Yuganta by Irawati Karve

Title: Yuganta – The End Of An Epoch

Author: Irawati Karve

Number of Pages: 256

Price: Rs. 242 (Flipkart)

What an excellent book to read on the Mahabharat after so long!

This book, again, came highly recommended from friends who have a deep interest in Mahabharat and have read many books on the topic.

Although published way back in the 1940s, the book has managed to keep itself in constant conversation whenever books related to Mahabharat are discussed.

And with good reason. Yuganta is more a collection of essays written by Irawati Karve, each of which mostly discusses the primary characters in this Hindu epic from an anthropologic and social point of view. Her slightly feminist views on some subjects did however make me me wince at times.

The book, taking its references from the critical edition of the Mahabharat which has tried to remove the later additions in the text, makes it a point to shock as it paints a different picture from the more popular ideas that we have about personalities. Sample this: “Bhishma”, who I had always thought as a brilliant fighter, having trained the Pandavas and Kauravas in the art of warfare before Dronacharya came along, was in Karve’s opinion “obviously… no great warrior”. She says this on the basis that Bhishma himself did not win any wars or even skirmishes where he greatly outnumbered the opponent, with the sole exception when he kidnapped the sisters Amba, Ambika and Ambalika.

Ideas such as these are scattered throughout the book. And not necessarily do all of them make us raise our eyebrows in question. Some make us look at the world of Mahabharat from a different angle.

Take for instance the part where she points out that Aryans were essentially conquerors and colonisers who ruled the local, tribal populations. This is brought into great focus when Arjuna and Krishna together burn down the Khandava forest to make space for their brilliant new city of Indraprastha. Legend has it that they killed each and every being that lived in the forest, animals and humans alike. In fact, this event lay the seeds of the enmity that the tribal Naga people had with the Aryans for over the next three generations at the least.

The book is peppered with such interesting ideas and makes one look at the great epic from refreshingly new angles. The piece de resistance is the final chapter in which Irawati Karve summarises her own ideas about the The Bhagwad Gita and Mahabharat. She also points out that the original Mahabharat was way before the time of the Bhakti movement, which later turned Krishna into a godhead and other major characters into larger than life figures. What was even more disappointing was that a “sharp” and intellectual work which encouraged thought and debate on the nature of right and wrong was lost to being a religious text which asked the reader to follow the morally correct path without discourse.

This book remains a fantastic read for whoever is interested in the Mahabharat. It has certainly whetted my appetite to read other versions of the epic, especially Jaya by Devdutt Pattnaik which has been on my to-read list for some time.

My rating: 5 out of 5.

Image courtesy: http://www.goodreads.com

Read more about the Yuganta on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart & Amazon.in. The book isn’t available on Kindle.

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

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Open by Andre Agassi

Title: Open – An Autobiography

Author: Andre Agassi

Number of Pages: 400

Price: Rs. 235 (Amazon.in/Flipkart)

I hadn’t read an autobiography in a while, let alone a sports one. What tipped me towards reading this particular book was that it was highly recommended by a couple of friends who are avid sports fans themselves. In fact, one of them had insisted that she listed this book as brilliant.

I expected the book to be a simple narration of an athlete’s journey: his trials and tribulations, snippets from his personal life, the various battles that he had been part of on the tennis court. What I got, however, was an untarnished glimpse into the life and the roller-coaster mind of a flawed genius.

There is no doubt about the fact that Agassi is one of the greatest tennis players of his age. He will forever be remembered as one of the titans. He will also be remembered as somebody who was flamboyant and perhaps not mentally strong enough to capitalise on his skills in the initial years of his career.

The book smashes all such ideas. And then some more.

Agassi shocks us by telling us how his father trained him since the age when he could barely hold a racket. Agassi hated the sport. As he grew up, he was, like any other kid, a rebel. What made things different for him was the focus on his life and his career. And that the rebellious kid’s every antic was being noticed and commented upon.

