Have finally finished reading a magnum opus of a book. Magnum opus not because of any great literary achievements the book has had and not because the author is any stalwart. Magnum opus because of its sheer size (865 pages full of text only, and that too of small font) and because of the fact that it is in my mother tongue Marathi (the written word of which, I hate to admit, takes effort out of me to read). Anyways, after 4 months of chipping away, I finally managed to finish it, surviving my wife’s disapproving looks and comments J.
So what is this book about, you might ask? The book is titled ‘Duryodhan’ by Kaka Vidhate. As the name suggests, it is the story of the eldest Kaurava prince. It starts with his father Dritrashtra lamenting about being a blind prince just before his wedding with Gandhari and ends with Duryodhan dying near the river-bank on the last day of the Mahabharata war. Now the Mahabharata has always fascinated me since childhood. For me, it is quite simply, the greatest story ever sold (and even the ultimate soap opera J). BR Chopra did an outstanding job transferring the epic on the small screen (someday, I will buy the entire collection of DVDs) and hopefully, some director some day will craft an all-start-cast on the big screen. But this book was different from all other books that I have read on the Mahabharata. For once, this was more of a biography rather than being about the actual war (the war only takes about the last 200 pages or so). But more importantly, this was a view from the ‘other’ side, as it were. Though I have read and enjoyed ‘Mrityunjay’ (another outstanding book on my Mahabharata hero Karna, which, strangely enough, I read while doing my MBA at Bangalore), this book tells the epic in a different light, from the eyes of someone who, as history tells us, is the villain of the piece.
But the book raises several questions forcing us to re-look our generally accepted beliefs about the Mahabharata. For example, history tells us that the Pandavas were bound to win the war because they were on the side of truth, of dharma. But take a closer look at what actually happened in the war. Each one of the Kaurava commanders were killed rather than defeated (‘hatya’ as the book calls it as opposed to ‘vadh’ which is the Kshatriya way of overcoming your enemy in battle). Bhishma was killed when he refused to fight Shikhandi, Drona was mercilessly beheaded after he laid down his arms on hearing the false news of his son’s death. And Karna was defeated in the only way Arjuna could have, when he was without his weapons trying to get his stuck wheel out. And all this is generally accepted, not some new theory the book is trying to put forth. Against this, the only legitimate and accepted ‘adharm’ from the Kaurava side was in killing Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu (which the book incidentally denies but lets go with widely held and accepted ‘facts’.) So, atleast as far as the actual war is concerned, there is not much doubt on who acted according to ‘dharma’ and who did not.
The other important point that the book brings out is that Duryodhana lost the war not because he was in the wrong, but because of all his trusted aids betrayed him. Bhishma and Drona could not kill the Pandavas because they were so dear to them. But most importantly, Karna also did him in. He was the rock on which Duryodhana had pinned his hopes on, knowing fully well that in a legitimate battle, even Arjuna could not stop him. But just a few days before the war, out came Krishna (who, not surprisingly, is painted in more black than white by the book) and told Karna the story of his birth, shattering Karna from within. This led to Karma promising Kunti that he would not kill any other Pandava except Arjuna. In the actual war, Karna had each one of the 4 remaining Pandavas at his mercy, had he killed any one of them, the war would have stopped then and Yudhistir would have accepted defeat. So that left Duryodhana with absolutely no friends in battle. He was a marked man from the time the battle started and fate caught up with him eighteen days later (that too, courtesy of a cowardly act from Bheem who hit Duryodhana below the belt after realizing that he was not going to win otherwise).
All in all, the book tells an interesting and often, heart-touching tale of a prince and prospective (and maybe, even rightful) emperor wronged by fate, his father, his friends and his dear ones, leaving him to wage a lonely battle to get what he regarded as rightfully his in life. And, on top of all this, history regards him as a villain and the instigator of the war.
After all, what is history but not a story told by the victorious???