After the sanskritized classical Bengali of Bankimchandra's masterly analyses of the Krishna saga in Krsnacaritra* and the upanishadic profundity of Tagore conveyed with inimitable pellucid beauty in Shantiniketan** Subodh Ghosh's Bhaarat Prem Kathaa presents a challenge of unique dimensions to the translator. Love Stories from the Mahabharata is veritably a piece of rococo art, intricately and elaborately carved, at times breathtakingly over-ornamented as in 'Ashtavakra and Suprabha'. On occasion one is tempted to say that Ghosh, like Milton, wrote no language! For, here is an author who creates a language, a style and a diction all his very own. It is not just that he draws heavily on classical sources for both form and content. He deliberately seeks out words that are abstruse, archaic and can convey multiple meanings. Ghosh ensures the reader's attention by balancing the consciously recherche poetic descriptions--which at times verge on pastiche--by the cut-and-thrust of sticomythic dialogue in simple, everyday language.
Behind this lush tropical foliage, however, lie scintillating gems of psychological insight and brilliant characterization. These twenty stories, whose kernels are culled from the 'Epic of Epics', are possibly the finest instances of myth-making in our time. No other writer has been able to visualise the emotional angst that lies hidden in the Mahabharata tales and sculpt them out in forms that appeal so poignantly to the human sensibility today. These are truly transcreations in the finest sense of the term: taking the epic tale and, without distorting it, creating a work of art that enhances by far the significance of the original and brings home the powerful human appeal of the ancient that never gets dated, whose relevance is ever current. Is there a femme-fatale more modern than Sushobhana, a wife more boldly adulterous than Ruchi, a man more inveterately lust-ridden than Agni, a virgin more dedicated than Shrutavati who would rather die waiting for heaven's ruler to become her earthly lover than settle for the celestial favours he offers? Where shall we find a clash between evanescent lust and everlasting love more novel than in the romance of Ruru and Pramadvara, a challenge posed by obsession more unique than in the tale of Ashtavakra and Suprabha, a confrontation between marital love and infatuation more moving than in the story of Mandapal and Lapita, a transformation of character more tender and profound than Pingala's, a love transcending the physical and the emotional that purifies both lover and beloved more memorable than Suprabha and Janak's, Lopamudra and Agastya's.
Each love-story is unique--such is the unerring brilliance of the author's seeing eye. And every tale carries a distinct flavour, plumbs the depths of a different emotional complexity. The reader is gripped, enriched, gratified and even satiated.
It is impossible to convey the baroque coruscation of Ghosh's original in English and I am acutely conscious of the unsatisfactory nature of my translation. I have tried to give the reader some sense of his convoluted diction by adhering to the construction of his sentences as far as practicable without obfuscating the sense in translation. Since much of the effect he seeks to create depends on the indigenous names of trees, flowers and plants found in classical Sanskrit literature, I have reproduced them as in the original without providing clumsy botanical equivalents. Diacritical marks have been avoided in the interest of readability.
* M.P Birla Foundation, Calcutta
** New Age International, New Delhi.
Love Stories from the Mahabharata
Parikshit and Sushobhana
Sumukh and Gunakeshi