A Little Off the Track
Recently I attended a literary function in which a speaker said that every Indian should read the mythologies that are Indian. One starts realising what a glorious culture he or she hails from. Well, things are always easier said than done. There are only so many years in one's life and all that one can read during a lifetime is only limited. Awareness--yes!--one should have that. It's always helpful. I think I should start reading those novels that base their themes on our glorious mythologies, like "Yagnyaseni" [in Oriya] by Pratibha Ray and "Sita Puni Boli" [in Hindi] by Mridula Sinha. In that function I just referred to Mrs Sinha was speaking about Sita, the character she has based her novel on and I saw her crying while delivering the speech. What an extent a writer can go just to live the character he or she writes! I think many in the audience shed their tears too.
Hanuman, the monkey god and the greatest of the devotees of Lord Ram, was as much knowledgeable as he was powerful and there is no doubt that Valmiki had endowed this character of his opus with versatility unmatchable in its sweep in the entire gamut of mythologies in India. He was detailed to fetch Vishalyakarani or Samjivani herb from Gandhamardan hills so that the extract out of the herb would revive Lakshman lying in coma on the battlefield. Ram knew that nobody except Hanuman would be able to deliver the goods, for it was Hanuman who had the ability to work under the compulsions of geography and time. But reaching Gandhamardan Hanuman could not trace the herb. And, lo, he uprooted the entire hillock and carried it atop his left palm and reached the battlefield in Lanka taking the aeriel route, the shortest route. That was how Lakshman could be revived.
How is it possible that Hanuman, the greatest devotee of Lord Ram failed to recognise Sanjeevani? Is he not the same Hanuman who could recognise his lord owing to his supreme devotional power? And somebody who had the knowledge to know where his god existed should not have faced the confusion of recognising a mere plant which was so essential then. Is it that Valmiki consciously made the episode so interesting anticipating the expectaion of the readers of the Ramayan?
A driver knows how another of his ilk would behave under a given situation. This unwritten agreement is verymuch palpable in the discipline of the road. So is the case of a writer. I think I can enter into the mind of Valmiki. Look! He would have made his first draft like this: Lakshman was hit by a powerful weapon and fell unconscious on the battlefield; then Ram could come to know that Sanjeevani herb could revive his brother Lakshman but the herb was available in the forest of Gandhamardan which was thousands of miles away from the battlefield of Srilanka; so he sent Hanuman to fetch it; and Hanuman fetched the herb which in turn revived Lakshman. That could be the shape of the first draft of this particular episode in Valmiki's Ramayan.
Then in his second or subsequent rounds of revision, Valmiki would have added layers of narratives to his mythology and Hanuman would have appeared more powerful a character in the process. So, the earlier episode would have appeared just ordinary to the writer himself. How could he have allowed his Hanuman to simply go to Gandhamardan and fetch the herb? Would not it appear so uninteresting? So the demand of the plot would have necessitated further embellishment of the character and his action, say like uprooting the whole of the hill and carrying it via ariel route rather than just fetching the herb without any visual impact of his action as was the case in the first draft.
What do I intend to say here? Nothing...except that I have some understanding of the painful process of revision the author has to walk his drafts through. Oh yes, I should disclose it here: "The Roadshow" that I was shaping as a collection of short-stories would be a novel. Aha! I'm only thinking aloud! Now during the course of revision of a short-story collections, I have strayed into a bigger area. I'm feeling a little jittery--it's like drifting into the highseas while the process has started as a simple swimming along the creek!
A. N. Nanda