Book Review – “Arjun: Without a Doubt” by Dr. Sweety Shinde

Book: Arjun: Without a Doubt

Author: Dr. Sweety Shinde

Publisher: Leadstart Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

Publication year: 2015

Number of pages: 306

Price: Rs. 156 (Flipkart) / Rs. 195 (Amazon) / Rs. 171.95 (Kindle)

My rating: 4/5

“Arjun: Without A Doubt” picks up the Mahabharat tale with Draupadi wondering who exactly this Arjun is. Of course, she has heard of Pandu’s illustrious son, the man who defeated her father, Drupad, in battle as gurudakshina for his guru, Dronacharya. But she has never set her sights on him. And her father tells her Arjun is the most deserving husband for her. Even Krishn is all praise for him. She wonders if Arjun, and his family, have survived the burning palace and whether he will be able to win her hand at the swayamvar her father is organising.

Thus, once more, begins this grand old tale. The reason I love reading the Mahabharat is because, like a true literary classic, it seems to change every time I read it. My perception of most characters in this epic have undergone a sea change from how I perceived them initially. Almost every intelligent author brings a new perspective to this epic and challenges me to think of questions about various events that take place in the Mahabharat.

“Arjun: Without A Doubt” is one such book. Simply put, I loved it. On more than one occasion, I found myself pausing to think “Hey, this is a fresh way of looking at these events.”

The book is written from the points of view of Arjun and Draupadi, each of them taking up the narration in alternate chapters. Arjun is pretty much what we expect him to be: a champion warrior. His dedication to his craft is commendable. We get a glimpse of the hardships he had to undertake to achieve what he did. We realise that it wasn’t always a walk in the park for him.

And yet, he is more than just a soldier who is very good at lifting up a bow and shooting arrows. He dearly loves Draupadi and is heartbroken every time he has to leave her behind. He also has his moments of doubts about the nature of his duty towards his family, especially towards his eldest brother Yudhisthir. As war approaches, we can see these doubts surfacing, which eventually leads Krishna to answer his queries about why the war must be fought. Arjun’s shockingly rude and direct dialogue with Kunti when she mourns Karna’s death shows how much he has changed from when we met him at the beginning: indeed, Arjun is without any doubts now.

But it is for Draupadi’s voice for which you should read this book. From the moment when Kunti says that Draupadi must be shared by the five Pandava brothers is when we start seeing injustice served to her. And what makes this even more insulting is that Draupadi comes across right away as a strong, independent woman. What stopped her, I asked myself, from walking away from the Pandavas right then and there?

Then we have the famous dice game where Yudhisthir “loses” everything, including his brothers and his wife. Were they his to “lose” in the first place? And why didn’t any of the brothers step up and fight for Draupadi when Dushasana was attempting to forcibly undress her, Kshatriya rules be damned?! It is a testimonial to the author that she makes us feel this ashamed and enraged.

And yet, there are a couple of glitches. The construction of paragraphs is at times confusing: I lost track at a couple of places and had to retrace my steps in order to clarify whose speech it is that I was reading.

Yet, this is a minor flaw in a book which is effective in it’s larger purpose of drawing our attention to various aspects of the Mahabharat. I would love to write further and point out more such instances, but then, this review would be filled with spoilers and longer than what it already is. 🙂

In conclusion, if you’re a Mahabharat fan, I would highly recommend you read this book.

(Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of “Arjun: Without A Doubt” to review.)

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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.

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Read more about the Yuganta on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart & 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.)