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Upgrading the Mahabharata

Harini Gopalswami Srinivasan

By Saurav Mohapatra and Illustrated by Vinay Brahmania
Penguin Books, Delhi, 2014, pp. 96, Rs. 121.00


I cried. I cried a lot.’ says Saurav Mohapatra in the introduction, talking about his reaction as a young child, when he first heard the story of Abhimanyu. Most of those who grew up on the Mahabharata would identify with the experience.  Abhimanyu is the son of Arjuna, one of the five Pandava princes; and the nephew of Lord Krishna. He is also perhaps the most poignant figure of the Kurukshetra war: the brave, idealistic child who is trapped and killed by the Kauravas in a dastardly act. Kshatriya dharma is torn to shreds and trampled underfoot when six great warriors—Drona, Kripa, Radheya, Aswatthama, Kritavarma and the son of Dushasana—launch a concerted attack on the gallant sixteen-year old who has routed them all individually. It is a tragic story, difficult for a modern parent—with our shrinking from blood and violence—to relate to her children. But maybe that’s what makes an epic—stories that are unbearable, told and retold until the sharpness of the tragedy wears a little thin and makes it bearable. Timeless stories that, millennia later, still engage our sympathy, raise relevant points and pose interesting questions.  The story of Abhimanyu is a celebration of courage—a quality that is needed as much today as it ever was. We may not ride into battle on a chariot, but we need courage to negotiate the corruption, terrorism, rape and murder, even the natural disasters, that we read about every day, and which we may find ourselves facing at first hand one day. Children definitely need modern heroes who are relevant to their lives—the Mary Koms, the Mahika Guptas and the Manjunath Shanmugams. But they also need to read about the Abhimanyus, for such classical stories both kindle their imagination and connect them to their roots.  In terms of moral value, drama and emotional impact, The Way of the Warrior does full justice to its theme. The script is tight, and pitch perfect: not a false note; not a bit of flab; never maudlin. Between them, Mohapatra and Brahmania depict complex ideas and emotions in the fewest possible words—the strong bond between Abhimanyu and his uncles Krishna and Bhima, the hold that Duryodana has over Drona, the core of the Kshatriya dharma… However, some important details have been left out, in the absence of which a reader who is unfamiliar with the story might ...

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