Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. ~ Cicero M Tullius
If Cicero was to say this today, he'd have modified that last bit to ...and everyone's writing a book about the Mahabharata. After Ashok Banker, Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi, India seems to be mass producing contemporary Indian English authors of mythology. Can’t blame them, really. Our epics are so rich and endless in their inspiration that any wannabe author without an original story turns to them for a reinterpretation, a retelling.
The Mahabharata, in particular, with its myriad characters, is a favourite and stories from the points of view of individual characters are flooding the market. It probably started when Prem Panicker translated Vasudevan Nair's Randaamoozham, a retelling of the Mahabharata by Bheema. Panicker’s book was called Bhimsen. Next was The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, which came out in 2008. The last couple of years have seen books like, Mrityunjaya (a story about Karna) by Shivaji Savant, Women of the Mahabharata by Chaturvedi Badrinath and more recently, even Karna’s Wife, the outcaste’s queen by Kavita Kane! There may be many others I’m not aware of, but one of this genre recently landed on my table for a review.
Arjuna – Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince by Anuja Chandramouli tells the story of the Mahabharata from the perspective of the most illustrious of the Pandavas. While the book focuses on the important milestones of Arjuna's story, especially his 12-year exile, the story is essentially that of the inexorably connected Pandava brothers. Either it is impossible to separate the five, or the author hasn't done a good job with the single perspective. Because I've not read any of the books mentioned above yet, I do not know how they compare. But if an author decides to pick one character, as a reader, I would expect a more fleshed out one than what Chandramouli has presented here.
The language is also simple to a fault. Its plainness doesn't make the book easy to read; instead it makes it dull. For a tale as amazing as the Mahabharata, it is sad if one doesn't feel like reading more than a few pages at once. For me as a reader, the language neither induced great visuals, nor was there any music in it. I remained impassive to the protagonist and the plot right through the book. The author fails to make Arjuna memorable for me any more than he already is. But the book will serve as a good refresher for anyone looking to brush up their Mahabharata trivia.
While this book was a little bit of a disappointment, I welcome this wave of Indian English books on our greatest epic. The Mahabharata belongs to everyone and its rich lessons ought to stay with us. It is only with such books that the newer generations will take interest in and take forward this fantastic legacy. I certainly look forward to reading many more from this genre of books.