Re-telling of Mahabharata from individual perspectives has been an ever-green favourite of the Indian literary segment. Arjun without a Doubt by the debutante Sweety Shinde stands out of the rest, giving a voice to the ever inspirational Arjuna while admirably balancing the macro narrative. It is not surprising that the author actually chose that perspective which refreshingly does not blame the world for his misfortunes. In a unique approach to balance the male and female (perhaps) narratives, the author chose to retell the epic through the eyes of Draupadi and Arjuna.
Warning, I am going to rave about the book, it finally retells Mahabharata as I loved it since childhood.
This is in contrast to the various other books which retell Mahabharata from many individual points of view like Draupadi, Karna, Bheema, Duryodhana and so on. While each of these books have a passionate narrative and raise uncomfortable questions, most of them heavily fall short on doing justice to the macro narrative. Bringing out the macro-narrative of this immortal epic is possible only with multiple perspectives (something that the SL Bhyrappa did with scholarly élan in his critically acclaimed Parva which became the reference to most of the new authors and in the recent years, Krishna Udayasankar attempted with a unique macro plot though with a fantasy approach).
What stands out in Sweety’s Arjun is his aptitude for intellectual and philosophical discussions and his way of dwelling on each of the challenges he faced, every misery making him stronger and wiser than before. Adhering to the allegory of Nara-Narayana, Arjun comes across as a befitting comparison to Krishna. His valour, obviously is peerless. But Arjun is not someone who flaunts his expertise in archery to prove a point to this world. In fact, the skill of archery is his passion, his love and his solace and the Gandeeva, his ‘bride’ that would always be by his side after he lost Draupadi to the complex marital predicament. That apart, he perpetually strives to be worthy of Draupadi’s acceptance while being sensitive of Subhadra’s love. I liked the way Karna was dealt with the contempt he really deserves. Arjun is shown too busy facing his own intrigues inside and out to care for the wannabe rants of Karna. While Karna’s aim was to better Arjuna in archery, Arjuna’s love for archery was not for fame but an endeavour to discover his own self, something that he achieves without disappointing those who believed in him. This is one book I can thrust on the faces of Karna’s admirers with complete confidence. I would have loved it more if the author had elaborated more on the episode of Kiratarjuniya and the killing of Jayadrata. The numb shock that casts him into a daze during the gambling scene could have been dealt with a bit more detail.
“Oh My God! Not again!” was my initial reaction after learning that the book carried a Draupadi centric narrative. But Sweety’s Draupadi is amazingly refreshing. This Draupadi loves Arjun and not Karna (No sane woman would love an eternal cribber in a perpetual battle mode like Karna and even thinking of a strong woman like her falling for the loser is such an insult to her personality!) as some popular literary works speculate. This fits with the narrative of Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa, keeping in mind, Draupadi’s reaction about Subhadra wedding Arjuna and Yudhishtira’s last words about Draupadi. She is a heroine, a true Kathanaayika blossoming from a bewildered bride braving a complex marital relationship to an empress that held the family together through hopelessly miserable situations. What I loved the most is the author’s portrayal of Draupadi’s facing the ignominious and horrifying episode of dice and disrobing. The Empress of Bharatavarsha is not a distressed helpless woman calling out to Krishna. She is not numbed by the shock of being wagered, lost and branded as a slave. That is the moment she behaves as the true Samragni who realizes that she is the only one to stand between the Kauravas and the women of the Pandava family (who might be put to a greater misery than her as she speculates). She was not the victim, she was the saviour! Could not help tears of sheer admiration reading that episode. Different shades of her character surface during various incidents and Draupadi never fails to intrigue and inspire.
Where I disagreed
Subhadra’s demure personality somehow did not go well with me. Felt that the author could have portrayed a more vivacious and endearing woman in her and still retained Draupadi’s superiority if I may say so. To me, Subhadra is always that sister of Krishna who is a befitting comrade in all his quests and her greatness need not be in clash with that of Draupadi.
Yudhishtira is someone I feel is a character who is always dealt a raw deal from the poets and authors. The author, in fact, tried to balance with a redeeming last chapter. But the root problem I feel is that not only her but most other authors including the literary scholars also see Yudhishtira only from a collection of perceptions and not as an individual himself. Any modern author who dares to sympathize with him will have to face the eternal battle with the feminist rage of the world: D (Kidding, or am I?).
Final word: Arjun is a must read for those aiming to draw inspiration from the epic of Mahabharata. Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon