by Anand Neelakantan
My facination for the Ramayana and Mahabharata is still on-going. It started 2 (or 3) years back. Not only was I captivated by these epics, I was also mesmerized by the rawness of the country of their origin. From then, I’ve been to India twice and still, some parts of the country remain in my bucket list. Also, I’ve watched seventy five percent of the Mahabharata series in Youtube. Unfortunately, the last parts were not anymore uploaded.
As obsessed as I am, I decided to read this author’s two books. One was about the villains of Ramayana and this book was about the villains of Mahabharata. Yeah, “villains”, at least that was how they are usually portrayed in most books.
This book (and Asura) was different because this gave me a very unique interpretation of the epic (s). It’s a fresh way to tackle and remember the great stories. And with this author’s versions, we all would be reminded that, there’s always two sides of the same coin, and that “what we see are not usually facts, but perspectives” only.
This book was mostly about the Kaurava Clan, Suyodhana or Duryodhana and his friends. If you are familiar with the story, you would definitely hate the clan for doing what they have done. In this book, you will have an idea on what could have been their motives and intentions for their actions.
The way I interpret the book is, the Pandavas were so righteous and all they are concerned about was pleasing the priests while following their vedas and dharmas. They used their minds all the time and it didn’t matter if they hurt or step on anyone so long as they follow what they believe was supposed to be right. They’ve oppressed people and killed people because of their caste and caste system was strongly imposed and followed by the majority of India during that time.
Sudyodhana and friends, on the other hand, used their hearts so much. They spoke against oppression. They stood up for the poor and they hated the way Krishna and the Pandavas were doing things. They opposed the rules that most people were embracing obediently. People hated them because they’re not conforming, at least, those up there hated them.
Example to the opposing methods of the two clans was when Drona initially asked Sudyodhana to help him avenge the injustice he experienced from King Dhrupada. The crowned prince made friends with his kingdom and just brought home wealth from the king which was supposed to be Dhrupada’s way of apologising. Drona felt insulted when Sudyodhana did this. This king stepped on to his ego and he wanted to step on his too.
He asked the Pandavas to complete the task that the Kaurava failed to complete. So there went the Pandavas, waged war against his kingdom, killed a lot of people just to feed their guru’s broken ego. They thought that what they have done was right because, they should pay their guru for teaching them skills that they, now, have.
Karna remains my favourite character. Be it in the Pandavas or Kauravas’ point of view. He remained to be the kind, leveled and objective person who keeps his loyalty to those who have helped him. He is a good acher but unassuming.
In this book, for me, Arjun redeemed himself as well. In the other versions, I thought, he was a bit spoiled, proud and conceited (and of course, womanizing). But in this book, it was apparent that he was also quietly questioning the rules. People like his mother, Kunti, Yudhishtra, the priests and Krishna were the only people controlling him and his actions. Example was when he asked how can it be right to burn and murder a family of untouchables to save themselves.
In this book, Balarama was described in a more detailed way. His character was frequently mentioned in passing in some versions. Now, he’s among my favorite characters in this epic. I just got to know that he as a leader, was simple (different from his brother, Krishna), not corrupt and objective. He uses strategies to preserve order and peace without imposing injustices unlike Krishna. I loved how he guided Karna (my favorite) in his journey, covered up for him and led by actions and not only by words.
Also, I loved Jara and the blind dog (of course)’s character too. I got inspired by the fact that Jara changed after his encounter with goodness from one Brahmin. Despite being oppressed many times, he remained faithful to the God who ,I think, was causing the injustices he was experiencing. His faith was strong that it’s inspiring yet heart-breaking.
I also hated what happened to Eklavya. Drona asked for his thumb upon knowing that he was secretly learning from him and that he was almost as good as Arjun.
The architect Mayasura also experienced injustice in the name of ‘order’. He helped the Pandavas build a kingdom, Indrapasthra and after building it, he was thrown to the other side of the bank where the living condition was inhumane.
I also hated that Arjun stole Draupadi from Karna and Subhadra from Suyodhana.
My favourite part was the graduation day, when Karna had to break his way into Hastinapur to get the chance to fight Arjun. Also I loved the scene when Suyodhana fought Bhim. I was literally at the edge of my seat.
In this version, I was secretly happy for what happened to the Pandavas at the end of the book. I still couldn’t understand why Yudhistra put everything at stake for this game of Dice. Anyhow, slowly, I’ll know more…for now, I am awaiting for the continuation, Book 2, Rise of Kali which I already ordered from Book Depository.
