Book Reviews

Love Stories from Mahabhara

It has been said and many believe that translations lack much of the magic of the original.

Therefore, it is better to say in the beginning that these two delightful books are not so much translations but transcreations i.e.  they take away nothing from the original, capture the interest of the reader and are praiseworthy in themselves.

Love Stories From The Mahabharata, brought into lush and vivid life by Pradip Bhattacharya, highlights little known romances from the great epic. It has rightly been said in the introduction by Major- General SK Sen that Vyasa ignores most of the women characters in the Mahabharata. It is the men and the social ramifications of those times that he lays stress on. Subodh Ghosh on the other hand has fleshed out > these women and brought them to blazing life in his work.

Transcreator Pradip Bhattacharya also does not lag behind in this process.  In Love Stories, we get dignified women, battered by fate and their love for their men they do not lose a shred of their dignity in the process. Consider Princess Lopa in Lopamudra and Agastya. Daughter of the Vidharbha King, brought up in the lap of luxury, she nevertheless marries the harsh Rishi Agastya, because of a vow made to the sage by her father. There is also the fact that this beautiful, golden-complexioned princess is in love with the cold and unperturbed sage. But Agastya ignores her pleading eyes and insists that she leaves behind all her ornaments and costly clothes in the palace as all this does not befit a rishi-bride. Obeying him Lopa accompanies him to the hermitage where all her loving overtures are met by stern rebuffs from her husband. Ultimately one day Agastya falls in love with this very same princess he had rejected as a woman. He goes to her with tender words only to find that gentle Lopa has become as hard as stone. She will only consent to be his wife if he brings back all the jewels that he had made her reject. Hurt, Agastya wanders off to bring for Lopa all the ornaments that she craves. Finally he returns to her with all that she had wanted. But when Lopa finally goes to him, it is without her jewels because, 'I am not a lover of ornaments, rishi'. Humbled and filled with joy, Agastya finally understands his wife, the woman, who is not less of a woman for being a princess, Lopamudra.

Then there is proud King Atirath who scorns the love of the courtesan Pingala because he sees only a prostitute in her and not the loving heart of the woman. Ultimately he realizes the worth of Pingala only when he loses her forever.

Neglected Chandreyi, beloved daughter of Soma, the Moon God, wins over her husband Rishi Uthaya, even after surrendering to Varun, lord of the Ocean in an unguarded moment. However, the author and transcreator has been hard on the men. Do they even deserve the women who love them, we are moved to wonder. We find little to admire in lustful Agni, rigid bound-by-a-vow-Galav, arrogant Ruru and weak Mandapal. King Parikshit and maybe King Janaka restore our faith in the sterner sex somewhat, but it is merely a weak flicker. The draw of the novel lies in the strength of its women.

Love Stories speak to the reader because of the contemporary nature of its women. Even in the 21st century we would be hard put to find such emancipation as we find in these epic women. Flighty Sushobhana treats her lovers with ruthless coquetry, abandoning them when the pleasure of the moment is over. But she herself is humbled by the love of King Parikshit and surrenders willingly to it.

The Princess-turned-ascetic Sulabha's love for the Videha king, philosopher Janaka, is a poem that flows in this book. It is sheer poetry that is cloaked in prose which stems from the author's pen, when he describes this all knowing, all sacrificing love.

Reading this book we come away with a deeper understanding of the great epic and its truly emancipated but little known women, who experienced all the anguish of deep love ( Galav - Madhavi, Agni -Svaha, Indra- Shruvavati among others) but did not sacrifice their sense of self for it.

From the sonorous Love Stories which rings in our minds like mighty temple bells, the charming Puranic Tales For Cynical People, dances like a chuckling spring across our consciousness. The light and biting wit of Parashuram is captured by his transcreators.

Did you know that Hanuman wanted to get married but discarded the idea in his own imitable way (Hanuman's Dream)? Did you know that Bhima got reunited with his rakshsha wife, Hidima, (Reunion) only when he appeared to her in the form of a meal? Did you know that the fearsome demoness, Surpanakha, became a loving aunt, with wooden nose and ear pieces, which only falls off when she becomes hysterical while relating the tragic end of her love-story to her niece (Surpanakha's Remniscences)?

Fiery Durvasa is humbled by a small boy of ten in the Kali Yug (Bharat's Rattle); Ram Rajya (The Rule Of Rama) and the politics of power is a piece full of gentle irony which spares no one ; Balaram explains that while Dharmaraj Yudhistira is chock-full of moral sense he is more than deficient in the practical sense (The Third Dice Game) ' something which we had more than suspected!

This sparkling tome is a gem with something in it for everyone. Pradip Bhattacharya and Shekhar Sen have been true to Rajshekhar Basu's concise and acerbic style.  Both these books are ideal for monsoon days ' when sheets of rain splash outside and epic tales come alive.


More by :  Amreeta Sen

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