Magazine article The Spectator

Moments of Magic

Magazine article The Spectator

Moments of Magic

Article excerpt

The talk is that we've yet to experience the cuts that will have to be implemented to balance the nation's books, but on the quiet, in suburban backstreets, behind closed doors, along cultural throughways and byways not often visited we know that they're already happening, big time. Look no further than Sunday's Classic Serial on Radio 4 for a signal of how they might affect what we'll be listening to in future decades (not just years). The huge sprawling Indian epic, The Ramayana, has been hurriedly put together in just two hour-long episodes instead of developed into a nice long meaty series.

This meant that what we heard were the bullet points of love and war, rather than a lavish, colourfully embroidered portrayal of ordinary mortals struggling to overcome the tests of endurance, honour and duty set by the mischievous gods.

Amber Lone's script is a valiant effort to compress the tale of Prince Rama and his beautiful doe-eyed wife Sita who are cast into exile with his faithful brother Lakshman after a palace coup. But 120 minutes cannot do justice to the ancient Sanskrit poem, which springs from as far back as at least the 4th century BC and runs to 24,000 stanzas. For some ardent readers it provides a religious exercise, repeating favourite passages day after day as a step-by-step guide to enlightenment. Others regard it as theatre, a dramatic tale with complementary characters acting out the huge variety of human experience.

There were moments of magic as Sita (played by Manjinder Virk) declares her love and Rama (Lloyd Thomas) attempts to lift Shiva's bow, but it was difficult sometimes to keep up with what was going on, or to get a sense of what it is about the poem that so entranced Gandhi. He dreamed that India would one day return to the Golden Age described by the poet Valmiki. Evil is present as Rama's wicked stepmother attempts to disinherit him, and General Ravana, ruler of Lanka, kidnaps Sita. But such wickedness is tamed by Rama's goodwill, which successfully reboots the wayward emotions.

The setting has been updated to 2010 for Radio 4 so that Sita lures Rama to her heart with a pink silk scarf and a mobile phone, while Rama is threatened by gun-toting rebels wielding AK47s. The text resonates with echoes of the troubles in Kashmir, the civil war in Sri Lanka, the ways in which we are now ruled by terror. …

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