Here is a look at the classic through different and often surprising angles. There are many more retellings of the Mahabharata and many points of view than have been described here…and many more are yet to come! But for starters, this should suffice…
Mrityunjaya by Shivaji Sawant, Mehta Publishing House
Clearly a classic literary masterpiece, this book recounts the epic tale as the autobiography of Karna. Sawant was a renowned Marathi novelist and his work is sure to resonate with the reader. Yes, Karna has a voice here and tells the tale. But so do some other characters: Kunti, Duryodhan, Karna’s wife Vrushali, Karna’s younger brother Shon and Krishna. The mix of views spin a unique take on the story. The mythological novel was originally written in Marathi but has since been translated into English and a few other regional languages as well.
Ajaya: Roll of the Dice by Anand Neelkanthan, Platinum Press
This radical book can only come from the pen of a writer like Neelkanthan. We have all grown up having clear ideas of who is good and who is bad in the Mahabharata. But, this book turns the tables over. ‘Ajaya’ tells the story from Suyodhana’s (yes, that’s Duryodhana) side. It will change your notion of heroes and villains through insights from the “other” point of view. But, readers be mindful…does simply switching the point of view completely work? You’ll have to read to draw your own conclusion.
The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banarjee Devakaruni, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
We can trust Chitra Banarjee Devakaruni to sensitively weave in Draupadi’s viewpoint. After all, it was Panchaali, the fire-born heroine, who changed the course of history with her vow for revenge. The book brings out with utmost sensitivity the story of a woman married to five princes. It delves into her friendship and respect for Krishna, as well as a complicated link to Karna, who could have just been her husband if fate had not intervened. It is a heady concoction of myth, legends and imagination.
The Kaunteyas by Madhavi Mahadevan, Tranquebar Press
This book brings to the forefront, the viewpoint of Kunti. Till now, she has been an idealised mother figure- pure, but laden with secrets that change the course of history. In this book, she is the narrator. It gives Kunti a voice…and a chance to tell the story from her own point of view. She emerges as a three dimensional figure- a woman who plays an active role in shaping the future of a generation!
Arjun: Without a Doubt by Sweety Shinde, Leadstart Publishing Pvt. Ltd
Arjun is undoubtedly one of the best loved characters of the epic. As a couple, Arjun and Draupadi are seen in a new light here. Forced to ‘share’ his wife because of the twist of fate, a reader’s sympathies have often been with this enigmatic couple. In this book, it is Arjun’s point of view, mixed with Draupadi’s. In many other retellings and reinterpretations Arjun has often been overshadowed. Here, he emerges with a strong voice. Mixed with Draupadi’s perspective as well, it makes for a compelling read.
The Mahabharata will always strike a chord with humanity. It deals with raw human emotions. The timeless epic raises as many questions, as it gives answers. It is perhaps the nature of this mammoth story that makes it open to reinterpretation and examination from different points of view.
For any book-lover it is always a great (voyeuristic?) pleasure to know what books and authors have their own favourite writers loved and cherished. We assume that writers must have been readers (and it’s true of most cases).
We take a peek into some books written by well-known authors, that give us a window into the books and authors that they in-turn have cherished during the course of their lives.
The heavy tome has a wealth of information: 20 years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, coming from a writer whose books have been immensely successful, but who yet, as a person remains elusive to the media. Her readers do deserve to know more about her, including her choice to remain anonymous, which she explains in the book. However, we are scouting for writers and works that have moved her in some way. Spaced throughout the book, in different forms are mentions of books and authors who have left a deep impression on her. She highlights literary influences-not only the books that she enjoys but also the themes that she seeks from them, time and again.
Tharoor’s literary pursuits could well deserve a tome to themselves. We may know him as a diplomat and politician. But, this is the book where you see him as a reader, writer and lover of literature. This collection of essays chronicles his thoughts and opinions on a variety of literary subjects, including authors he loves (and dislikes!), anecdotes, literary criticism, reviews, themes from his own fiction and so on. Refreshingly, he also talks about books he read as a child..right from the good old Enid Blytons to the Hardy Boys series! His brutally honest comments on books and authors, both contemporary and of the past, make this book a treasure-trove for those with a literary bent.
In his characteristic style, Bond weaves the story of his life with the mention of books and authors who influenced him at varied stages. He goes beyond the mere mention of books that left an indelible impression on him as a writer. He also includes, quite generously, extracts from them. You can take a break from his interesting ramblings and lose yourself in another work of fiction, till he draws you back to the next chapter and continues his anecdotes.
Written in an easy, ruminative and conversational style, this is a collection of essays where books, writers, book events and literary titbits jostle with personal anecdotes, observations, random musings and trivia. She makes generous use of footnotes and quotes which account for some nice “literary diversions”. You’ll almost feel as if you are talking to a friend, who is dropping names of interesting books and writers as well as literary trivia, as you chat on about a host of topics!
This is but a glimpse of a few books where famous authors have revealed partly or focused solely upon the books that have made a difference in their lives. There are bound to be more, and undoubtedly they will continue to enthral readers who want to know a little bit more about their favourite writer’s reading habits!