Imagine being told that Shoaib Akhtar was just another pretentious, over-glorified bowler who thrived on PR rather than giving out fastest balls in the world; a Brett Lee
and McGraw duo who were under-achievers and useless in actual matches- not just once, but umpteen times..
Would you have ‘massive respect’ for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar- as the greatest batsmen of all time- if his opponents were never a real challenge for him?? PR-project or not, we remember Sachin for beating-to-pulp those balls which constantly had around 140 kmph speeds! If those balls are later claimed to be just 80kmph ‘flukes’, wouldn’t that be a bigger blow to Sachin’s ‘greatness’ than to that of those ballers??
The author, Dr Shinde, seems to have overlooked this angle as she invests 306-paged effort in ‘dismantling’ each and every person who ‘dared’ to overshadow Arjun, for any reason, in the public eye- be it Bhishm and Drona (author’s Draupadi calls them pervert, and alleges that they derived voyeuristic pleasure in her disrobing), Arjun’s own eldest brother and mother (author alleges that not only Yuddhishthir desired Darupadi and blatantly lied about Kunti’s “share the gift, just like always” slip-of-tongue, but he was also a bitter, jealous and pompous sibling, not much better than Duryodhan) or be it Karna. Especially Karna.
If I have to pick out one single theme of this book, Arjun’s glorification would come a poor second to establishing Karna as the vilest villain of all time, in human history. According to author, every single positive thing about Karna, or any injustice meted out to him due to his supposed charioteer caste, is either an invention of his own and a malicious PR-campaign against Pandavas, or a folklore that has somehow crept in, in between the five millennia that separate today from the day Mahabharata happened..
Even Surya is not spared, accusing him of partiality against Arjun by ‘hurrying to set’, the day after Abhimanyu’s slaying. But, here, the author again overlooks two facts:
A) Before this event, Surya never showed too much solidarity with his son, except warning him against Indra’s plan to tricking him into donating the armor Karna inherited from Surya.
Contrast this to Indra’s taking Arjun to his heavenly city, getting him trained under the tutelage of all the mighty gods of heaven, seeking to render Karna defenseless (if, as the author claims, there was ‘nothing special’ in his armor, why did the ruler of three worlds get desperate enough to trick him into giving it up?), and, yet, refusing him his most powerful Vajra as compensation.
B) The early setting of the sun, followed by sudden resurgence was actually a life-savior to Arjun, rather than a killer, because it brought Jayadrath out in the open- something Arjun may, or may not, have achieved that very day by himself, if the situation till that point were any indication!
In my humble opinion, the solar ‘mishap’ of the day was more likely either a solar eclipse- something that neither of the camps had any control over- or an illusion by Krishna; rather than Surya stooping low!
However, when the book does manage to rise above what is, in solely my opinion, grudging mud-slinging against Karna, it is indeed a delightful read.
It captures the mindset of not only the protagonist Arjun- his fanboy-enamor towards the fabled cousin Krishna, his falling head-over-heels in love with Draupadi, his amused liking of Subhadra and his grief over deaths of Bhishma, Drona and Abhimanyu- but also of her true wife- Draupadi.
In fact, almost half of the book is written from Draupadi’s point-of-view, rather than Arjun’s. The reason could be a natural inclination of woman, to empathize more with their gender. It also allows us a woman’s perspective of casualties of war, their compassion and solidarity towards each other while cutting across camp lines, and their general take on the Vedic society and religion itself.
One commendable feat by the author is the frank acceptance of Krishna’s bias towards Pandavas- from the first chapter itself. The Krishna, of this book, has no qualms in accepting that his peace proposal- to both Duryodhana and Karna- were mere half-hearted(and thus lacking any true intent and effort towards success) formalities. The Krishna of this book accepts that he indirectly caused them to reject the peace-offer, thus conveniently shifting the blame of war-mongering totally on them.
The book could have had a bit clearer division of dialogues, for, at certain places, the reader loses thread of who’s-saying-what.
It could’ve shown Arjun superior to others without, subtly, demonizing others of his own ‘side’ (especially Yuddhishthira and Bhishma) or dismissing and vilifying those of the ‘other side’. While the dismissal of others’ achievements and skill (especially Karna’s) actually belittles Arjun’s own feat of vanquishing them (since “A man is only as big as the adversity he wins over”), the demonizing of others opens this unanswered question- “When the sons of other, more virtuous gods- like Bhishma (son of Ganga, the purest of all, in all the three worlds), Karna (son of the most virtuous of gods), Yuddhishthira (son of Yama- the personification of righteousness itself) and even Ashwatthama (known to be an incarnation of Rudra himself)- couldn’t remain even a little virtuous, were unable to practice even a little of what ran in their veins, how come the son of Indra- one of the greatest ‘sinners’ of all time- manage to be so morally uptight?”
However flawed her perception and interpretation might seem, from my own point-of-view, I cannot disagree with that the author has indeed researched a lot for her book and deserves an ovation for having the grit to stand against the popular perception. Because, as the real message of Mahabharata says, “there are no villains or heroes, sinners or saints. What matters is what you believe in, and how far can you go, to ensure that your thoughts matter..”