The Mahabharata really is one of my favourite stories. It is absolutely fantastic in its complexity - the politics, the hypocrisy, the grey characters - everything about this story is just brilliant.
I never knew a thing about the Mahabharata in my childhood years, apart from the fact that it was a very annoying, boring show on television - wherein men wearing obviously fake gold-coloured cardboard crowns would fire an endless series of arrows at each other. These fabulously magical arrows would hurtle in slow motion ( rather unsteadily) towards each other for several minutes, accompanied with the sound effects of lightning and serious mood music -only to clash mid-way and cancel each other out, in a huge crescendo of sound and light. This spectacular scene would then be followed alternatingly, by close-up shots of the villian's face (heavy moustache and eyebrows quivering in shocked rage), and close-up shots of the hero's face (clean shaven or light moustache, one eyebrow arched triumphantly). It was fascinating for many, but very trying on my own patience.
Anyway, a couple of years back, I developed this fascination for the Mahabharata and have been trying to find a really good English version to read ever since. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be one: I have tried P.Lal and C.Rajagopalachari (both of which are very 'kunji' types) - I even read the Amar Chitra Katha version (all 3 volumes) - and am now reading Meera Uberoi's version, while waiting for Ashok Banker to release his 18 volume masterpiece. By the way, does anyone know a version that is really comprehensive, yet fun to read? Do let me know...
So while I am reading Meera Uberoi's version, I thought it would be fun to chronicle some of my favourite moments in the story so far - just to give you an idea of exactly why this story is so enjoyable.
a. When Vidura warns Yudhishthira about Duryodhana's plot to kill the Pandavas:
Vidura says cryptically 'The science of politics says that he who knows what the enemy is scheming takes suitable measures to protect his own interests. Be like the fox that has more than one exit in its burrow. Directions lie in the stars:let them guide you. One who is in control of the five senses cannot be defeated. Bear in mind there are weapons other than the obvious ones and they can destroy just as effectively. Creatures of the forest know that straw and wood burn'
Later, Yudhishthira is asked by his mother what Vidura told him. His reply 'He said that the palace being built for us will become an inferno and we should have our escape routes planned'
I love this because it reminds me how often, in corporate life, we often need to decode top management 'advice' - almost exactly like this.
b. When it is made imperative that Draupadi marries all the five Pandavas:
Arjuna wins the hand of the beautiful Draupadi after performing a fantastic feat at her swayamvara. But during this time, the Pandavas are disguised as Brahmanas as they are in hiding from the Kauravas. So when they get back to their humble abode, he tells his mother 'See what alms I have got today' and Kunti, without looking up, tells him to 'share it amongst yourselves and enjoy'!
She then looks up and sees Draupadi. She is dismayed and says 'Oh, what have I done? I didn't know he was talking about the king's daughter...but my words must not become an untruth'.
And thus starts the series of events which leads to Draupadi marrying all five brothers. Now, the point is - the royal Kunti had absolutely no issues lying in other parts of the story ( including the clever concealment of the fact that Karna was her son). So why this sudden urge to become Miss Honesty-Honestor? Why could her words not become an untruth? Was it because what she said was supposed to be a blessing of some sort? There is no further elaboration in the story on this point, I can't really be bothered to research it right now (probably will when I get vela enough in a couple of days).
Anyway, the point is that this one reminds me of one of my earlier bosses, who would often thoughtlessly make a commitment to his superiors like 'Sure, the presentation is all done- Y is just putting the finishing touches on it, and it will be with you in the morning' - and only then, come and casually inform me about it, for the first time, with no trace of 'dismay'. Then, I would have to work late evenings... 'so that my words do not become an untruth'. (The Cretin.)
c. When Arjuna needs to go into exile for a year:
So, Draupadi has the good fortune of being married to all the five Pandavas. But Narada (who else!) suggests that to prevent jealousy between the brothers, they must at all costs avoid 'catching each other in the act' with their common wife. They agree that if, for some reason this cannot be avoided, the brother who violates the privacy of the other, will go into voluntary exile for a year. Sounds like a good plan.
Now, Arjuna is approached by a brahamana about his cows being stolen, and is begged for protection - so he needs to go into a chamber to pick up his weapons. Except that he knows that Yudhisthira is with Draupadi in the chamber. But being the noble Kshatriya that he is, he decides that what must be done, must be done. So he walks in on the two of them, picks up his weapons, and 'greeting Yudhisthira lightly', informs him 'Thieves have stolen a brahmana's cows and I am going to retrieve them'.
He then leaves the chamber before Yudhisthira can say a word, and goes and does the needful about the cows - and then adamantly goes into exile for a year, as per the agreement.
Now, while this is all very significant and serious and moral, I love this not because it reminds me of any moment in corporate life - it is solely because I am imagining the look on Yudhisthira's face when Arjun walks in and out. See, while this particular version of the Mahabharata is not specific in what he and Draupadi are doing at this particular moment, it's not very difficult to hazard a guess. And the fact is, when you're in that moment, you probably don't want to be 'greeted lightly' by your younger brother and furthermore, be treated to a rather unnecessary explanation, consisting of a load of hogwash about some arbit brahmana's cows. Therefore, it is no wonder that Yudhisthira 'could not say a word' before Arjuna walked out. Ha ha ha ha ha ...sorry about this, can't help picturing it - it all seems very comic to me.
Anyway, I will now read on and will probably continue to chronicle other glorious moments sporadically. I repeat my request: does anyone know a really good version of the Mahabharata?
(Note: I really did like reading the Ramayana by Ashok Banker but Hanuman's eyes kept welling up with tears of emotion too often and it got very irritating after the fifth or sixth time. I still do look forward to his Mahabharata, just don't know when it will be out...)