Monday, September 12, 2011

The Great Indian Novel

This year although I have read many Classics and critically acclaimed novels, most of which I liked, I felt it apt to write a review for the one which doesn't sit atop any lists, is by an Indian author (turned politician) but nevertheless amazed me the most. I am talking of the Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor- the controversial tweeter while he was State Minister for MoEA and assured his exit by trying to please his third wife.

As the name itself translates to Mahabharata in Hindi,it is a story of Indian Independence Struggle and post-Independence India till times of Indira Gandhi as a satire with the characters and plot from Mahabharata- the Great Indian epic. Like most other Indians, I haven't read the Mahabharata and knew the story in bits and pieces like the names of the major characters, the game of dice, undressing of Draupadi and the eventual defeat of Kauravas by the Pandavas apart from some bits and pieces of the plot from here and there, like the way Bhisma or Drona was killed. About the Independence Struggle, I have read a lot- while in school- but since cramming the answers fetched more marks than appreciating the content, I had did the same and didn't know much about it in as well.

However, since the novel carefully combines the two and takes liberties to twist one of them by small amounts at times, for me it served as an awesome knowledgable experience as well. The book urged me to read more about the Mahabharata from the source of all knowledge nowadays- Wikipedia, thus providing me the opportunity to know the tale of the great epic and marvel about its brilliance.

The style of writing- it needs a special mention. Its a first person narrative (by Ved Vyas), the story moves with rapid speed and often comes up with pieces of poetry by one of the speakers, which is amusing. It is much more humorous than any of the spicy Chetan Bhagat novels, and features a great plot which is a hybrid of the Mahabharata and the Independence movement, although more often it deviates from the former to do justice to the latter. Another marvellous fact is the updating of the epic, and removing all elements of divinity from Mahabharata to make it more believable. Like Pandu being cursed by a conjugal pair who he killed to die when he commits sexual act himself next time. Here Pandu (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) is diagnosed by the doctor with heart problems, making him unfit for sexual intercourse anymore. Moreover, the way in which Pandu of the book dies is similar to real character and the analogy- he dies while having sex with Madri in the plane from Japan. Or the way Karna dies (I won't mention here his analogue) ! He gets a heart-attack while lifting a car's wheel which was stuck in mud, which refuses to come out (His chariot wheel gets stuck to the ground on the 17th day, following which Arjuna kills him in the Mahabharata). Such is the brilliance of Tharoor's imagination.

Tharoor makes no business of preaching anything, but still ensures it is much more than a historical account as Ved Vyas often takes liberty from the narration to speak to Ganpathi (the South-Indian who is noting down the whole account, similar to Ganesha in the real Mahabharata) and provides strong views about the story - making it very engrossing. Ved Vyas has all the elements of a great narrator- omniscient ('I have my sources, I have told you Ganpathi'), important character himself (but not too important) and moreover with signs of being flawed at times.

His choice of characters for analogies can be a little debatable, owing to some people's sentiments or some inconsistencies to one of the two subplots, but I feel no other matching could have done it a better justice. Some of the matchings are indeed unclear, especially the ones post-independence as I am sure many like me wouldn't have heard the names of the real-life analogues at all. In such cases, refer to the Wikipedia page but do take care not to see anymore than you want. Even the names of chapters are parodies versions of famous books mainly by British authors.

And the ending- he does justice to Ved Vyas's line 'there is no ending' but the way he does justice to it in the extreme last page is astonishing. A blatant violation of Mahabharata's plot and the constant rhetoric of Dharma in this page is amazing, and alters the foundations of the novel. This is a must read novel for every Indian, to get more perspectives on the greatest epic, recent Indian history in a humorous, satirical way.

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