Review: 'Raavan – The Enemy of Aryavarta' is a love story for India’s masses

Amish Tripathi's third book in his Ram Chandra Series seems to have been a cathartic experience for the writer

Ramayana, Sanskrit epic poem ascribed to Valmiki. Ravana kidnaps Sita. Liebig collectors' card 1931 (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
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Over the past decade, author Amish Tripathi – or Amish, as he prefers to be called – has gone from strength to strength. Naturally, as an artist grows into his profession, his work is also honed, and this is the first thing that strikes you while reading his latest novel Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta.

There is no doubt Amish is India's most prominent contemporary fiction writer, having sold more than five million copies of his books, which have been published in 19 languages. But his journey wasn't easy – it took him more than three years to write his first book, Immortals of Meluha – and it appears the character of Raavan has brought forth his struggles in literary form.

Throughout the book, Raavan's suffering, after losing the only woman he loved, is deep-seated and terrible. It eats at him from within, while on the outside, he becomes the world's wealthiest man – powerful, cruel and ruthless.

While researching and writing this book, Amish also experienced difficulties, a time he once described as the most harrowing and painful of his life. This pain and sorrow is reflected in Raavan's struggles. This may be the most heartfelt and soulful book that Amish has written thus far.

The third book in his Ram Chandra series, Raavan: Enemy of Aryavarta, follows Raavan's life, set in 3400 BC. A fierce warrior, brilliant scholar, ruthless businessman, powerful king, artist, musician and statesman all rolled into one, Raavan is known in mythology as the villain who kidnapped Sita, wife of mythical god Ram, in the epic Ramayana.

Instead of a unidimensional villain as in Ramayana, Raavan is human flawed, a genius and a strong personality capable of extreme devotion on one hand and horrifying cruelty on the other.

The book follows Sita: Warrior of Mithila and Ram: Scion of Ishkvaku, all multilinear narratives that form the ­background of the next two books, in which the characters come together in one grand narrative.

Amith Tripathi. Courtesy Amith Tripathi
Amish Tripathi’s books are available in 19 languages. Courtesy Amish Tripathi

In the acknowledgements for his latest work, Amish refers to the personal pit he found himself in over the past two years – writing this book appears to have been cathartic and destructive for the author at the same time. A fascinating mix of ancient Indian history and mythology, it's clear that Amish carried out an impressive amount of research before putting pen to paper. From the Vedas to the Natyashastra, his scholarly pursuits are obvious, much like Raavan's.

The story Amish wrote after all of this is not only enlightening but thought-provoking, particularly when it highlights problems such as the caste system, racism, patriarchal evils, poverty, addiction and child abuse. Philosophical debates find their way into the narrative alongside sociopolitical events, such as the Sabarimala Temple row. In 1990, women of menstruating age (between 10 and 50 years) were banned from entering the Kerala temple, one of India's largest pilgrimage centres. The country's Supreme Court overturned the ban last year. All of this wonderfully rounds off the commercial tenor of the book.

Racy and well-paced, it's almost akin to an uncensored Bollywood film – there's gore, torture, violence, passion and heart – which is bound to make it a hit among fans and uninitiated readers alike.

There are no judgements here – a man's got to do what he's got to do, as they say – but from the right perspective, this book has the potential to be inspiring to thousands of people struggling to get their lives together.

But at its heart, Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta is a love story. It's moving in its simplicity and there are parts that are overwhelmingly grief-stricken, albeit the narrative isn't nuanced nor layered and the emotional thread that runs through the book is straightforward, touching on cliches of love and loss. But it is in this plainness that readers will probably find the greatest resonance. Amish makes no pretences about his work and his books are not for the literary elite but for India's masses, who can delve into his writing and by doing so understand themselves, Indian culture and mythology a little better.

Most importantly, Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta is about the underdog, and his story. In this book, Raavan belongs to the Nagas, a hated and cursed tribe (a group that has featured in Amish's books since the Meluha series) and against all odds he becomes the world's wealthiest and most powerful man. There are no judgements here – a man's got to do what he's got to do, as they say – but from the right perspective, this book has the potential to be inspiring to thousands of people struggling to get their lives together.

It is also about choices; the ones we make on a moment-­by-moment basis, which weave together the tangible and intangible webs of our lives, practical and spiritual. At every step, Raavan is presented with two options, and his choices determine the course of his life and shape the man he becomes – ruthless and a pawn in the hands of the gods. At 374 pages, Raavan: The Enemy of Aryavarta is a quick and mostly breezy read. Even if you haven't read the previous titles in the series, the disadvantage isn't too great as they're independent stories.

Amish sets the stage for a scintillating finish. Pick it up and you won't put it down.