Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Jaya - An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata by Veda Vyasa is a sprawling epic that has spawned many an interpretation and philosophical debate. It is centered on the concept of Dharma - interpreted variously as ethic, duty, the path of righteousness and the natural law.
At the heart of the story is the futile rivalry between the Pandavas and their cousins, the Kauravas, that leads to a great war which the Pandavas win. It begins with the recounting of the ancestry of the two warring factions and ends with Yudhishtira, the eldest Pandava ascending to heaven, only to find his arch rival Duryodhana already there.
Devdutt Pattanaik, a renowned name in the field of Indian Mythology, takes on the onus of demystifying the grand epic, delving into its intricate plots and sub-plots. Pattanaik titles his book Jaya - the original name of the epic that we now know as Mahabharata. He narrates the story succinctly and dwells on the fascinating interconnectedness of events and characters, the layers, paradoxes and symbolisms. Pattanaik's enthusiasm is infectious – he includes folklore, interpretations and cross-references in other texts - and his accompanying illustrations are exquisite.
The pivotal chapter on the game of dice, for instance, begins with the envious Duryodhana returning from Yudhishtira's coronation. His uncle, Shakuni devises a plot to overthrow the Pandavas with loaded dice. We see the heady lure of a gamble that dulls Yudhishtira's intellect enough to pawn away his wealth, his kingdom, his brothers and finally, Draupadi, their wife. When Draupadi is publicly disrobed by the Kauravas, Dhritharashtra, the father of the Kauravas intervenes and offers her boons by which she frees her husbands. Sadly, Yudhishtira squanders away this too and the Pandavas are exiled for 13 years. In the footnotes of this chapter, we learn that Draupadi is worshipped in parts of India as a goddess and there are rituals enacted by men representing the Pandavas, seeking her forgiveness.
While Pattanaik's Jaya loosely follows the chronology of the original epic, the author invests time in dwelling on significances. There are stories within stories, curses and blessings that change destinies, and repercussions across timelines and beyond lifetimes. In this retelling, Pattanaik chooses to reiterate that the theme of the Mahabharata is conveyed in the character arc of Yudhishtira who first chases Vijaya (victory over others) but finally realises Jaya (mastery over self).
An edited version appeared in Culturama's April 2011 Issue.

Also read an interview with Devdutt Pattanaik here.


Natarang is set in the world of tamasha , a popular style of theatre in Maharashtra with large doses of ribaldry, suggestive songs and dances. Guna Kagalkar (Atul Kulkarni) is a patron of the form, although he is barely making ends meet to support his family. When he decides to start his own tamasha group, Guna begins rehearsing his dream role of a king.
Guna gradually realises that the group needs a woman performer. Nayana (Sonalee Kulkarni) is willing to perform with the group provided they find her a nachya. A nachya plays the effete transgender sidekick to the leading lady in the tamasha and brings in the laughs. With nobody else willing, Guna reluctantly agrees to play the nachya. In a poignant scene, Guna sheds tears of helplessness in the pouring rain as he wears the king's garb for the last time. His training begins in earnest and the man who was built like a bull becomes a slender waif.
Once the group is finally off the ground and begins to tour villages, Guna faces fresh challenges. As he plays a nachya, his perceived indeterminate sexual orientation is cause for much mean humour and sexual advances.
Guna then decides to use tamasha as a medium of change. He picks the role of the legendary warrior, Arjuna who took on the form of a transgender Brihannala to avoid being recognised during exile. But Guna is raped, ironically when he is dressed to play the virile Arjuna.
When all his ties, including familial unravel, Guna realises that he now has nothing to lose, and begins anew pushing the boundaries of the art form.
Natarang won the National Award for Best Marathi film in the year 2010.
An edited version appeared in Culturama's April 2011 edition.

Star Struck - Sachin Tendulkar

You would be excused for not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is, if
  • you've lived all your life in a non-cricket -playing country with little exposure to the game and are now faced with the daunting prospect of living in a country where cricket is religion.
  • you've just been released after being held hostage with no contact with the outside world for the last two decades.
  • you've arrived in the present on a time machine from a time when few Indians broke international cricketing records.
Arguably one of the most talented cricketers of all time, everybody it seems, knows about the legendary Mr. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Making his test debut in 1989, the Little Master as he is called, went on to break record after record with his batting prowess. To fathom why Tendulkar is considered the most-worshipped cricketer in India, one must simply look at the numbers - in his career, the man has notched up a whopping 14692 runs from 177 test matches with 51 centuries and 59 half-centuries! And in 448 One Day Internationals he has scored 17842 runs with 47 centuries and 93 half centuries.
Let's not forget that his first test hundred was made when he was a mere lad of 17 and by the time he was 25, he had 16 of them. And to think Tendulkar originally wanted to be a fast bowler, but Dennis Lillee at the MRF Pace Academy persuaded him to focus on batting instead!
There is a lot of trivia associated with Sachin Tendulkar's batting talent. Ramakant Achrekar, Tendulkar's coach, is said to have famously created a reward of a coin for any bowler who would get him out, failing which, Tendulkar could keep the coin. The champ apparentlywent on to collect 13 of them! Sir Donald Bradman is said to have compared Tendulkar's batting to his own and one of the highpoints of Tendulkar's life was meeting Sir Bradman.
Peter Roebuck, a former cricketer and now a newspaper columnist and commentator is presumed to have said, "On a train from Shimla to Delhi, there was a halt in one of the stations. The train stopped by for few minutes as usual. Sachin was nearing century, batting on 98. The passengers, railway officials, everyone on the train waited for Sachin to complete the century. "
Ask Tendulkar fans why they worship him, and pat comes the reply, “His passion for the game and his hard work. He's been around for 20 years, long after others have made their money and left. He has taken a god-given talent and honed it with hard work. And of course, he has held himself with great poise while facing some of the fiercest bowlers of his time!”
Watch Sachin Tendulkar captain the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premiere League Season 4, beginning April 8, 2011.
For the latest statistics related to Sachin Tendulkar, visit http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/player/35320.html

An edited version appeared in Culturama's April 2011 Issue