No doubt he worked extremely hard was made to work extremely hard on his game. But he was also clearly gifted. Yet, he continuously saw ups and downs in his career graph, most of which can be attributed to the demons in his head.

Agassi speaks honestly about his married life with Brooke Shields and how, even though it looked picture perfect, there were ominous signs right from the start. His subsequent wooing of Steffi Graf, however, makes for a delightful read and you cannot be any more pleased for a man to have finally found happiness after all that he has been through in his personal life.

There are also some great stories of friends, trainers and coaches who have had a significant impact on Agassi’s life. Each one of these injected a dose of positive thinking in his life when he needed them the most. Those chapters are very good motivational reads.

And then of course, there is Pete. “As always, Pete.” The one awkward rivalry-friendship that endures through the length of the book is that of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Agassi admits as much. Sampras was definitely the more crowned champion, and perhaps with good reason. Agassi mentions how not bothered Sampras could be with the sport when he was off the court: how he could “switch off”. You cannot but admire the way Agassi speaks of his friend and arch-rival.

I have always loved tennis as a sport and will forever remain a Federer fan (GO FED!). But this book has made me look with new respect at Agassi and at what is perhaps the loneliest sport out there, as he mentions in the book.

Bring on the Sampras autobiography, I say!

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Image courtesy: http://www.goodreads.com

Read more about Open on Goodreads. Get it on Amazon.in, Flipkart & on your Kindle.

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Title: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Author: Truman Capote

Number of Pages: 157

Price: Rs. 357 (Amazon.in)

I read this book as a part of The Sunday Book Club’s (@tsbookclub on Twitter) #TSBookChat. As is the norm with me these days, I immediately searched for the book on the Kindle store and was surprised and disappointed to not find a Kindle edition. Hence, I ordered for a copy of the book.

Having read the book, I can now admit that I’m thankful that the Kindle edition wasn’t available. Packaging this under their Modern Classics series, Penguin has done a fabulous job with the quality of the cover page and also of the pages inside. Also, the fonts used for the book make it a pleasure to read. (Someday, I will dedicate myself to studying various fonts.)

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a charming novella. Narrated by a nameless author (who has, at the beginning of the book, not had anything published) who lives in 1940s New York, the story features the charismatic Holly Golightly, a modern “American geisha”, if you will. She doesn’t have a job, per se, but was almost a Hollywood starlet before she runs away to New York, offering herself as company for dinners and parties to anyone who would compensate her for her time and presence. Holly, who at the beginning of the novella, is about 18 or 19 years old, is most definitely not the “ideal” society girl and you know she is going to fall into trouble sooner rather than later. Yet, Capote manages to capture a mix of naivete and brashness which made me adore her and kept me curious about her fate.

I remember watching the film ages ago, and hence, it was only Audrey Hepburn I saw in my mind’s eye while I read the book. I recalled a very different ending in the film and thought the “romantic comedy” genre inspired end was better than the slightly ambiguous one the novella provided. Yet, one cannot really blame Capote, as the novella feels more like a labour of love than something he was writing that would enable him to pay the bills.

Apparently, Capote wrote the character keeping Marilyn Monroe in mind. I guess it will remain a debate for film historians to decide who would’ve been a better Holly Golightly.

This edition also comes with three short stories: House Of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory. House of Flowers disappointed me a bit and A Diamond Guitar merely flirted with my curiosity and my imagination. However, it was A Christmas Memory which was the most impactful of the three. It is a tribute to Capote’s skill that the reader is so invested in the characters by the end of this short story. It almost perfectly captures how we feel looking at people as we grow up, more often than not, far away from those who we love.

This was the first time I was reading Truman Capote and I am now sufficiently impressed and curious to read In Cold Blood, which I believe was what earned him fame and established him as an excellent modern writer.

My rating for the book (the 3 short stories included): 4 out of 5.

Image courtesy: Penguin Books

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)