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Book Review: Siege of Mithila by Ashok K. Banker

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Siege of Mithila, the second part of Ashok K Banker's marvellous Ramayana series, is as interesting, if not more than the first part, Prince of Ayodhya. And it begins just as eerily; this time however, it is Sita who has the nightmare!

The guru-shishya relationship between Rishi Vishwamitra and the princes Rama and Lakshmana has been conceived brilliantly. The chapter in which they discuss how Ravana could be vanquished is extremely enlightening. Ravana's plans to invade Aryavarta form the crux of the book. The 10-headed rakshasa's character is enigmatic, and he promises to be one of the most interesting characters of the series. Meanwhile, in Ayodhya, Manthara continues her nefarious schemes to eliminate Rama. Banker weaves in another thread in his web, by visualising her as a stooge of the Dark Lord.

Sita is a revelation – this Sita is no damsel in distress; instead, she is a warrior princess! Fiercely independent and courageous, she is probably the best thing in the book. Definitely someone Rama (or I, for that matter) would fall for! Sita believes that the rakshasas are preparing for an invasion, and so on an impulse she sets forth incognito with her trusted bodyguard Nakhudi towards the dreaded Southwoods to search for evidence. And who do they meet? None other than Rama and Lakshmana!

The two princes, along with Rishi Vishwamitra, are heading towards Mithila to attend Sita's swayamvar. Since "Janaki Kumar" and "Nakhu Dev" are also travelling to the same destination, the all-knowing sage decides that they should go together. On the way, Rama rescues Ahalya from her condemned existence as a stone – one of the most magical chapters of the book. Vishwamitra reveals that Mithila will bear the brunt of Ravana's onslaught, and the book moves on rapidly to a momentous climax.

Banker's writing is magical – before you know it, you are sucked into the world of his Ramayana where anything is possible. From Ayodhya to Mithila to even Lanka, Banker sets you off on beautiful flights of imagination. Truly, one roller-coaster of a ride. Ashok K. Banker rocks! And yes, Rama rocks, too.

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