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Banker turns "Prince of Ayodhya" into graphic novel

Ashok K Banker
Ashok K Banker

Ravana looms large in young Rama's dreams threatening to destroy Ayodhya, Manthara is exposed as Ravana's agent, the spectre of riots and terror stalk the city -- all these form striking images in author Ashok Kumar Banker's "Prince of Ayodhya", now turned into a graphic novel.

The 93-page work is the first of the graphic novel adaptation of Banker's internationally best-selling Ramayana series. The illustrations are by Enrique Alcatena, a noted graphic artist from Argentina who has worked for major American comic book publishers such as DC and Marvel.

Banker, in the foreword, recounts how, as a 15-year-old, he had set up a comics publishing company. Since he was under-age, the elder sister of his friend was recruited as the "official grown-up face of the company". The company did not last long, but the founder continued to dream well into adulthood.

The net result is the first volume, an abridged version of the original novel. The action starts right from the cover page that portrays muscular Rama and Lakshmana about to shoot off their arrows. The city of Ayodhya rises up in the backdrop.

Curiously, set among the typical temples following "Shikhira" type of architecture stands a domed building and a Qutab Minar like minaret structure.

This could be because Alcatena has never been to India. He has got company in H R F Keating, who had penned detective novels featuring Mumbai police inspector Ganesh Ghote, without ever setting his foot in the metropolis or like Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan of the Apes not having visited Africa.

The novel opens with Rama having a nightmare with a voice calling out to him. On being asked who it was, the reply is "I am the Reaver of your people, Ravisher of your women, Destroyer of your cities, look upon me and tremble."

Ravana appears as epitome of evil in the graphic novel version of Ashok K Banker's
Ravana appears as epitome of evil in the graphic novel version of Ashok K Banker's "Prince of Ayodhya", the first volume of the Ramayana series. UNI PHOTO

It is none other than Ravana, who appears on the next page, wielding swords and maces in his four hands, the ten faces contorted in rage, the half open mouth displaying fangs. In the background cities burn while puny defenders quail before his might.

Banker does not provide just a retelling of the ancient epic. Both in the novel and its graphic version, he has taken liberties with the text. Queen Kaikeyi's maid, Manthara, is portrayed not only as an agent of Ravana but also as one who murders a Tantrik to foment trouble for Ayodhya as the incident provokes the community members to riot, much like the present day caste and communal disturbances.

Rama is portrayed not only as a brave warrior but also as a sagacious settler of disputes. He fends off an attack by poachers on animals in Ayodhya's forests, warning them never to set foot there again. Entering the city and faced with a mob of tantriks bent upon revenge for the murder, he deftly manages to defuse the crisis, not by resorting to arms but "by appealing to their hearts".

Approaching the mob unarmed, he folds his hands together to recite the national anthem of Ayodhya. The tantriks are then told to "respect the curfew and disperse".

Compared to Amar Chitra Katha's series on the Puranas that stick to the original text and conventional comic book illustrations, graphics in this volume run riot.

The standard panel format is not followed and some pages have just a single illustration with others having a profusion of insets.

All these, however, add to the atmosphere, where danger is lurking in the dark, tentacles of green whirling around portray evil. Ghouls and demons rise up in every other page.

The book should appeal to adolescent and adult alike for putting the epic in a contemporary idiom.

Spirituality has been replaced by highlighting of democratic ideals, like the people of Ayodhya being called to vote on sending Rama and Lakshmana to "Bhayanak Van" to battle Tataka, a she-demon terrorising the ascetic rishis.

Banker uses Sanskrit and at times colloquial Hindustani in the dialogues. Sometimes this would seem a bit strange like Dasaratha's court assembling with a call "Shrimad Maharaj Dasaratha Rajya Sabha mein padhar rahe hain" and "Khamosh Adalat jari hai, the court is in session."

The book, published by Penguin India, is priced at Rs 350.

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