The Greatest Story Ever Told

Years ago,every Sunday,at exactly nine in the morning,the nation tuned in to watch B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata.

Written by Anushree Majumdar | Published:March 2, 2009 3:08 am

2009 is the year of revival for the Mahabharata as publishers and writers come up with versions of this epic

Years ago,every Sunday,at exactly nine in the morning,the nation tuned in to watch B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata. In spite of the fact that almost every viewer knew the story already,they watched because this was a tale that kept its promise: “What is found here may be found elsewhere. What is not found here will not be found elsewhere.” This year,publishers and writers are coming together to bring back the epic,often referred to as the greatest story ever told.

2009 will witness the revival of the Mahabharata as writers of various genres revisit the epic in different forms. Penguin India has planned three books about the Mahabharata,ranging from a children’s version,a translation of the original edition and an illustrated re-telling of the epic. March will see the release of The Puffin Mahabharata by Namita Gokhale. “Five years ago David Davidar who was the Penguin India chief then asked me to do a version of the Mahabharata for young readers in English. I read and researched intensively and wrote the first draft in one furious spurt,” says Gokhale whose book has wonderful illustrations by Suddhasattwa Basu. Although the book has been marketed for Puffin,the children’s imprint,the book is sure to appeal to readers of all ages. “The Mahabharata is not an easy fable or fantasy for children. It is a complex moral and ethical negotiation without a happy ending. I didn’t try to insert any feel good factor but kept it simple and direct,stressing on the feuding cousins in the story line,” says Gokhale. Quick on the heels of Gokhale’s book will be the release of The Mahabharata: An Illustrated Retelling by one of India’s most well known mythologists,Devdutt Pattanaik. Last year,the 38-year-old writer wrote The Pregnant King,a slip of a tale about Yuvanashva from the Mahabharata. “The prospect of exploring the epic through a fictional narrative is exciting. It opens up a whole new world of exploration where tradition ends and imagination begins,” says Pattanaik who is also a very talented artist and illustrates his own books. Later this year,Penguin India will publish Mahabharata: Volume 1 by Bibek Debroy which is an unabridged translation of the epic into English. “The two existing— complete and unabridged— translations are by Kishori Mohan Ganguly and Manmatha Nath Dutta from the late 19th century. These now have archaic language,they didn’t use the critical edition (which wasn’t available then) and didn’t translate everything. So I decided to do it because there was a vacuum and I have always wanted to translate the Mahabharata,” says Debroy. He started work approximately a year ago and the translation will be spread over 10 volumes,between 100,000 and 150,000 words each.

Not to be outdone,other publishing houses also have their own epic titles. Rupa has just released The Mahabharata Re-imagined by Trisha Das. A freelance writer based in Singapore,Das re-tells key episodes from the epic,but sets them in the original time zone. But one of the much-awaited versions of the Mahabharata is Parva/The Epic by Amruta Patil. “The book is based on characters from the Mahabharata – and you may see slivers of autobiography inveigle their way into my Ashwatthama or Draupadi as well! Writers are notorious for bumming lines off the world they interact with,” says Patil.

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