Book Review: The Forest of Stories

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Each day of my childhood had begun listening to my father read out of his Ramayana, Mahabharata or Bhagvatam. Each day had begun with pulling the pillows over the ears to block out the words, that debuted sounding as gibberish but eventually with passing years started making sense, atleast to the story lover in me. Amidst the magic, myths and magnanimity, the story seeker dived in and frolicked in all the connecting tales of this land so much that a straight simple story does not appeal anymore.

This is the saga of all Indian minds, nothing in this country has ever stood as a stand alone and least of all the legends and myths, bordering on historicity of this land. Take any epic that we have grown up with; nothing is a single simple story. Ramayana was never only Rama’s story, Devi Bhagavatam was never about the devi only, Vishnu puran features stories about a dozen more characters; the list is simply endless. Every story of this land is entwined with another at a crucial juncture and the pioneer of re-telling our ancient legends – Ashok Banker returns, addressing this same complexity in the first book of the series he calls ‘MBA’ series.

The author after a successful outing with re-telling the Ramayana in the Ramayana Series focuses on the Mahabharata this time and begins right where it should begin – at the beginning.

The book starts with the Hindu story of creation – the story of the primordial egg and the Brahman, leading to the cruzing story of the destruction of the warrior classes on the earth by Vishnu incarnate Parashuram, where we are also introduced to the thousand armed king – Arjun Kartavirya, who is strong but unjust and we are treated to a thrilling underdog’s victory story. Then we head to the story, which promises the outright destruction of one of the still most feared breathing beings on earth – Sarpas, the slithering, poisonous snakes but something interferes that lead to their still being on earth. Moving on we get to know that the fire consumes everything because it is under an ascetic’s curse and that the snakes still exist because they strategically planned to overcome their definite death. The stories of why grasses have infinite regeneration powers, why snakes have forked tongues and why Arjuna’s successor wanted to disturb the system of the universe that Krishna himself protects, follow. And finally a dose of romance with separation and then happily ever after follows in the form of the story of Dushyanta-Shakuntala and the birth of the famed creator of Mahabharata – Krishna Dweipayana Vyasa. (We now know where the nauseating all-is-well of bollywood leaks from; it is in the puranas too.)

Through out the book, except for the title on the cover page the reader never guesses that we are headed towards something that we had grown up watching Girish Karnaad and party perform every Sunday, it is simply a ride we enjoy for the proverbial journey, not the destination. The book ends with a promise of the writer Vyasa’s existence and excitement that a thrilling story is to follow. Ashok Banker very intelligently connects the different stories from the ‘maggi’ of Indian legends and myths, bringing together an exciting finish to the first book in the series while throwing the pressure of the next book on the reader. He has set the stage for the different characters of the Mahabharata, as we know it, to make an appearance and thrill us, yet again. The stage is set, cat calls on the way – the publishers just need to hurry with the launch of the next book.

A speedy ride on the expressway of Indian mythology, with the right dose of 21st century realism and ancient reverence.

Happy reading.

Part of South Asian Challenge 2012

Title: The Forest of Stories
Author: Ashok K. Banker
Publisher/ Imprint: Westland Books
Pages: 351
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Fiction/ Mythology
Rating: 4.00 of 5.00
Reviewed for: Personal Copy

Read the reviews of other books rated 4 star by Team TP HERE

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