"Valmiki the Poet looked down into water held cupped in his hand and saw into the past. Before he looked, he thought the world was sweet poison. Men seemed to be living in lies, not knowing where their ways went. The days seemed made of ignorance and doubt, and cast from deception and illusion. But in the water he saw-a dream, a chance and a great adventure. Valmiki trusted the True and forgot the rest; he found the whole universe like a bright jewel set firm in forgiving and held fast by love.
Widen your heart. Abandon anger. Believe me, your few days are numbered; make one fast choice now and no second!
Come, clear your heart and quickly walk with me into Brahma, while there is time.
-William Buck (from the opening verse of his retelling of Valmiki's "Ramayana")
I have always been fascinated by the Epics, be it Homer and ancient Greece, or the "Legend of Gilgamesh", or Tolkien's tales. But to me none were as wondrous or mesmerizing as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Every translation I could find I have read, and C. Rajagopalachari's popular retelling of the stories have been faithfully re-read every year. But I had not read William Buck's versions of Valmiki and Vyasa's epics. Not read them, that is, until now.
I recently bought both books, and have been devouring the Ramayana first. Never have I read an English version of the epic that remains so true to the lyrical verse of the vernacular versions. This book is meant to be read out (almost sung out) aloud, just like the ancient bards would sing these epics in times long gone by. And every line is as riveting and conjures up images as any classic epic fantasy should. The tale almost takes different hues, though fidelity to the original story, and love for the original, is utmost in Buck's effort. The retelling also remains remarkably succinct, and the epic is reduced to a mere 430 pages, without losing a major section of the story. A masterful effort. It's a true pity Buck died at the young age of 37, before he could translate more Indian classics into English.