The Mahabharata has been a fascinating story for all kinds of readers and writers for a long time. Many of us have read the Mahabharata again and again, be it as part of school text-books or in the form of story books, comic books etc. The Mahabharata is an epic tale and one of its kind. It portrays all the emotions known to human beings and other life forms. One should be careful while narrating this story not to lose any thread and the grip on the story.
The book I, Duryodhana narrates the story of the Mahabharata in Duryodhana’s voice. He talks about what he knows about the happenings around, what he has done and why, giving justification for his acts while on his death bed. He also tries to explain why he lost the war in spite of having so many powerful warriors on his side. Duryodhana presents himself as a victim of many false accusations, tricky situations, conspiracies, and deceit by his very own trusted allies like Shakuni and sometimes Radheya (Karna). So, this book is more like an autobiographical narration of Duryodhana. One thing new is that we get to read more about Duryodhana’s feelings here, as compared to the other typical narrations of the Mahabharata.
However, the book, as a contrast to the typical mythology genre, states a very linear story through Duryodhana. The character development is average. Other major characters seem to be standing in the shadow of the main character of Duryodhana.
This is Pradeep’s first work in this genre and it is evident in the reading of the book. The pace of the book is also not as action packed as the Mahabharata is expected to be. Not for a single moment was I curious to turn the pages and know what is going to happen next. However, it reflects freshness in his understanding and how he has perceived the content through different resources and research. Indeed, he has worked hard in weaving such a complex story into a simple narration. Hopefully his upcoming works will show more layers and intertwining.
For an author, the biggest challenge possibly is to spellbind the reader through the power of his/her narration and it becomes even more challenging when you are telling a story which is already known to the readers. Interestingly, the reading of this book helped me categorize readers into three groups. First, for the beginner, who has never explored the story of Mahabharata from the point of view of not the heroes, but the villains, this book will be a good start, for it is gripping and a page turner. The adolescent and rebellious mature readers will also be attracted to the book, especially those who are trying to widen their understanding and develop different perspectives.
For the average reader of the second category, it might turn out to be a good work; one that makes them connect to the main story page to page and helps them unravel some new layers through the eyes of Duryodhana. The book will give these readers a chance to question their understanding of the character of Duryodhana and his story and they might even ponder, ‘What if Duryodhana had won the war?’
For the third category of mature readers who have already explored good works in this area, the book may prove to be a bit disappointing. It gives no proper and detailed context except for few incidents like why Duryodhana and his brother start hating the Pandavas, especially Bheema, what sparks the rage for Draupadi and why Duryodhana was not ready to share even an inch of either Hastinapur or Indraprastha. For these readers, this work is a very simple and straightforward narration of what a character could have known around her/his surroundings and adding the description of major event from his side. It is no less than the major plot as revealed by the original Mahabharata and other books written against antagonist Duryodhana like that by Devdutt Patanaik.
Comparing with the other works on same or similar subjects, like Ajay by Anand Neelkantan and Duryodhana by V Raghunathan, I found Neelkantan’s work indeed a masterpiece. It narrates the story of Mahabharata weaving around the possible reality like what would have been the past based on our known tradition like caste and religion etc. It is gripping and unfolds layers and layers opening up many political, sociological, economical, religious connections and common man’s understanding which made it more than realistic. For logical explanations of false accusations on Duryodhana, I found the book Duryodhana by V Raghunathan more logical. For the uninitiated beginners in the genre of mythological novels and biographies, as well as for those who have begun to develop a taste of this, the book will have some interesting insights to offer.
The illustrations are good and the cover reflects the story.
Ram Kumar Saroj works at Eklavya Foundation, Bhopal, in Shiksha Ki Udaan Project. He has deep interest in reading books especially mythology mixed with sci-fi and thrillers. He also likes to do film reviews in the area of art or parallel cinema.