Shelves: fantasy , folklore Unbelievable This shows the Pandava and Kaurava families building a tension to an unbelievable edge - and the incredible 18 day war where everything comes to a head. More importantly for me, this is not at all obvious: there are a bunch of twists in the plot that keep the surprises coming. Karna the tragic archer is my favourite - and possibly one of the most torn characters in the book. If you get the Unbelievable This shows the Pandava and Kaurava families building a tension to an unbelievable edge - and the incredible 18 day war where everything comes to a head. If you get the chance, read this epic story - well worth it.
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Aug 06, Girish Kohli rated it it was amazing There can be nothing more timeless than The Mahabharata. Ramesh Menon renders the Mahabharata with a distinct taste of the old art of story telling.
The Mahabharata contains the greatest characters and the greatest dialogues ever and is befittingly titled too. After reading the Mahabharata one realizes that every story ever told is just borrowed from some sub plot of this great epic. Even the villains in this great epic win your heart and the most inconsequential characters are so full of honor.
There can be nothing more timeless than The Mahabharata. I am proud to belong to a country from where an epic like the Mahabharata was born. I do not say my favorite book, because there is no one book on the tale. In that very sense, there is no book and there is no one story. The hallmark of any great story lies in the number of times it can adapt itself and be reinterpreted to suit the existing culture and prevalent views, blending seamlessly into it while still maintaining its essence.
I make it a point to read the epic once a year, not to see if the story is any different, but to know whether I have changed in the last year. The way I interpret the story tells me a lot about myself. The story itself is perhaps the most well-known one in India, with deep roots in every facet of our culture, and still used to justify and vilify actions.
Evidenced by the fact that no character in the epic, right from Krishna and Yudhishtira to Duryodhana and Shakuni, is purely good or evil, with each using their own version and interpretation of Dharma to justify their actions and ultimately facing the consequence of those actions.
Cause and Effect itself is a major theme throughout the epic, with karma playing a big role in how the story pans out. Actions and decisions taken by multiple, unrelated characters, across space and time, come together to have consequences which cannot be imagined.
The importance of following the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law is emphasized on every page, all the more stark because this is a quality we still have not imbued. Great people like Bheeshma, Drona and Karna had to die because they knew what Dharma wrote ages ago but forgot why it was written. They followed without questioning, and when the question arose, they had the wrong answer. Even today, we forget why a particular law, custom or tradition is important and follow them blindly, even as they stagnate, rot and hold society back from progress.
The Mahabharata, in its entirety, ultimately asserts why Dharma must be fluid in order to allow progress in the right direction, and why a stagnant Dharma inevitably becomes Adharma and what was once an engine becomes a shackle. In other words, Memetic evolution is as important as Genetic evolution.
Multiple characters cause conflict, and each is justified in their own motives and destiny. The definition of right and wrong, good and evil becomes excruciatingly difficult, and the only answer may be that it would be impossible to define them without the context, which changes from character to character.
As such, it takes an author of extraordinary skill to interpret the story coherently and present it so that the messages are as clear as possible. Ramesh Menon has been inspired by Kamala Subramaniam, as he states right off the bat. To write a story like this without bias is extremely difficult, given how Krishna is considered a God and how the Pandavas and Kauravas have been immortalized as heroes and villains respectively.
Menon tries to take the same approach and does succeed in parts. While he tries hard to be balanced, there are places where the bias he holds towards Krishna and the Pandavas comes forth and the tendency to vilify the Kauravas shines through. Yes, the heroes and villains in the story are ultimately clear, but they are not nearly as black and white as one would imagine.
The prime example of this would be Krishna himself, the God who came to wipe out adharma in the world. The fact that he himself uses treachery and adharma to do this is constantly justified because he is God and because it is his destiny. He is subject to human failings and mistakes.
This serves to somewhat reduce the ambiguity of the story, and makes the story much clearer, hiding the faults of Yudhishtira and the virtues of Duryodhana. There is nothing new Mr. Menon brings to the table, and one would rather read the original than the almost exact retelling presented here, minus the ambiguity.
Moreover, there are spelling errors to be found in the book at places, which is unforgivable in this age of editors and proofreaders. However, the book written by Mr. Menon is exhaustive enough that anyone reading the story for the first time would be introduced to most facets of the exceedingly complicated tale without preaching too much. The author brings forward the apathy of war and the descent of the human race into decadence with an atmosphere of destiny and irrepressible fate, with a sense of epic inevitability, as we enter the Kaliyug and Adharma takes center-stage.
Across 2 volumes and pages, the complex story is presented with grandeur and all the splendor worthy of it. The reader would be left to his own interpretation and that, in my opinion, is the crux of the story.
There is no clear message here, and there are no clear guidelines. The end sometimes justifies the means and the means must be justice themselves at other times. However, one thing remains clear. As it boasts, everything which exists finds it place in the tale and what does not find its place does not exist. To not read this story from a human perspective would be to rob yourself of something which could fundamentally change the way you look at life and how you interpret situations.
It is, after all, Ithihas.
Books by Ramesh Menon
THE MAHABHARATA A Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon