Saturday, April 08, 2017

G for Great Indian Novel

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor is an all time favourite book of mine. It is one of Tharoor's more ingenious works, marrying the political scene of yesteryear India with the Mahabharata, the real great Indian novel.

As a kid, like all other kids, I was exposed to the Mahabharata and Ramayana in myriad forms - songs, cartoons, abridged books, grandmother's tales. As I grew older, there was something about the Mahabharata that enamoured me unlike other mythological tales. And this fascination continues till today.

The Ramayana is a black and white story. There are two kinds of people, good and evil, and in the end, good triumphs over evil. That sounds too simplistic. Perhaps, I have not delved deep enough into the story of the Ramayana to make a comment. But, its black-and-whiteness and its protagonist's chastity tests of his wife have never allowed me to delve deep.

The Mahabharata is a different story altogether. It embraces the grey, the murky and the normal human mind's failings beautifully. It encapsulates good and evil, fate and karma, going as far as to say that who you think is evil may actually not be evil, he may even have done something so good that the evil gets cancelled out and he reaches the heavens much faster than the "good guys". It is not a story about a bunch of good guys being cheated out of their property and rightful throne. It is about two factions that war against each other, off and on the battlefields, second guessing the other's next steps all through their lives, and ending most of their lives in a pointless war eventually. In fact, one of my more favourite parts of the book is where Kunti and the Pandavas, while escaping the lac palace, kill a worker woman and her five sons and place the bodies inside the palace so that the Kauravas are thrown off track into believing that the family indeed died in the fire they had planned. Clearly, the Pandavas are no better than the Kauravas then. Or, perhaps they are worse off because they kill innocents who have no stake in the game for their own benefit. 
I read  a detailed version of the Mahabharata a few years back, one written by Ramesh Menon. It is an easy read, but a really long and detailed one, and came with very good recommendations from people with much more knowledge than me on the subject. Guess it is time for a revision because there are so many intricacies in this epic that can be easily forgotten. 

Warning: There is popular belief that reading the Mahabharata brings bad luck since it is a book about war and death and no real happiness. As against this, reading the Ramayana apparently is supposed to bring good luck.

P. S. This post is the seventh in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

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