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Indrajit Hazra is a writer and journalist. His latest book is 'Grand Delusions: A Short Biography of Kolkata' (Aleph)

The Post-Apocalyptic Future That’s the 34th century Ramayana

The cover of the third book in the series

ave you noticed how every time one of those nutter groups bang on about some portion of the Ramayana being "twisted" in a modern telling of the epic — they don't seem to bother much about the Mahabharata — there is a cascade of frustrated indignation from the liberal lot who try and drive home their argument politically? There is no "original" Ramayana that we know of, Valmiki's and Tulsidas' "tellings" being versions of the story of Ram, Sita, Lakshman and the gang, they rightly point out. And retelling old stories in new forms is one of the prime USPs of Literature and fiction.

The fact that Valmiki's Ramayana is sacred and Raphael Holinshed's 1577 The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland — from the revised 1587 edition of which Shakespeare cogged and tweaked the story of Macbeth in around 1606 — does nothing to take away from the argument that every story is there for the picking, re-picking, re-re-picking, especially an operatic epic of the scale of the Ramayana which makes The Lord of the Rings seem like a twee Parsi play.

Irrespective of who wins these little skirmishes between illiterate but powerful morons and empathetic people with at least half a brain, never do we get to hear an aesthetic case being made for "re-tellings", whether of some strand of the Ramayana, the Koran or the yet to be tried My Experiments With Truth.

So it is with this absence of aesthetic approval of retelling "sacred texts" that I thoroughly recommend the graphic novel series Ramayana 3392 AD (Graphic India/Westland). I've gobbled up the first three installments — the eponymous opener, The Tome of the Wastelands, and In the Clutches of Baali: The Monster King.

This is a post-Mahavinaash world where a nuclear war has brought about an apocalypse which only the Aryavarta continent and Nark in the south have survived. These are the semi-cyberpunked adventures of the Brothers from the Aryavarta capital, Armagarh, and Sita, their basic psycho profiles being the only thing that is anchored to the 'original' Ramayana(s). And then there is the machinations of the Dark Lord of Nark ('Narak' or Hell getting Texas-ified to 'Nark'). Mythopunk is what this world with throbbing energy beams and atomic blasters, Mad Max-style desert buggies and bikes and a pre-apocalyptic bomber airplane cohabit with old fashioned blood spurts, battle axes and spunked-up Ramanandan Sagar battle couture.

he stories are written by Shamik Dasgupta and has dollops of everything from Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings to Hellboy and 300 bubbling in it. But it's the art work led by Jeevan Kang in the second and third episodes and in the first issue led by Abhishek Singh and Satish Tayade that are quite stunning. It gives this retro-futuristic saga its dark, edgy tone.

The term for Ravan, "Asura Prime", is aptly filched from The Transformers, as the demons are a kind of genetically-mutated techno-biological creatures. In fact, this 34th century landscape of politics and war – and, as the reader will discover, the notion of religion itself — is driven by technology that has been presented wonderfully in a form that has not been associated with depictions of technological societies in Western science fiction or fantasy works and films. All the more strange that Dasgupta and Kang have no credits on the covers of the books.

Shades of Star Wars, itself lego-tweaked out of Greek mythology, become apparent, not only in the lightsaber 5.2 used but also in scenes, especially where our heroes visit a dive in Panchvati that's a version of the good old Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine that Obi-Wan Kenobi had described as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."

Ravana, Meghnad and his ilk are presented as creatures from a familiar fantasy Hell, taking on distinct Ridley Scott 'Alien' features. Ravana is still dull and rather unimpressive in the series. I so much prefer the way he is depicted in the one-off Ravana: Roar of the Demon King (Campfire Graphic Novels) by Abhimanyu Singh Sisodia and Sachin Nagar. I'm still waiting for the "Nark-angels" in Ramayan 3392 AD to pick up the ferocious nobility was in Sisodia and Nagar's straighter re-telling.

The only serious complaint I have about this series is the all too frequent and inane footnotes inside the frames. When "Ma!" is translated as "Momma!", my groan can be heard till the Moorland of Gabaksh. I'm sure even Johnny Jindal sitting with his Pops won't require such frame-breaking "explanations".

White nose-haired worthies — and I'm not talking about the "Wendy hai hai!" lot — will nitpick their nose-hairs to eternity on finding faults with the 'connections' being made with the Ramayana(s). But I think here's the epic recast in a sharp, cool form, style and look that will not only excite A.K. Ramanujan — whose brilliant essay Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation is always rightly quoted by the liberal lot when faced by the illiterate mob — but also will bring some much-needed tachyon-sparks to a great story that may have become ossified for many ever since it became just a 'indoo canon.

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