I have been reading fiction for almost a decade now. In my journey as a reader, rather an ardent reader, I have read works of the highest accepted standard and also those vehemently disregarded by so-called critics. However, I often tend to make my decisions and opinions only after reading the books myself. I am rarely influenced by the opinions of others unless it’s a universal case. My introduction to Anand Neelakantan is old. Right from the days when his work Asura was published. Asura by Anand Neelakantan was a major breakthrough in Indian English fiction. Writing from the perspective of villains and attempting to lionise them as heroes might work in India to get one the limelight and accolades. However, breaking it further, one has to agree on the fates of Rushdies and Browns of the world… it shows you can make heroes out of the villains from the Hindu epic, nowhere else. Well, I am not going into the depths of this ideological debate about the representation of villains and heroes. I am writing this opinion article to state my experience of reading Anand Neelakantana and how this experience has been frustrating and rather unsatisfactory for me.
As an ardent reader of Indian English fiction, I also ventured into the literary world of Anand Neelakantan. It was inevitable because the author was almost everywhere where literary discussions were held. Though we all know how these things go in the backend. Well, once I actually went through the novels by him, it was a completely opposite story. Frustration – this was the only dominant result and it has been the story throughout. Burdened by a host of demerits that permeate his writings, I can rarely find any merit worth mentioning. It is only in his perennial resolve to keep writing that I can see something worth appreciating! Even if I leave Neelakantan’s characters, which suffer from a lack of depth and development, there is much to talk about the shortcomings of the stories he tells. However, let’s settle the characterisation by Neelakantan with a brief discussion. Except for the latest works, in all the works by this author, characters seldom extend their value beyond being the vessels for the author’s ideas and opinions. Which are, to be frank, shoddy and too explicit rather than being subtle and universal – don’t forget Shakespeare. Ravana, in the novel Asura by Anand Neelakantan, is nothing more than a caricature who carries all the weight of the novelist’s propaganda rather than being a person who is world famous for having many layers in his personality.
Neelakantan’s prose, many might not admit it even after noticing it en masse, is often reaching the levels of verbose… an absurdity that becomes the reason for characters losing whatever touch of reality they might have. The author, knowingly or unknowingly, is almost forsaking the art of subtlety and leaving little room for reader interpretation. Descriptions and dialogues tend to be overly explicit, leaving no space for the reader’s imagination to roam. In The Rise of Sivagami, the first book in the Bahubali series, this can be noticed on many occasions. The author frequently employs blatant dialogue exchanges to convey the themes and conflicts, sacrificing the beauty of showing by over-telling. This reliance on direct explanations stunts the reader’s immersion and robs the narrative of its potential to evoke emotions or provoke thoughtful introspection. And overall, this experience might ruin whatever little link is there between the readers and the narrative. Did you feel it when you read Anand in the past? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Though there are many more, another significant demerit that I can highlight is the lack of cohesive plot structure and pace of the narrative. His stories often meander aimlessly, lacking a clear direction or sense of purpose. As a reader, many might find themselves entangled in convoluted subplots that fail to contribute meaningfully to the overarching narrative. For instance, in Ajaya: Epic of the Kaurava Clan, the book oscillates between past and present. It results in a tangled web of events that distracts from the central conflict. And as expected, the narrative’s lack of focus undermines the reader’s engagement, rendering the reading experience disjointed and unsatisfying. Pick up any book by this novelist and you will find the same lack of purpose. Where will the reader reach after investing his time in the story? Nowhere is the answer!
Another one that I can mention here before I close my arguments and conclude this article is the novelist’s tendency to add more than needed simplification to otherwise complex themes and issues. Simplification is something that I admire and often want authors to consider. Nevertheless, Neelakantan’s tendency to oversimplify complex moral dilemmas diminishes the intellectual depth and does only a disservice to the overall scheme of the narrative. Rather than presenting multifaceted ethical quandaries, his stories often resort to black-and-white dichotomies, reducing characters to stark embodiments of good or evil. In Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva, and Tara, the author presents Vali as an unambiguously evil character, leaving no room for ambiguity or moral complexity. Even though it is indeed his artistic freedom, this characterisation, in the first place, belies all the lessons we may have learnt by reading the Ramayana. Moreover, as described earlier, this act of oversimplification deprives the reader of the opportunity to grapple with challenging questions and undermines the potential for profound philosophical exploration. Nonetheless, it is what it is! Anand cannot (it seems) define his story expectations and therefore he just miserably fails in offering something challenging (and interesting) to readers.
In conclusion, the writings of Anand Neelakantan suffer from a multitude of demerits that mar the reading experience. I have tried to bring some of them to the attention of readers here. Just for a quick recap, let me make a count of the major shortcomings of the writings of Anand once more. These are shallow characterisation, heavy-handed exposition, fragmented plots, and oversimplified moral dilemmas. As one might expect, these (in their individual capacities or when mixed together) hinder the growth of his narratives. At the same time, one may be forced to admit that the author’s works may appeal to some with their accessible storytelling, but for the discerning reader seeking depth, complexity, and intellectual stimulation, these flaws become an insurmountable hurdle, leaving us frustrated and yearning for more substantial literary offerings. What do you think about this analysis of Neelakantan’s fiction? Do you find it agreeable? If you have some thoughts about this article, please write them in the comments below. It will give me a chance to learn more and further share my thoughts.
By Alka for Featured Author
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