The Mahabharata continues to remain an enigma to us. Over time, I have developed more than a passing curiosity about this great epic. For me, the beauty of the epic is the fact that it is open to interpretation i.e. there is no black and white in it. And over the years, there have been multiple interpretations of the story seen through the eyes of its various characters. Refer to my earlier post regarding Duryodhan. Before and since then, I have also read other books related to the epic, notably 'Mrityunjaya' and 'Yugantaa' by Iravati Karve - that takes a matter-of-fact look at some of the events as well as views the epic from the point of view of the principal women in the epic. And each time, I learn something new about the Mahabharata.
The latest in the series of books about the Mahabharata that I am currently reading is the near provocatively titled 'The Difficulty of Being Good' by Gurcharan Das. Here, the author of India Unbound talks about his discovery of the Mahabharata over the course of his three year sabbatical in the US and how the moral questions it raised are as relevant today (though it talks less about the present than about the epic itself) . At the core of the book is Gurcharan's discussion on the true meaning of the word 'dharma' (धर्म). It brings to the fore Yudhisthir's dilemma on what the true 'duty' (synonym of 'dharma' ?) of the king is ? Whether to practice ahimsa and peace or to engage in combat if only for the benefit of his subjects ? In arguing that 'dharma is subtle', the author drives home the point that there are no easy answers to the question 'what exactly is dharma' ?' The book also talks at length about Arjuna's despair when he is forced to take up arms against his own elders. Another interesting essay from the book is regarding Karna's status anxiety. Here the author argues that all of us suffer from some sort of status anxiety that often frequently results in us making the incorrect choices (as when Karna sides with Duryodhan just to get his place amongst the kshatriyas), sometimes with disastrous consequences. All in all, an interesting book and a must-read for all those who are into the Mahabharata at more than a superficial level.
To add to the 're-discovery' of the epic comes Prakash Jha's forthcoming movie 'Rajneeti'. Said to be the story of Mahabharata applied to contemporary Indian politics, it sure promises a lot. Of course, Prakash Jha is not the first one to get inspired by the epic. Nearly three decades ago, Shyam Benegal had made an all-star cast 'Kalyug' that set the Mahabharata in the corporate world (with Shashi Kapoor playing the unfortunate Karan/Karna). At the time, it may have got lost in the parallel cinema movement and hence not endeared itself to the general public. Hopefully, Rajneeti will not suffer a similar fate. I, for one, would be queuing up at the ticket counter (sigh, these days there is no such thing, Book My Show takes care of everything !!). And I hope to be back real soon with the movie review.