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A New Scribe for the Mahabharata

Dipavali Sen

By Kamesh Ramakrishna
Frog Books, an imprint of Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai, 2015, pp. 532, Rs. 525.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 12 December 2015

It is so difficult to achieve a combination of the ancient and the modern, the historical and the imaginary, the authentic and the innovative. But in The Last Kaurava by Kamesh Ramakrishna we have it. In it, the Mahabharata comes alive with a twentyfirst century zest. The author who grew up in Bombay and studied at IIT-Kanpur, holds a PhD in computer science from Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh. He has made significant contributions to software engineering and architecture and lives at present in Massachusetts. But, as he states in the Introduction of this novel, his interest in the Mahabharata is long standing. ‘As a child, the Mahabharata fascinated me—not only did it have heroes, heroines, villains, and fastpaced action, but it also raised profound human questions about fairness, the need for revenge, the horror of war. When I became interested in history and pre-history, I struggled to fit the stories into what the archaeological record showed on the ground’ (p. 9). As a key reference, Ramakrishna has used J.A.B. van Buitenen’s translation of the critical edition of the epic brought out by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (B.O.R.I.). Other influences range from A.K. Ramanujan and Iravathi Karve to Marvin Harris, Robert Graves and Gore Vidal. The core ideas of the novel have been published in the journals The Trumpeter and The Indian Journal of Eco-criticism. Other books by the author include The Making of Bhishma (an Amazon Kindle book incorporated intoThe Last Kaurava in prose and with less detail) and Little Bird Learns to FLY (a children’s story written with daughter Jaya Aiyer, published by Pratham Books, Delhi, and Kashi Publishing (Cambridge, MA, USA) in Japanese. The Last Kaurava is in seven parts, viz., The Prisoner, The Son, The Crown Prince, Interlude, Bhishma The Terrible, The Son(again) and the Appendices . Each part contains several chapters, sometimes broken into sections. There is a ‘frame story’—the penning down of the epic by scribes as narrated by bards forming a Kavi Sangha or Society of Poets. The author has ‘imagined a highly evolved, non-literate and orally based culture in 850 BCE’ (p. 10) and taken it into one where there was a guild or collective that recorded and archived oral material. The ‘project’ was ‘expensive’, and delays were not encouraged by ‘the city’. This is a brilliant interpretation of the familiar tale of Ganesha taking down ...

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