What can I say about the Mahabharata! The Epic of all epics. My memory is hazy but I think Rajagopalachari’s very accessible translation was my first Tamil book. Probably my favourite epic and one that has shaped my world view. So, when I spotted this book at the book fair this year, I promptly bought it. I really envy those who got to read this in Malayalam. The Tamil translation is superlative, but it hints at the richness of the original.
The story starts on the last day of the bloody war where Duryodana lies on the banks of a lake, his life ebbing away, thigh broken by Bhima’s angry mace. Draupadi witnesses the fire that consumes her five children and her brother along with the entire Pandava army. Yudhishtira realizes that they have killed Karna, their elder brother, and is enveloped in self-pity and grief. What follows is a grim, brooding philosophical musing on the purpose of life.
Predominantly told through flashbacks, the story slowly fleshes out the story of the tragic hero Karna. The episodes are all well known, having soaked into the collective consciousness through the years of oral, written and visual media. But what sets the novel apart is the remarkable way in which Karna grows in the eyes of Draupadi, throughout the novel. From a petty man, who is envious of the Pandavas, to a hero, who even though abused and vilified throughout his life, sacrifices himself for the sake of honour and friendship. The language is brilliant; although it seems archaic, it is deep, dense, extremely moody and feels as if Draupadi’ s internal state is projected onto the prose. This book is a treat for anyone who loves the Mahabharata. It is also available in English. Next step for me is to get ‘Rendamoozham’ by the same author. I am smitten.