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Of Love and Other Demons


Arshia Sattar

THE SHATTERED THIGH AND OTHER PLAYS
By Bhasa. Translated by A.N.D. Haksar
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2008, pp. 127, Rs. 200.00

TALES OF THE TEN PRINCES
By Dandin. Translated b A.N.D. Haksar
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2008, pp. 189, Rs. 250.00

THE COURTESAN'S KEEPER
By Kshemendra. Translated by A.N.D. Haksar
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2008, pp. 85, Rs. 150.00

THE ABSENT TRAVELLER: PRAKRIT LOVE POETRY FROM THE GATHASAPTASATI OF SATAVAHANA HALA
A Project of Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2008, pp. 97, Rs. 175.00

THE BOOK OF DEMONS
By Nanditha Krishna
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2008, pp. 268, Rs. 325.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 6 June 2008

The Penguin reprints of Haksar’s translations of Bhasa and Dandin are timely and welcome—I, for one, have been routinely frustrated over the last few years in trying to find copies of The Shattered Thigh, which remains one of the more compact and accessible translations of Bhasa (when) available. In this volume, Haksar brings together the six Bhasa plays that are located within the story of the Mahabharata and strings them together chronologically such that the cycle ends with the tragic death of Duryodhana, unfairly attacked by Bhima under the explicit instructions of Krishna.   Like other playwrights, performers and writers from the classical and modern periods in many Indian languages, Bhasa uses the epic framework and its characters and episodes to foreground a dimension that audiences of the epic might have missed or glossed over. For example, Bhavabhuti’s Uttararamacarita takes us inside Rama’s loneliness and misery after Sita has left him for the final time. The epic itself does not dwell on Rama’s personal anguish after Sita’s dramatic disappearance into the earth, allowing us to see Rama more as a duty-bound and righteous king rather than as an abandoned, lovelorn husband. So, too, Dharmvir Bharti’s Andha Yug takes the relatively minor characters of Kripa, Kritavarma and Yuyutsu and lets their pain become the lens through which we view the pyrrhic victory that marks the end of the Kurukshetra war.   But Bhasa as a Sanskrit playwright has always been special, starting with the late discovery of his works and the fact that many of these formed part of the repertory of Kuttiyatam theatre and could, therefore, be considered part of an unbroken tradition that has lasted more than a millennium. Over and above the excitement that the actual discovery of these works created, there is the additional attraction of the fact that Bhasa’s works do not conform to the strictures of the Natya Sastra and that the textual brevity and starkness of his language provide a powerful counterpoint to some one like Kalidasa. Perhaps more than anything else that makes him unique in the classical Indian tradition, Bhasa presents us with two real and uncluttered tragedies—the death of Duryodhana and the disarming of Karna.   In his translations, Haksar is able to capture the heroic moment as well as the utter fatalism that imbues these incidents—Karna, in particular, knows that he is being ...


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