Anyone who grew up in the 1980s will have fond memories of watching the grand epic, Mahabharata, come to life every Sunday, with the entire family hunched around a big, black box.
Everything — including mandatory chores, came to a standstill then. I caught glimpses of this unifying (in its appeal) force on my vacations in India. Too young to latch on to the bits and pieces that I did watch, I would be amazed at the hold this show had on people. Was it not just a story about a family feud for the coveted throne of Hastinapur?
As I grew up, I realised that the Mahabharata is a heady cocktail of human and divine strength, frailties, the politics of power, morality, values, spirituality, philosophy and, above all, dharma — the very foundation of human society. I figured this out only on hearsay.
Sage Vyasa wrote the Mahabharata with the help of Lord Ganesha, in Sanskrit, in 1,00,000 verses split into 18 chapters. It is said to be based on real events that took place nearly 3,000 years ago in Kurukshetra, around present-day Delhi.
It is next to impossible to estimate the exact number of characters that appear in the Mahabharata, with some from the Ramayana also manifesting themselves here! Most of those who have read the epic describe it as an eye-opener or a life-changing experience. The beauty lies in the myriad interpretations every time you read it.
Daunting, to say the least, and I never pushed my grey cells enough to dive into the magnum opus (even the simplified versions available in English). So here I am, well in my 30s, reading The Boys Who Fought (The Mahabharata for Children) by Devdutt Pattanaik. I am grateful to the author for enlightening (apart from youngsters) many adults like me who may have shied away from this epic due to its explicit complexities.
Breaking the mighty Mahabharata, which follows an intricate stories-within-stories structure, into bite-sized, lucid chapters for children, is no mean task. Pattanaik does this with flair and uses catchy illustrations (made by him) with corresponding thought bubbles or blurbs that give further insight into the motives, backgrounds of the characters and interesting facts related to other mythological tales.
In 120 pages and eight short chapters, the writer describes the dynastic conflict between a hundred brothers (the Kauravas) and their five cousins (the Pandavas) with the counsel of Lord Krishna, also a cousin of the Pandavas (from the maternal side).
Pattanaik succeeds in modernising this age-old epic, making it relevant to the present generation. He introduces the characters (including gods, sages, demons, humans, rivers, animals) and their connections with each other in easy-to-understand ways.
The Boys Who Fought provides a quick initiation into what is considered one of the greatest Indian epics of all time. It prefers to tell the tale as it is, attempting to clarify the many grey areas in kid-friendly and contemporary terms.
The book concludes on an identifiable note for children today — the universal but simple concept of sharing. “If we have to fight, let us fight that urge within us that stops us from sharing, that urge that stops us from being human.” A good takeaway in the current scenario, don’t you think?