Review: The Valmiki Syndrome

The book this week was “The Valmiki Syndrome Finding the work-life balance” by Ashok K. Banker. As I mentioned in a previous post I won this book in a twitter contest, courtesy the author and the publication house Random House India.

This is not from the mythology genre and not a fiction. In this book Banker has described his take on the life’s eternal 3 questions i.e.

1. Who am I?

2. What do I want to become?

3. How can I become that?

Now sometime or the other every person in this world has asked these questions to himself/herself. And many yogis, gurus (self-proclaimed or otherwise) and scholars have tried to give the answers that they thought were right.

There are 3 stories that go simultaneously namely Ratnakaran, Suhasini & Ravi and Sara. Where Ratnakaran’s story is age-old from Ramayana era  and Suhasini and Sara’s story are contemporary.

Ratnakaran was a dreaded dacoit in the age of Ramayana who used to rob and kill people as a profession until the day he meets Narad who explains to him that what he is doing is not what his family wants him to do, he realizes his mistake (although he was just trying to fend for his family through this profession) and starts on the path of enlightenment and later comes to be known as ‘Rishi Valmiki’, the great seer who wrote the epic Ramayana.

Suhasini is a modern-day career oriented woman who earns more than her husband and in the process of going forward in her career leaves behind her husband and kids and as a result her husband Ravi falls in love with another woman Karen and marries her, the kids also don’t love Suhasini. Suhasini later realizes her mistake that her career advancements, her promotions and high salary are worth nothing if she doesn’t have anyone to share it with.

The last story is of a young girl Sara from a middle class Maharashtrian family who gets selected to IIT but leaves it for a job in the real estate business. Her parents (specially her father) does not agree and are very angry, she leaves the home but continues to advance in her career and only in a few years she is a successful, young career woman and then she finds love of her life Aamir who helps her in mending things with her family.

Banker tries to illustrate it through different stories (even giving example of great Siddhartha or Buddha) that asking the question is important and the first step. If one doesn’t ask the question, one would never change. Change is inevitable and we should not be scared of it, it will be for progress or for decay or for transformation.

But if we do not ask ourselves who we are? or who we want to become then we will never find the perfect balance between work and life. Whereas having a career is important so that we can earn enough to remain happy but equally or even more important is family and life for which we are doing all the hard work. If the people for whom we are working (or think we are working) are not happy then nothing is worth. Every person some or the other time gets affected by this situation he terms as ‘The Valmiki Syndrome’.

It is not a self-help book, he has mentioned it in the beginning only (which I was very happy about). I too believe that self-help books or seers or gurus, etc. no one can help you, only you can. One can find answers to these 3 questions (and every other question in life) from within and there is no need to search it out or ask anyone. You can listen to everyone’s advice but should be using your conscious and mind to resolve your issues.

Banker has tried to give a Vedic angle to these eternal questions and tried to explain it very nicely (after all that is his forte) through different stories and by expressing his views in the middle of the stories.

I would rate it as a good read however I was not very happy with it. I expected more from the book (not in terms of the answers to those questions for sure).

May be I think he should have let the stories do the talking rather than he expressing his views in between  as it felt at times that the stories were biased due to his views regarding the topic (I do understand stories are always biased but…) and so a reader it not able to take decision on his own and rather is drawn to the conclusion that the author is trying to drive him at. From Banker I expect more. As even he mentions (through the medium of a story) that Narad tells Ratnakaran that let the ‘katha’ do the talking, it does not preach but it just puts things in perspective. The listeners of the katha should use their own विवेक  (it’s such a beautiful word) to draw conclusion.

I would have wanted  not to brand any character (including Suhasini, Ravi or Sara or Ratnakaran) as right or wrong, as good or bad. I didn’t want to even say that Ravi was wrong as he indulged in infidelity or Ratnakaran in killing people. But let the reader to make his views for himself. Because I think the way 3 questions can be answered by a person himself so the good or bad, right or wrong that decision should also be taken by that person alone and not by the society.

Apart from that as I said it’s a good read but definitely not near any of his Ramayana or Krishna series. I would look forward to more such books from him.

PS: Trivia : The one thing I was missing was (as I have read his Ramayana Series also) that if this story of Ratnakaran was right then when did he in this duration got together with Rama and fight the demons (as is mentioned in his Ramayana series) ?


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