Before getting into my full-blown account of the book, I have a confession to make. My only trysts with Hindu mythology have been Doordarshan’s epic Hindi serials “The Ramayana” and “The Mahabharata” in the late 80’s. As a young child, I remember eagerly looking forward to them as they aired every Sunday. In a similar fashion, I found Greek mythology alluring as well and would chew upon several books on the same subject later in my teen years.
I do not know if my limited knowledge in Hindu mythology is a boon or bane as far as my review goes. It did strike me that if I had a prior hold on the subject, I could easily compare the original versus Mallar Chatterjee’s version. It would help me gauge if he stuck to the original narrative or took several creative liberties. Maybe, it is a good thing after all, that as a reader, I warmed into this wonderful reading experience, almost like a blank slate. I was able to enjoy Mallar Chatterjee’s version without any preconceived notions and bias.
Mallar Chatterjee’s “Yudhisthira – The Unfilled Pandava” is the story of the Mahabharata retold in the first person perspective of Yudhisthira. This spin is what makes the book intriguing as opposed to the original narrative. The book is also a semi-autobiographical tale of King Yudhisthira.
Set against the backdrop of war, it is thrilling to have nearly half the chapters deal with the actual Mahabharata per se. And thus, transporting its readers to the bloody land of Kurukshetra! The book takes the ludicrously fast pace of a true action thriller hereon without a single gory detail being missed out on in the entire war narrative. The first half of the book is a crucial prelude to the actual war and is just as captivating. But, the meat of the story lies in the war chapters and the concluding chapters dealing with the war’s aftermath.
The book delves into the deeper meaning and significance of life at large. The message is loud and clear – “It is only your Dharma or good deeds which carry you forward in the afterlife.” Yudhishthira stands as a glorious testimony to this simple profound truth of life.
No two ways about it, this book is a sheer beauty! When it comes to Hindu mythology alone, Chatterjee has taken it several notches higher. With a tale that is so often told, Mallar Chatterjee does a brilliant job at its reinvention. The book is refined and classy with a sharp contemporary modern edge. It takes you to a different era back in time, but with relatable characters and emotions that are just as relevant and perhaps more so, in today’s times. The book is just as entertaining as it is sagely and wise.
“Your lamentation is utterly uncalled for. No wise man ever grieves for anybody living or dead. The atma is indestructible.” (Lord Krishna to Arjuna)
It caught my fancy right from the word “go”, enthralled and entertained me along the way and left me hanging on the cliff and literally screaming “Wow” at the end. It is hard to miss the literary powers of the author as he spellbinds the readers with not just his impressive range of vocabulary, but also his storytelling prowess. He weaves magic through his words as he effortlessly seduces the readers, making them beg for more.
The women characters are portrayed in a progressive light. Whether it is Yudhisthira’s mother, Kunti, wife Draupadi, Bheema’s Rakshasi lover, Hidimba, or aunt Gandhari, all the women are seen as strong, intelligent, wise, fearless and principled through the eyes of Yudhisthira. The mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship between Kunti and Draupadi comes untainted with mutual love and respect and highly secure in its place and position. While Yudhisthira’s relationship with Draupadi is bitter-sweet, contrived and slightly twisted owing to feelings of insecurity, jealousy and revenge, he is not oblivious of the purity and greatness of her soul.
Relationships form the central theme of this book. The author beautifully brings out the various complex shades of love and hate in this book. Every relationship has its own sanctity and place in Yudhisthira’s life. Be it the protagonist’s relationship with his mother Kunti, fathers Pandava and Lord Dharma, siblings the Pandavas, cousins the Kauravas, uncles Pitamaha Bheeshma, Vidura, Dhritarashtra, aunt Gandhari, son Pratibindhya, nephews Abhimanyu and Pareekshit, his subjects, his friend Lord Krishna, or his divine Creator. It is fascinating to follow the natural progression and course of each relationship in the book. As old ties give way to new ones, some truly stand the test of time.
