The trip to Lucknow had a spinoff in the form of yours truly acquiring a book which had been recommended for reading long ago by a sprightly pal who believes there is more than what meets the eye in me. With time weighing heavily on the hands and the sight of this book resulted in a split second decision to add it to the cart. After discharging the mandatory bills, the leaves were turned over. The reading took yours truly a couple of decades back when the pleasure of reading eighteen volumes of the epochal Mahabharata was cast on by destiny. Now after having read a historian's version of Gandhi, Patel and Nehru, it was the turn of Tharoor relating the iconic characters of the epic to the more recent contributors to the Indian history. The added advantage was a visit to Naimishaaranya which refreshed the memories of Mahabharata as yours truly was witness to the Pandits (many who appeared to have gone through a fast food course on pilgrim toursim) providing their masala version of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The characters needed to be identified and as a pre meditated effort, yours truly made an effort to relate the characters. The prediction of Bhishma Pitamaha being our Father of the Nation was bang on. The Great Indian Novel requires a fair knowledge of the history of the sub continent with the undercurrent of politics of the day. One would not be able to digest certain deviations to the epic characters unless the effort to relate them to the contemporary political figures is realised. The conferring of the Ved Vyasa imagery on the erudite Rajaji would have been missed by many persons as he has now been pushed to the oblivion by current historians. The amazing thing was that the edition was a silver jubilee one meaning that this was written before Tharoor took the plunge into politics.
The cud chewing of this version of the epic was still on when another rendition of the epic in the form of Vasudevan Nair's Bhima was placed as a treat. The coincidence were that both the authors are Keralites. Their perceptions of the epic are different. The realisation that the mighty Bhimasena was much more human comes to the fore as the reader begins to detest the acts of Yudhishtira. One begins to wonder whether Kunti and Draupadi are fair to him. The movie moguls who had characterised him as a wrestler, a mace wielder and a marauder begin to pale before the reader as the human image emerged. A psychological treatise emerges as against a comparative one. It starts tilting the scales against characters as the human hero Bhimasena emerges as a traumatised soul who is used as a muscle machine or dubbed a foodie by others. The read makes one wonder what would be the impact of the Malayalam original on the reader as one's images race through the read as a Kathakali performance or a Mohiniattam.
The setting aside of the two contemporaneous pieces makes one realise the masterpiece that is rendered by Krishna Dwaipayana Ved Vyasa who never allows any character to move into the dark black realm of villainy or the dazzling white realm of heroism. The epochal element in the epic surfaces that all have their strengths and flaws. The circumstances that make a Shakuni, Shikandi, Dhritarashtra or Karna are brought out while the flaws of Bhishma, Drona, Yudhishtira, Draupadi, Drupada or Arjuna are not given a miss. The spectacle of Shishupala, Suyodhana and Jarasandha pointing flaws in Krishna is a highlight in itself as the tale makes it clear that flaws are a vital ingredient for the genesis of a human being and even the Lord in human form is unable to forgive to attain divinity. This is the strength of the epic which probably had inspired the Bard of Avon to immortalise himself by introducing at least one flaw in his mainstay characters.
The moral of the tale remains that flaws exist in any person but the effort must be to identify these flaws and work towards elimination of the same as these could have disastrous consequences. The Naimishaaranya has a Vyaspeeth which is one place where every author needs to pay a tribute as the best of authors are yet to match the skills of this great composer who some would argue was a historian. Even historians need to in that case match his skills in presenting all sides of a character rather than being biased.
Does that not bring us back to the present day anchors who drive out panelists from a discussion to press their own viewpoints? Should journalists also not take a leaf out of this epic? An answer would definitely enlighten yours truly if not the nation.