"Simian" by Vikram Balagopal is a black-and-white graphic novel that attempts to retell the epic from Hanuman’s point of view

The allegorical and engaging storyline of the Ramayana has inspired many versions and now a black-and-white graphic novel attempts a retelling of the epic from Hanuman’s point of view.

“Simian” by Vikram Balagopal is a gritty reimagining of the Ramayana that brings to life the scars —physical, moral and spiritual — borne by Hanuman, as he replays history, exploring the decisions one has to make in life and war.

The story is contained within the often glossed-over episode in the Mahabharata where Hanuman and Bhima meet.

“When I made the decision to create Simian, I dived into researching as many versions of these epics as possible and discovered a side to the Ramayana I hadn’t known — that it evolved with every version to reflect the sensibilities of the period and the people who produced it,” says Mr. Balagopal about the book.

The illustrator-cartoonist’s source and guide for the Ramayana was a translation of the epic by Ralph T H Griffith, and for any references to the Mahabharata, he used the translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli.

The book, published by HarperCollins Publishers, is only the first two parts, in a trilogy, of the entire story and confines itself to the events surrounding the search for Sita. The author says the characters’ motivations, relationships or even substantial portions of the “main” plot changed from telling to telling.

“In a Jain version, all the characters are depicted as Jains and in the end it is not Ram but Laxman who kills Ravan. A Buddhist version called the Dasarata Jataka depicts Ram and Sita as siblings who marry, and though Ram, Laxman and Sita are exiled, the abduction of Sita did not find a place in this version,” he says.

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