It is a fantasy tale starring divine Gods, Goddesses, Rakshasas, Rakshasis and mortal humans who are spell bound by miracles and curses alike.There is simply no way anyone can dislike these wondrous creative elements to the plot. Besides, there is a deeper meaning that lies within. It is refreshing to see all the norms shattered in this narrative where Gods stumble and falter, Rakshasas behave like humans and humans behave like Gods. We see shades of grey in Lord Krishna, the goodness and humanity of Hidimba, and the universal love of King Yudhisthira, in this book. You see Yudhisthira’s strength of character when he is above all class and caste discriminations. He finds Acharya Drona’s justification for Eklavya’s heinous Guru Dakshina absolutely deplorable. Drona says: “Society renders opportunities and rights to a person according to the class that he belongs. That discipline should not be disrupted.” To which Yudhisthira responds, losing all respect for his Guru: “I wished I could have run away from this pathetic man.”
Since the book is seen through the eyes of Yudhisthira, there is no single true version of this epic tale. In fact, this is one of the most likeable and intriguing aspects of the book. Yudhisthira is constantly seen questioning his own version of what’s true and what’s not, right up till the end of his journey. Even in moments of personal triumph, glory and joy, he is seen battling with his inner conscience and its demons. This humbling and conscientious quality of Yudhisthira is what sees him right through the end as “The Unfallen Pandava”. Thereby proving it is not one’s talent, intelligence, power, wealth or fame that matters, as much as one’s Dharma.
The biggest hit or win of this book is that it takes a non-judgmental stance. Even the darkest character, Duryodhana is seen with empathy when Lord Krishna says:
“Brother Yudhisthira, everybody knows Duryodhana was bad. But very few know how unhappy he was.”
A book of this calibre truly deserved an epic cover. While the book cover design is beautiful and the font is perfect, I felt that the book cover ought to have been grand, magnificent with a thick sturdy paperback much like the larger than life tale itself. It is certainly not bad at all, but it could have been better. Especially if you want the book to be a keepsake to treasure!
There is no romance in the book and it is not anyone’s fault. More so, Yudhisthira who shared this love-hate relationship with his beloved wife Draupadi. Yudhisthira does come across as one who is highly sensitive and tends to hold grudges with Draupadi being his unfortunate victim. Perhaps when we get to read the story from Arjuna, Bheema or Draupadi’s perspective, we might get to read about that heady sugary side of love as well.
The war is brilliantly portrayed in the book. But, it does get extremely graphic and explicit in certain war scene descriptions, especially Ashwatthama’s psychopathic carnage and the brutal ends of Duhshasana and Duryodhana. If you are fainthearted, some of the savage details of the war can leave you feeling squeamish and uncomfortable. However, if you love your violence hard-core, this aspect would be a hit and not a miss with you.
This book is perfect for anybody looking for a good read. Literary fiction lovers will surely lap this one up. It is a great pick for anyone who is curious about the tales and philosophy of the ancient land of Mahabharata. Children above the age of 14 years can read this book without any qualms barring those explicit violent scenes.
Mallar Chatterjee’s sincere passion and undaunted focus for spinning spectacular stories is highly inspiring. Everything from the character sketch to the backdrop context to the seamless flow of the narrative has been thought carefully and designed meticulously. The story goes from colorfully entertaining to the darkest shade of sombre to still water calm blue to a perpetual state of white with an amazing ease of natural flow. This attention to the fine minutest detail is what makes all the difference, and sets Mallar Chatterjee and his labour of love apart from the rest of the books.
Yudhisthira definitely commands your respect through the sheer mettle of his character. Beyond the superficialities of monarchy bestowed upon him and his human character flaws, Yudhisthira is an ascetic at heart yearning for the true purpose and meaning of life.
As for me, I have always loved the genres of world mythology, literary fiction and philosophy. I do harbour great respect for all religions. For a believer like me, this book is a divine holy communion of mystic Hindu mythology, exemplary literary fiction and profound religious wisdom.
Even for non-believers, the book is guaranteed to come out as a proud, spectacular winner owing to the undeniable fact that it is exceptionally well-written, with all heart and soul.