhile, you can read about it here and here. Below is a picture of ACK’s Mumbai office celebrating the arrival of the new baby (Reena Puri, series editor, is second from the left). Read on, if you are interested, for our press release.
And what, you may ask, has the Ramayana to do with a farming blog? Well, firstly, Valmiki’s love of nature illumines the entire book. (It also offsets some of his stuffed-shirtness. And yes, I know rishis didn’t wear shirts.) Secondly, this farmer is also a writer. There definitely is a synergy between the two activities, of which I hope this blog is proof. At night on the farm, when I look over at the still forest beyond our valley, something changes in my mind. Remember that John Denver song, ‘you fill up my senses like a night in a forest’? It’s true, night in a forest fills you with all kinds of feelings – stillness, awe, fear, freedom, a heightened awareness, vulnerability, connectedness, an aching sense of beauty, an ineffable happiness… Among other things, I imagine how different, how wild and how dark, the world would have been in Ramayana times: four thousand years ago, before humankind colonized every corner of it. And how it would have seemed to that young Sita, who had grown up in a palace. Anyway imagining things, even though it doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer, makes you want to record what you imagine. Something, anything, in whatever your medium is.
Valmiki’s Ramayana: Amar Chitra Katha Press Release
The Valmiki Ramayana is one of our great national treasures. It is an enthralling and timeless story with universal human appeal; but there is so much more to it than that. Going by even the most conservative estimates, the epic is at least 2000 years old, providing a window to our past, our traditions and culture. It gives us a fascinating, ‘warts and all’ picture of the people we were, and how our society has evolved.
There is also the geographical angle, for the story has a wide canvas. From Bahlika and Kekeya in the west to the islands of the eastern ocean, from the country of the Uttara Kurus far north of the Himalayas to Lanka in the south – the descriptions of this land, with its forests, rivers, minerals, flora and fauna, are a paean to nature. Set against this backdrop, the fabulous adventures of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and the vanaras literally carry you away. The protagonists are familiar with the entire sub-continent, leading us to guess at the well-established commercial, social and political connections among all these diverse peoples.
In literary terms, the epic has an amazingly complex structure. It is a story within a story within a story, with the outer framework being the composition of the poem itself, and the next layer that of Lava and Kusha (the sons of Rama and Sita) who are taught the poem by their guru. The core of the story is of course the life of Rama. It maintains a strong plot line through seven books, holding your interest even through innumerable sub-plots and sideshows. This book has everything! Adventure and romance, filial piety and fraternal love, chivalry, war and loss, and deep dilemmas of the soul.
While reinforcing the strong moral values and philosophy that are so important a part of our inheritance, a reading of Valmiki also helps us to understand historical injustices that need to be reversed. What makes Rama a hero (despite the fact that some of his beliefs and actions seem questionable to us) is just this: He strove to live by the highest moral code of his time, no matter how inconvenient, unpleasant or dangerous the consequences. And that is why he is the maryada purushottama for all time. Times change, moral perceptions change, right behaviour changes… what matters is how much you are willing to sacrifice for what you believe in. Sita, similarly, showed extraordinary strength of character in following Rama to the forest, and in defying Ravana. Even today, there is much that we can learn from Sita: courage, loyalty, the childlike ability to enjoy life despite physical hardship, and the faith to hold on even in the most hopeless circumstances.
I am very grateful to ACK for giving me the opportunity to script this series. Amar Chitra Katha is a national phenomenon, widely read by Indian children everywhere; and it has done more than any other single agency in acquainting them with the rich heritage of our country. It is an honour to be part of this endeavour.
Scripting for a comic is different from a retelling. It requires you to visualize each scene (which involves a huge amount of research, much of it fascinating and fruitless, given the antiquity of the text) and communicate your vision to the artists. The task deepened my understanding of many things, not least my own roots. I have tried to offset my own deficiencies by consulting and comparing several versions. Apart from the Gita Press translation, which was my primary text, two online translations (listed below) were of the greatest help to me because they have word-by-word meanings and commentaries. I was fortunate to have an expert on the Ramayana, Mangala Kumari, who is also a professor of Sanskrit, to vet the script and consult with. And Reena I Puri, ACK’s Editor in Chief, was my advisor throughout the project. Both became dear friends during this journey. And my mother, Ranga Gopalswami, was my inhouse expert who helped me over many knotty points.
https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/ by Sri V.V. Subba Rao, Prof. P. Geervani and Prof. K. Kamala, complete up to Sundara Kanda.
The Ramayana Wiki on Ancient Voice also provided valuable information and insights, including a map of epic India: http://ancientvoice.wikidot.com/. Many thanks, Jijith Nadumuri!