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This Novel Explores The Other Side Of Yudhishthira You Probably Didn’t Know About

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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.

Summing It Up

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.

The Hits

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.”

The Misses

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.

So, who should pick up this book?

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.

Author Love

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.

Conclusion

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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