“Whatever is here is found elsewhere. But whatever is not here is nowhere else.”
English translation: Second Turn
Background: This is the 3rd Malayalam book I’ve ‘finished’. First one of the acclaimed litterateur that is MT Vasudevan Nair. His achievements and accolades are beyond any writer of contemporary Malayalam literature. Though I have seen various movies which was scripted by him. Reading one of his most acclaimed novel was like witnessing a lion in its own backyard.
Intro: There are many epics, and none other has been written, told, edited, interpreted, re-interpreted, critiqued, criticized, summarized, analyzed, appended more than Mahabarat. The great Indian Classic. Perhaps the kids for the last couple of generations were blessed with having watched the epic in a visual form, Thanks to Doordarshan and BR Chopra( I am told that, In our ancestral home, a brass lamp used to be lit and kept in front of the T.V by my grand mother when the televised version was aired on every Sunday morning), every one of our generations heard the story more often narrated in the voice of Harish Bhimani (as Samay, Time). He became the David Attenborough of Indian television. The story of Mahabarat cannot be completely told in 100 sittings let alone 1 sitting. So, every child in India heard different parts in the epic and various sub plots possibly at various points in their lives. To further this point, I read about an adventure of Krishna and Arjuna burning a forest near Gandavaprastha (Later renamed Indraprastha) only when I was reading about Arjuna at MSU-Bozeman. So, I will hear/read more such sub plots possibly later in my life. To even summarize the complete plot of the epic is beyond the reach of this review. To put it in a mere sentence, it is basically the story of Great India (Mahabharat means Great India) or rather it is a story between warring cousins- the evil Kauravas and divine Panadavas.
Plot: The great epic were most often told where Arjuna(The third among Pandavas) was the protagonist and Krishna being his divine friend. The stories were always from their side. The great Nara–Narayanan (Human-God). Here, the author explored and strongly put forth an argument for the Second among Pandavas, The Bhima. The story is narrated in first person as Bhima himself. The author explains the stance and thought process undergoing in Bhima‘s mind with ease and conviction under (Dharma–sankat) morally tough situations. The major crisis taken into consideration were the second grade status given by the Polyandric wife of his, Draupadi, the main female character of the epic. Lack of importance given by various warriors and teachers even after him being the strongest. And finally, lack of his coronation after killing all the heirs of Kaurava dynasty. Another trait which is very noticeable is his continuous pursuit for Draupadi‘s acceptance at the same time avoiding his other cohorts. (In a way, pointing towards an attitude towards women as a trophy to be won and then discarded in the shelves) If this were the main epic, it would come out as Bhima being an insecure and unintelligent hero with little or no charm of his. Thankfully, this being an alternative vantage point of the great epic, is a pleasurable, worthwhile and very important read. The author also digs at the male characters for their sexist attitudes towards women by the strong character of Draupadi.
The book doesn’t undermine Arjuna or Krishna, but completely rejects the divine form of Krishna and such pompous divine interventions as merely metaphorical songs from the folklore. That particular aspect is very much laudable. Hence, this is a more human viewpoint. The story undermines Yudhishtira, The first of the Pandavas and sometimes is very critical of Bhima‘s own action or/and inaction. The most surprising act came in the last chapters, when I read something entirely new and which doesn’t reach mainstream story. When Kunthi, the mother of Pandavas reveals true fathers of Karnan, Yudhishtira and Bhima (May be I have heard and then probably forgotten). After that revelation, certain actions of certain characters come into more light. I will leave some suspense there. There was something new to be understood in this version of epic as well, The great Indian story continues getting enriched.
Style: The language is of high literary quality. It was the first truly artistic Malayalam novel I have read, considering that Mathilukal and Aadujeevitham . Both were more contemporary and very colloquial in prose style. The author here has weighed each aspect of the epic and has given a delicious feast of language. The writing and research took 7 years. It definitely seem a worthwhile effort. The story from the B.C era even in its human viewpoint in a vernacular language was very much literary and full of artistic caliber. The love-making, the epic battles, the daily activities,landscapes, climactic episodes are all rich with vibrant life-like details.
Verdict: This novel has enriched Malayalam literature beyond doubt. A must read for anyone who can read Malayalam. 5/5 .
Circumstances has forced misfortune and thereby resentment and sense of betrayal in the heart of Bhima. That is the basis of this novel itself. Where as, Arjuna who was always the pampered, charming, ever-fertile, brave and courageous hero. Even in this take, Arjuna was shown as such, for me he will always be the hero, the true winner of Draupadi, ultimate friend of Krishna, also an obedient younger brother for both elder brothers and a remarkable student. The heir of the Dynasty after the great war was ‘his’ grand son Parikshit. Arjuna can also be attributed to have had the greatest moral doubt of a warrior which got one of the greatest philosophical treatise of all time, The Gita. From my childhood, I was a fan of Arjuna, the great archer. This book haven’t changed my hero.
Great epics can be read and re-read great many times. This is the greatest of all epics. No doubt whatsoever. This novel is a pleasurable accompaniment to the great epic without doubt. This is Bhima‘s story. The strongest of them all.
I remember a quote about Mahabharat I have heard long back from an elder.
രാമായണം, എങ്ങനെയാണ് ജീവിക്കേണ്ടത് എന്ന് പടിപ്പിക്കുമ്പോൾ, മഹാഭാരതം ഇങ്ങനെയൊക്കെ ജീവിക്കാൻ പറ്റു എന്ന് പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നു.
“Ramayana teaches you how to lead your life, where as Mahabharat teaches you that you can lead your life only with considerable limitations.
വഴിക്കൊരിടത്ത് ഉപേക്ഷിക്കപെട്ട നിലയിൽ തണ്ടുകളോടുകൂടി ഒരുപിടി സൌഗന്ധികപൂക്കൾ മണ്ണിൽ കിടക്കുന്നത് ഞാൻ കണ്ടു .
“On our way, I saw a bunch of night blooming flowers along with its stem being forsaken and lying on the earth.”
Bhima brought night blooming flowers overcoming several hardships after a Draupadi’s wish to have it, later he finds it forgotten and forsaken in the ground.