Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor

Why Shashi Tharoor went into politics is something I do not know but he is one hell of a writer and he should have continued writing. I bought 'The Great Indian Novel' a few years ago and was daunted by the small print more than anything else and the size. However its time had come and rightly so at a time in my life when my knowledge of both the Mahabharatha and the Indian political system and history are slightly better than before. The novel mounts the Indian freedom struggle and its aftermath on the complex structure of Mahabharatha - a task that requires one to know both well and one to have a stout heart, knowledge and the flair to pull it off. And pull it off he does and in style.
The novel starts with the narrator VVji (aka Ved Vyas) recollecting the story and dictating it to Ganapathy who is supposed to record it all. His story starts at the turn of the 20th century with the story of Shantanu and Satyavati, both married once before. From Shantanu's marriage to Ganga is born Gangaji or Bhishm of the unshakeable vow and from Satyavati are born  Chitangada and Vichitravirya. Then VVji enters the scene and produces Dhritharashtra, Pandu and Vidur. The Mahabharatha starts rather linearly before the Indian freedom struggle comes on.

Then the characters from the freedom struggle and after come on to the pages. Gangaji is Gandhiji, Nehru is Dhritarashtra, Pandu is Bose, Vidur is Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel, Duryodhini is Indira Gandhi, Draupadi Mokrasi is Democracy. Mohammad Ali Jinnah is Karna, Yudhshtir is Morarji Desai, Bhim is the Indian army, Arjun the media, Nakul and Sahadev are the external affairs and the beurocracy, Jayaprakash Drona is Drona and so on and on. The characters and institutions flit through until it all ends as the Mahabharatha ends. Shashi Tharoor spares no one and is brilliant in the way he has cast people and institutions and in the way he shows us up for all our hypocricies and impotencies.

The story's premise and the scale is ambitious and Shashi Tharoor adopts the perfect tone for it, half jesting, never serious until almost the end when he tears into the system with such clarity that you wonder what happened to all that he had two decades ago. The writing style is smooth and the way he weaves the story deftly keeping the major plot points of both great stories in mind is brilliant. Satire at its best. Sadly few will understand this take on our history in our age of pulp fiction and fewer perhaps will learn from it. The great tragedy of this book is that it will lose its relevance fast, if it has not already because few know these figures even directly. But the great thing about it was that it is out and available in stores. Unlike some books which have been banned by over enthusiastic goons, this book remains available despite the manner Congressman Tharoor shoots gaily at the Congress bastion. Though I was sceptical at first, I can only applaud the effort now having completed it, and hope that Shashi Tharoor writes more novels, not necessarily of such scale, but even of ordinary things. Simply because he is a damn good writer. And for that matter I don't think anyone else but he could have written this novel. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Touche. Sound arguments. Keep up the good spirit.