Here are my favourite lines:
Pg 72 – Kripa to Karna “ There are people who will offer you many things and demand nothing in return. Fear them the most, for they are the ones who will take the things that are most precious to you and their demands will come at a time when it is most inconvenient to you.”
Pg 73 – “ It is a beautiful land but like many beautiful things in this world, it is also deadly poisonous.”
Pg 76 – Bishma to Kunti “ This is my personal belief. I do not impose it on anyone else. You too, have the right to believe whatever you wish.”
Pg 78 – Bhishma to Suyodhana- “ They have ideas that may not help you. A king should listen to all, but not be swayed by extremes. Take Drona and Carvaka’s advice with respect and then act according to what is good for the country and society. Not all things spoken are true. The truth changes. Wisdom lies in understanding this. Only the can you be a good ruler.”
Pg 105- Balarama to Karna – “ You may have thought ill of the Brahmins until you realized that you too, are capable of uttering the same words you accuse others of. You have travelled in the company of Brahmins. How disgusting have you found them to be as individuals?“
Pg 105 – Balarama to Karna- “The people who meekly follow caste rules are the people who are afraid of breaking them. They are cowardly, not cruel. They deserve understanding rather than derision. The future is in the hands of young men like you, you must lead the change. Our country deserves a better system. You are neither above the poor Pariah nor below any Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or any jati or varna. You are what you think you are. I had hope Kripa would have taught you that by now.”
Pg 106 – Balarama to Karna – “ Karna, remember one thing in life. Never associate any evil with a group. Hate their sins, but not the people. Be generous. Keep giving and the world will return those favours manifold.”
Pg 106 – Still Balarama to Karna – “ I too, used to command respect with my mace when I was younger but as wisdom slowly seeped into my head, I have come to believe that true leadership means earning respect through my deeds. So, I abandoned the mace and now carry a plough.”
—I love Balarama and Karna—-
Pg 167 – Balarama to Suyodhana – “ Do you know why Bhima beats you every time? Because he fights with passion. His passion might be selfish, maybe he wants to get better of you or prove he is superior, but he still fights with passion. If you want to get the better of him, fight with even greater passion. The greater the passion, the better you will fight. I will give you a mantra. You were telling me what you felt when you saw that poor Untouchable today. Every time you act, imagine his face. Let the face of that poor man remind you of your impossible dream.”
Pg 216 – Jara’s thoughts – “He did not understand the world. Life confused the ignorant Nishada. Could people be savage, yet so kind at the same time? It was easy and convenient to believe that those who are different were evil. He had developed a deep hatred for all Brahmins after the incident in the temple. But crazy men like the singer tonight, shook the foundation of his hatred and confused him. He kept walking aimlessly.”
— It takes one good deed to change another man —
Pg 301 – Kunti to Arjun, when he questioned about killing/burning the Family – “ Nothing is considered wrong if it is in self-preservation.”
–ARGH, selfish selfish, just like most politicians in the Philippines!–
Pg 400 – Drona to Aswathama- “..it was a sin to for a Brahmin to have a god as pet. Dogs were dirty animals and represented all that was considered sinful in the Brahminical world: dogs were attached to their masters; they guarded territory and fought for it; they were emotional and love life to much. A dog was the symbol of man’s attachment to this illusory world, whereas a cow was holy because it was unattached to its master and went through life with equanimity. For Aswathama, the reasons his father had enumerated were the very ones that drew his love and respect. He hugged the blid dog and it continued licking his face with a love human was not capable of.”
–Yeah dogs are capable of loving like that–
Pg 401 – Jara to Suyodhana – “ When someone loves my Lord sincerely, the Lord loves him back manifold. The first thing he does is take away wealth. He gives his devotees unhappiness and suffering, for He knows tha only in suffering can we remember His glory. “
–The heart-breaking faith of Jara —
Pg 402 – Mayasura to Suyodhana – “Take me with you and I will build a city that will mae this cursed place look like a child’s sand castle. I built that city for them and then the banished me from it. If I build a city for you, you must allow us a corner…a litte space for me and my people. I promise we will not pollute you. Just a little space..that is all we ask.. a little respect..a little consideration. We too are human and it is not our fault that we were born with dark skins….”
— Reading this makes me tear a little. It’s still happening nowadays–
Pg 404 – Said Suyodhana after seeing Jara’s group’s condition – “I cannot stand this anymore. What sort of world has Yudhishtra created? This is a cursed city. The Pandavas have built a city on the carnage of thoughsands of men and beasts. They destroyed Khandiva forest and kiled everything in it. They are treating the majority of their people like worms in order to please a few Priests!”