Recently, I picked up “The Illustrated Mahabharatha (Wilco Books)” for Lil D. She has a nice book on Ramayana, and I wanted her to get familiar with the Mahabharatha too. A couple of her friends watch the serial that’s airing nowadays, but I figured this was a better way to get her into the story, considering the serial takes five minutes after every sentence to show the reactions of the entire costumed cast!
So now her bed-time routine includes me reading a couple of chapters to her every night. The book has nugget-sized chapters that usually don’t take more than a couple of pages, so it is perfect. Of course, there are some issues with the editing, but by and large, I think the book does a pretty good job of getting the Mahabharatha down to an easily digestible level.
We don’t discuss what I read as such, but sometimes Lil D is struck by the unfairness of it all, and protests quite vehemently. Ekalavya was one such instance when she got mad at Drona.
The blatant unfairness in this grand old story is so mind-boggling. The way women are treated, for example, is old hat. I positively hate the way Amba is tossed about like baggage, till she decides to end her life and be reborn as Shikandi to take her revenge.
The caste equations for women are also pretty clear. King Shantanu can marry a fisherman’s daughter and not get affected in the least, but Draupadi will tell Karna that she cannot marry a sutaputra (son of a charioteer) and disqualify him from her swayamvara!
The less said about lineage, the better. None of the Pandavas are really Pandu’s sons, purportedly being the offspring of Gods themselves, and Pandu himself is not a true-blue Kuru descendant because he is the son of Sage Vyasa and Ambalika. In fact, technically speaking, the Kuru clan dies out with King Shantanu’s sons themselves: Bheeshma, who takes a vow of celibacy and so has no offspring; Chitrangada and Vichitraveerya who both die before they father any children.
So the big deal made out of Karna’s low-caste, and the raw deals given to both women and the lower caste folks (Ekalavya, Karna) is ironic, considering that both Pandu and Dritharashtra are not true-blue royal folks themselves in the strictest sense!
I guess the biggest plus about the Mahabharatha is that it makes us think about these overt injustices in the first place. In the end, it holds a mirror to society of that age, and the reflection is, just as life has always been and continues to be, not very pretty.