Book: Demons of Chitrakut by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-3)

“She slapped him.

She put all her strength behind the blow. His face was flung sharply to the right, his vision blurring out of focus before the world swam back into view, accompanied by several motes of swirling light, and he found himself facing the wall. ……

‘Stop it,’ she said….”
— Chapter 22, Kaand 1, Demons of Chitrakut   

The above is an interaction between Sita and Rama, when he tells her that he has to go on a long exile, alone

Cover Demons of Chitrakut

Title Demons of Chitrakut
Series Volume-3 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-3

The high-level storyline in this part of the series:

Rama and Lakshman, under the guidance of Vishwamitra, have decimated the host of asuras moving towards  Mithila and Ayodhya. Rama weds Sita and Lakshman weds Urmila (Sita’s sister). The other brothers of Rama marry Sita’s cousins.

The wedding party on its way back to Ayodhya is challenged by the axe welding sage Parashurama – the confrontation between Rama and Parashurama is captivating. Back in Ayodhya, the duo of Manthara-Kaikeyi manipulate Dasharath to exile Rama. Sita and Lakshman accompany him voluntarily.
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Book: Siege of Mithila by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-2)

“… saw the deep blue wave of brahman ripple outward from the tower itself, rolling harmlessly over humans and their animal friends and the city and its structures. But when it reached the Asura armies massed on the south bank of the Sarayu, the effect was numbing.

The dense black hordes of Asuras disintegrated as the wave touched them, turning them to powder…”

— Chapter 13, Kaand 3, Siege of Mithla

The above passage is towards the end of the book.

Prince of Ayodhya Cover

Title Siege of Mithila
Series Volume-2 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-2

In this part of the series, Rama and Lakshman, having completed the task of cleaning up Bhayanak-van of the hordes of asuras start their journey back home to Ayodhya, along with sage Vishwamitra.

Vishwamitra decides that they need to make their way via Mathila, the city where princess Sita lives, because Ravana has amassed an army of asuras to invade Ayodhya and this army is about to trample Mithila on its way.
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Book: Prince of Ayodhya by Ashok Banker (Ramayan series book-1)

“…  three breathtakingly graceful leaps, it took him to the veranda that ringed one side of the circular chamber. Sword slashing through the gossamer folds of the translucent drapes that could conceal an assassin. Turn, turn, breathe, slice, follow-through, recover, resume stance. Guru Vashishta had trained him superbly…”

— Chapter 1, Prince of Ayodhya

The above passage is not about Bruce Lee in the movie Enter the Dragon, but about Rama in Ashok Banker’s first book of his Ramayan series.

Prince of Ayodhya Cover

Title Prince of Ayodhya
Series Volume-1 of the 8 volume Ramayana series
Author Ashok Banker

NOTE: Please read the comments on the whole series here , as the reviewer’s opinions on the series are expressed there.

The Story in Book-1

At the start of this series, young princes Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrughan, and Bharat are back in the capital city of Ayodhya after a long training program at sage Vashishta’s ashram (sage Vashishta is also king Dashratha’s counselor).

Rama is often plagued by nightmares of attacks and destruction of his beloved city (Ayodhya) and kingdom (Kosala).
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Book Series: Ramayan Series by Ashok Banker: Mythological epic retold as an amazing and imaginative fantasy

This is an eight-book series where Ashok Banker retells the Ramayan in the style of the modern “fantasy” novel, like the Lord of the Rings series by JRR Tolkien.

The first of the series was written in 2003 and series was completed in 2012 with the eighth book.

Here are the images of the covers of these books:Ramayan Series Cover Images

I had heard the Ramayan in bits and pieces in my early childhood. Later, I read abridged YA versions and graphic art forms (called comics then) from Amar Chitra Katha. Somewhere along the way I consumed the English versions by Rajaji (C Rajagopalachari) and R K Narayan. I was eventually put off this epic by Ramanand Sagar’s teleserial in the 1980s, where it became morlistic, dull, and full of cardboard charaters.

Anyway, a few years ago, my wife (Swapna) had purchased the first of the series, and I picked it up just after she finished it. Once I started reading it, I just could not put it down. I gobbled-up the first six of the series as and when they were released. I was under the impression that the series was over with the six books (maybe there was a gap between the publishing of the sixth and the seventh book, or something in the sixth book gave me that impression). However, I recently discovered that Banker has added two more volumes to the series, making it a total of 8 books.
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Book: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

I had read this book around four years ago, and had liked it. So posting a review of the book on this blog has been on my list for a while now.

The full title of the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (How the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction) makes the author’s thesis / proposal pretty clear. Anyway, here is a passage from the book that contains the key theme:

“Freedom and autonomy are critical to our well-being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefitting from it psychologically.”

Chapter 5- The Paradox of Choice

This engagingly written, semi-academic book on consumer psychology brings in new insights into impact of excessive choices available to consumers in terms of speed of decision making (and whether a decision is made at all), and the statisfaction with the decision after it is made. The book also looks at two types of people – the ‘maximizers’ and the ‘satisficers’ in the context of decision making (when faced with many choices).

The gist is as follows:

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Book: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I picked up Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, on the recommendation of a mathematician (Vipul Naik, my son). I was expecting a heavy treatise on economics and statistics. It was however a very engrossing book written in a lucid and conversational style, with historical events and everyday situations used freely to provide insights.

Here is the book summary/ key insights (that I picked up from the book):

1)      Human beings are wired in a way that they are unable to intuitively handle randomness and chance.

2)      We are adept at explaining everything through a cause-effect; because we just can’t handle uncertainty. And a statistical correlation does not necessarily mean one causes the other.

3)      Ignoring rare events (outliers) in building prediction models is fooling ourselves – rare events are a part of the process and environment, and their impact is rarely understood or considered by people.

4)      We try to explain extraordinary successes as the result of brilliant strategy or business model or formula or leadership skills or intelligence; while it is often just dumb luck. This is more so of domains like stock trading, marketing, and running a business. We try to learn from and emulate the “winners”, without much success ourselves (by trying to implement the so-called strategies of successful people). Basically, according to the book, many of the winners are just lucky fools :-).

5)      Nice symmetrical probability distributions cannot be expected of any human endeavor (symmetrical distributions may be used to understand controlled situations like gambling – toss of a coin, or rolling of a dice). When we simplify probability distributions and approximate them to neat curves, the results that we get are unreliable.

6)      Though Monte Carlo simulations are looked down upon (“that is cheating, it is not statistics!”) by purists, it is still be the best way to model complex, real situations and understand the potential randomness of the outcomes, and can be used for informed decision making.

7)      Past performance cannot be blindly used to predict future performance. Hence, we should not overestimate the accuracy of our beliefs just because we have been successful in the past, we should reexamine our beliefs based on logic, and always have a backup plan.

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Book: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

I had earlier read two engrossing books by Atul Gawande – Complications and Better. So when I saw The Checklist Manifesto while browsing in the neighborhood library, I decided to pick it up looking forward to an interesting read (some reviewers had strongly recommended it). The title also indicated that it may a good book to review for this weblog.

Well, I was partially right – it was suitable to post a review on this blog. So, here goes…

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