Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Mahabharata -Shiv K. Kumar

This was the third Mahabharata that I read this year - the first was a 900 page tome by Kamala Subramaniam, the second a slim version by Shanta Rameshwar and now the third, by well-known Hyderabadi writer Shiv K. Kumar. Poet, Padmashri awardee, novelist and a man of words, 91 year old, Shiv K. Kumar contains the Mahabharata to 356 pages and writes with feeling and emotion - and does not merely narrate the story. It is told well and simply and is a good story to read, well-told by a master.

There are no grandiose departures - the story is told as it has to be - yet it is stylishly told. For instance there is a description of Duryodhana looking out at the sky on the evening of one of the days of the war, wondering at his fate, and it is a poignant moment that gets you into his mood.You know exactly what he is feeling at that moment! And many such moments too. The dialogue between the characters makes it more lively and human and not forced and contrived.

The questions asked by the Yaksha to Yudhishthira are probably best written in this book among all others I have read. I reproduce some of the excerpts of the question and answer session from the book.

"What flies faster than the wind?
The human mind.

What makes a person truly wealthy?
Contentment. For an avaricious man is like someone riding a tiger from which he cannot dismount. The more wealth one acquires, the greedier one feels.

What is the essence of happiness?
A man's ability to transcend all opposites - success and failure, light and shade, birth and death, gain and loss.

Who is a man of faith?
One who surrenders his will to the Supreme Creator without any reservation. Such a person does not lend himself to argument or dissent.

Who is truly virtuous?
One who practices what he preaches, for the gap between precept and deed is often unbridgable.

Which of the two is greater - wealth or health?
Health, for even a pot of gold cannot salvage a patient from certain ailments.

What is it that makes a true Brahmin and a true Kshatriya?
Knowledge of the Vedas and the power to translate their teachings into righteous conduct is what makes a genuine Brahmin. A Kshatriya is one who is fearless, and is always willing to protect the weak.

What is it that excels even the sun's brightness?
Truth, for its light shines perennially, during day and night.

Who offers solace to a man on his deathbed? 
Dharma - the good deeds he has done during his lifetime.

What is it that makes one's life pleasant and enjoyable?
Friendship with a virtuous man.

What is it that makes a man agreeable to others?
Abandonment of pride.

What emotion may be likened to madness?
Anger, for it makes one lose one's mental balance.

What is it that would prevent a man from entering the portals of heaven?
Attachment, for the way to divine bliss is disengagement from all worldly entanglements.

What is poison? 
Lust, which destroys both the body and soul.

What is true knowledge?
Realisation of one's own self. The voyage within one's own being leads one to true knowledge.

How can one recognise a true Brahmin?
By his righteous conduct, not by his birth or caste.

What is it that uplifts a man?
His gratitude to others.

What is it that enriches one' soul?
Charity - for while giving enriches the soul, taking impoverishes it.

What is it that sustains man through every crisis?
Patience and faith in God.

Which of the two - thought or action - helps a man achieve divine bliss?
Either of them, for both are interested. Thought is action is an embryonic form.

Among the events in the Mahabharata that always choke me are Karna's death and Abhimanyu's death - two huge points in the course of the war. And the unsung Ghatotkacha who threatens to end the war himself and forces Karna to use his Sakthi. Despite being told simply the story comes alive because you can imagine the characters are people as you read and certainly visualise what is happening. Good read and a difficult tale well told.

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