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Friday, July 31, 2015

Epic Retold - Chindu Sreedharan

Ramayana and Mahabharata fascinate Indians across all times and ages. I'm no exception. I'm no expert, and have read them only in English translations (C. Rajgopalchari’s classic Ramayana and Mahabharata published in 1951 by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan).

Of the two, Mahabharata is without doubt, more complex and infinitely more interesting, because unlike in the Ramayana, where everyone is an epitome of virtue, in Mahabharata everyone is utterly human; including gods; and none of them are above pettiness, chicanery, and shenanigans.

I read Irawati Karve’s Yuganta more than three decades ago. It tore down the epic of all heroism and interpreted the characters from a secular point of view. Originally written in Marathi and then translated by the Karve into English, Yuganta locates the epic in its historical time.

For instance, Karve notes, “What people eat, they offer to their gods, and inversely whatever is offered to the gods is consumed by the people. Horses and goats were certainly sacrificed then. And though cattle is not mentioned as having been an item of offering, new archaeological evidence does show that cattle too was used similarly. Does this mean that beef was eaten as a matter of course and perhaps for that reason finds no special mention, while game does?”

The last time I read the epic was with my son when he was young enough to enjoy picture books. I doubt whether he remembers anything that I read to him.

Earlier this year, I read Chindu Sreedharan’s Epic Retold. It is Mahabharata for the social media generation. It’s a brilliant interpretation of the epic, and a uniquely creative work because Sreedharan has written the entire epic (supposedly the world’s longest poem) into a series of 140-characters twitter feeds.

The author, a former journalist, reinterprets the epic from Bhima’s point of view, and portrays him as an anti-war advocate, disgusted with the internecine palace intrigues, and one who prefers quality time by himself in the forest. He is brave, strong and skilled, but clearly a reluctant warrior. He is aware of his lowly status in the pecking order of the five brothers, is aware that the younger brother Arjun is really the hero of the epic, and dislikes the elder brother Yudhistira for his double standards and hypocrisy.

Sreedharan’s effort is breathtaking because he successfully compresses the entire epic, without missing any important episode. When the battle at Kurukshetra ends, after Ashwathma has set everyone and everything on fire, Bhima sighs: “Is this what we fought for? I sink on to the sand under the crushing weight of our victory.”

A couple of years back, I came across another interesting version of the two epics by Satvik Patel, who reinterpreted the epics in the form of Facebook status updates. Here are the links: Facebook-Ramayana, Facebook-Mahabharata.

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