Have a look into any Indian bookstore and you will find a number of books based on Indian mythology. It seems that everyone is writing a book about Ramayana and Mahabharata. However, you cannot blame the authors of these books. Indian mythology is so rich and endless that one cannot stop himself/herself to turn these mythological tales into beautifully woven retellings. The Mahabharata, in particular, has attracted the attention of a number of contemporary Indian English authors of mythology. The epic is not only known for its myriad characters, but also for its philosophy. ‘Arjun: Without a Doubt’ by Sweety Shinde is a recent book, which tells the story of the Mahabharata from the perspective of Arjun or Arjuna (the mighty Pandava warrior). However, Sweety Shinde’s book not only retells the Mahabharata through the eyes of Arjun, but also through the eyes of Draupadi. While the main protagonist of this novel is Arjun (as the title suggests), the author has beautifully incorporated the voice of Draupadi also. This dual narrative makes it an interesting read.
Whenever someone writes about a mythological character, he/she carries a risk. And, the risk becomes greater if somebody has already written about the same character more recently. There is already a book on Arjun by Anuja Chandramouli, which was published on January 2013. And, therefore, we should admire the author of the book under review for venturing into a dangerous terrain and coming out victorious with such a wonderfully written book.
You would find retellings based on the Mahabharata more captivating if you don’t know much about this epic. However, what about those who have a prior knowledge of this epic? And, what should those readers expect from such modern retellings of the Mahabharata? Retellings like these should be able to add something new to their understanding of the original narrative or original character by providing alternative points of view that may have been only implicit in the original. And, this is where this book scores positive points. Sweety Shinde seems more intent on developing her main characters beyond the predictable and less on retelling the plot in all its detail. By mainly focusing either on Arjun or Draupadi, the author manages to retell the happenings of Mahabharata as well as projecting the main protagonist of this novel with ease. In other words, the author brilliantly manages to give a voice to Arjun, the hero of this book.
Though we all know Arjuna as a mighty warrior, this book allows us to see the emotional side of him also. There is no doubt that he was a great archer, but he was a human being also. This book uncovers the mask and throws light on the real man behind the clothing of a warrior. You get to know him as a son, as a brother, as a student, as a husband, as a rival, and most importantly, as a human being. You come to know his feelings when he had to share his wife among his brothers. You come to know his feelings when Yudhisthir gambled Draupadi in the court of Duryodhana. You come to know his feelings when he had to face his relatives in the war. You come to know his feelings when he lost his son Abhimanyu in the war. And, you come to know his feelings towards Karna and Eklavaya (his rivals), and Draupadi (his wife).
Certain scenes in the book are really delightful. The emotional but heated exchange between Arjun and Kunti after the death of Karna in the Great War of Kurukshetra is one such scene. The same can be said about interactions and conversations not only between Arjun and Krishna, but also between Arjun and Draupadi. The language is lyrical and helps in bringing out a certain beauty in dialogues. However, at the same time, sometimes it becomes difficult to identify the characters as definite dialogue markers are not given. Consequently you lose track and retrace your steps to clarify who is actually speaking. Yes, this a minor flaw in the book and distract your attention time to time.
Coming to the end of this long review, I belief the vilification of Karna and Yudhisthir in the book was unnecessary. I would have been certainly happier if the character of Karna would have been dealt in a different manner. I also feel that few more pages could have devoted to the war scenes. This is Arjun’s story and he played a major role in this war. But, at the same time, we should also understand that the author cannot make each and everyone happy. Isn’t it?
And, to conclude, as I have told you in one of my earlier posts, there is neither white nor black among the characters of the Mahabharata. On the other hand, the characters of the Mahabharata represent different shades of grey and even Arjun is not an exception. And, I would ask this question, “Did the author present all shades of Arjun?” You read the book and answer this question.
A must read for the fans of Indian mythologies. I will highly recommend it.