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Mahabharata Transcreated

Pradip Bhattacharya

By P. Lal
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1980, pp. 371, Rs. 30.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 5 March/April 1981

R.C. Dutt, the first 'condenser' of the Mahabharata's one lakh slokas, chose to spare the Western reader the ‘unending morass’ and ‘Monstrous chaos’ of epi­sodical matter by leaving out whatever he felt to be superincumbent. The result was a Tennysonian Vyasa rhythmically relating· his knightly tale of barons at war in two thousand English couplets, in Locksley-Hall metre. In the process Dutt sacrificed much that is integral to the Vyasan ethos: most of the Adi and Vana parvas and all of the Maushala, the Mahaprasthana and the Svargarohana parvas. He felt, quite sincerely, that it was neither possible nor desirable to translate the epic in toto. Professor P. Lal however, holds a diametrically different view and his project of transcreating the epic sloka-by-sloka into English verse and prose is still in progress, 132 monthly fascicules having been published till 1981. The book under review is Lal’s condensation of the hard-core narrative: the Pandava-Dhritarashtrian conflict, around which a vast collection of myths, legends, folk-lore and didacticism has been woven to make up the great epic of Bharata. One hopes that a succeeding volume will make available to the English-speaking world the peripheral episodes which, nevertheless, are integral parts of the Vyasan universe. Take, for instance. the stories of Savitri-Satyavan, Ruru - Pramadvara, Jaratkaru - Astika, Agastya-Lopamudra, Kacha- Devayani, Dushyanta-Shakuntala, and; above-all, the account of Yayati, the ancestor of the Kauravas, whose original sin torments generation after generation till they are destroyed by that ‘expense of spirit in a waste of shame’ which is ‘lust in action’. These provide certain leitmotifs which run as unifying themes linking the apparently chaotic medley of episodes. To the modern reader, who has neither the time, nor perhaps the incli­nation, to seek out the indiscent Ariadne's thread in the bewildering laby­rinth of this epic, P. Lal's approach is richly rewarding. His condensation differs markedly from those of Dutt, Raja­gopalachari, R.K. Narayan and Kamala Subramanyam in that he does not ‘re­tell’. Lal is the only ‘condenser’ who also transcreates and gives us the epic in Vyasa's own words. Moreover, it is not his intention to narrate merely the essential story of the fratricidal war. He also intends to communicate the ‘feel’ of the epic; that ineffable flavour which transforms {sordid account of a bloody clan-war into the Mahabharata. With this end in view, Lal incorpo­rates a number of incidents which ...

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