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Retelling the Ramayana

Oxford University Press has done a yeoman service by bringing out a translation of the Ramayana, a Kerala version written by C.N. Sreekantan Nair and Sarah Joseph.

Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan has translated the original in Malayalam to English. It is relevant in the modern context when most of the schoolchildren have only the television to fall back on to say some thing on the epic. C.N. Sreekantan Nair's award-winning play Kanchana Sita is the first of a dramatic trilogy based on the Ramayana. It is a questioning of Rama's dharma from diverse, yet converging, points of view.

It is also about the tragedy of power, the search for which only leads to solitude and destruction. Nair looks deep into the continuing conflict between love and violence, between living in harmony with nature and striving to `conquer' it by force.

Sarah Joseph's Ramayana Stories are based on different episodes of the Ramayana in which she raises the questions of justice and injustice, war and peace, and the relationship between love and power, which is the central theme of the epic. There is an erudite foreword by Satchidanandan, who has analysed the works of Sreekantan Nair and Sarah Joseph. These are contrasting voices, which showcase the sophisticated cultural diversity of Kerala.

Nair's play Kanchana Sita is about the tragedy of power and the sacrifices that adherence to dharma demands, including abandoning a chaste wife. Sarah Joseph's work questions and critiques the traditional narratives of women humiliated and torn apart by ambitious men. According to the blurb, Sarah Joseph's style is layered and poetic, deep and intense. Both Nair and Joseph bring out the political aspects of these stories through the dialectics between the victor and the vanquished, man and woman, tribal and city dweller, Aryan and Dravidian.

The volume looks at the exemplary ethical deity, Rama, from a woman's point of view, immensely readable. It will be of interest to students and general readers of South Asian literature, literature in translation, and gender studies.

Dr. M. Leelavathy, critic and author, who released the English translation of `Retelling Ramayana,' remarked that Oxford University Press translation will help readers worldwide to understand the writings of Malayalam authors. The first copy was received by the co-author Sarah Joseph who explained her motivation and point of view. While writing about the short stories, it was the concept of justice and fairplay, which made her to look at Ramayana from a different angle.

Oxford University Press, the world's largest university press publisher has been furthering the cause of academic and scholarly publishing since 1478, and since 1912 in India. It has been the torchbearer of serious scholarship studies. In India, OUP is now the leading publisher of Indian writing in English translation with over 60 titles in print. Retelling Ramayana is the latest in the series and the second translation from Malayalam, the first one being Indulekha.

K. VENKITESWARAN

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