Author: Ashok Banker
Publisher: Random House, India
I have to begin with my admission of having a hate-love (more hate than love) relationship with this author. Despite my ordeal with his Ramayana series, which is also something I’m currently reading, I chose to read The Valmiki Syndrome. Why? Partly, because I was ensnared by the title, and partly, because Random House asked me to review it. And at the end of the book, my perception of the author remains the same. However, the book wasn’t as bad as some other ‘preachy’ ones I’ve read; mostly because it uses mini stories to prove the point. Ashok Banker extols the value, and demonstrates the ancient technique of, katha (storytelling) as a way of gaining insight, knowledge and subsequently, wisdom in this book.
The book talks about The Valmiki Syndrome – the common human conundrum of trying to find the work-life balance. I’m not sure if a concept like this existed, or has been conjured up by the author. I think it is the latter. While using Sage Valmiki’s story as an example was okay, calling the whole problem of work-life balance ‘The Valmiki Syndrome’ was stretching it. The book could easily have been called something like ‘The Work-Life Question’, ‘The Urban Dilemma’ or something else that sounds self-help-ey. But Banker’s love of Ramayana and a clever marketing ploy may have prompted this title. There is a resurgence of interest in Indian mythology in the current generation, and like it tricked me to pick up the book, it will many others.
As I’ve mentioned above, the book has three mini stories about three very different lives. There is an extremely ambitious Suhasini; there is Sara, who rebels to find success in a field not approved of by her family; and there is the dreaded dacoit Ratnakaran, who kills and steals to make a living. The consequences of their chosen paths are very different – Suhasini, on a career overdrive, loses her husband and children; Sara succeeds on her path despite the initial estrangement from her family and goes on to get the best of both worlds; and Ratnakaran realizes, with the help of Rishi Narada, that his family does not really support his means, and goes on to mend his ways by treading the spiritual path.
Through the stories, the author tries to encourage the reader to ask oneself three fundamental questions about identity and life. Who am I? Who do I wish to be? How do I become that person? Once a person mulls upon and is able to answer these questions, he is able to find his life path. He is able to prioritise, act upon, and change his life situation for the better. These are pertinent philosophical questions and I liked the book for them. The author is able to demonstrate simply and easily their importance. The packaging of this ancient wisdom is clever.
My only misgiving, as with all of Banker’s books, is his style of writing. I find it boring, especially in parts where it is Banker speaking. As long as he has his story voice on, where the characters talk, he is tolerable. But when his own opinions come across, he begins to sound ‘bleh’. It’s like ‘I’m not preaching, but do this…’, ‘I’m not being a guru, but do that…’. Yeah, okay, Mister Banker, you’re not trying to preach, but you are. Don’t.