The Mahabharata is technically an epic, composed by the sage Vyasa. However, in reality, it is so much more. It is told to children and adults alike; it is a version of history, passed on by the word of mouth, rather than the written word, and it is also a parable, warning us of the consequences of our desires as well as our actions, but above all, it remains just as relevant today, symbolically addressing issues and situations of the modern world.
Most of us have grown up listening to stories from the Mahabharata. However, there are only a few of us who would have read the epic in its entirety. In fact, it isn’t all that easy, since there aren’t as many complete English translations as we would expect.
This is the gap that Ashok Banker seeks to fill with his Mahabharata series, or, as he calls it, his MBA. Why the name? Because, as he says, Vyasa took three years to write it, the same period it takes to complete an MBA.
Ashok Banker’s The Seeds of War is a collection of stories, based on Mahabharata.
In his introduction, he says, ‘This is not an epic fantasy. This is not a sci-fi rendition. It is not a futuristic version. If you are expecting any of these things, you’re going to be disappointed.’
Was I disappointed? No. I was impressed that he seems to be doing just what he promises – to retell the story, as first told by Vyasa.
To give you an idea of the book, it is necessary for me to talk first about the book – The Seeds of War – which starts with the story of Devayani, the daughter of Sukracharya, and Kacha, the son of Brihaspati, leading on to the story of Yayati, and thence to the story we all know – of Shantanu and Ganga, leading to the story of Bhishma.
The first thing that struck me was how true Ashok Banker stayed to the rendition of the epic. For this is how the book reads when we read the Bhagvat Puran. To me it is Banker’s narrative that makes it special. That I can connect with his language, understand and appreciate, even as I enjoy the story, makes the book worth reading for me. These are all stories I am familiar with. Yet, his unique style of writing adds another dimension to it, makes it that much more readable, the characters’ actions understandable. I felt empathy for the characters I wouldn’t normally feel in the usual translations of the epic.