I don’t generally accept books for review. But I have always loved stories of Mahabharata. And Arjun has always been one of my favourite characters in this great epic. So when Sweety Shinde offered me a chance to review her book, I couldn’t say no. And I thank Sweety Shinde for sending me a copy of her delightful book to read.
To begin with, even if Arjun: Without A Doubt tells a well-known tale, it still holds many surprises and the beauty of the writing kept me turning pages. And author’s notes exploring popular myths at the end were added delight.
Arjun: Without A Doubt tells the story of Epic Mahabharata from Arjun and Draupadi’s perspective. The ancient epic has been presented in terms of the love story of these two tall figures, with Krishna acting as a friend, guide, and philosopher to both. The book is alternatively told by Arjun and Draupadi as a first-person narrative. This converts a distant epic into a tale of personal emotions. The problem with first-person narration is that they can often make the narrator sound egoistic or over-lenient with oneself. But Sweety very cunningly saves her book from this by making Draupadi depict and explain the character of Arjun by her words and by making Arjun do the same to explain and depict the grandness of Draupadi.
For me, there are three essential qualities that make a book good. These are: Good plot, good and well developed characters and good language.
Let me start by talking about the language of Arjun: Without A Doubt. The language of this book is elevated, without being difficult. The language brings alive the emotions of the characters. You’ll find several one-liners or deep and insightful quotes in this book that you’ll consider worth remembering and quoting. Some examples:
“No person is great in isolation. It takes many hands to shape a life.”
- “Failure is an orphan”
- “Sacrifice could be and Ugly Word.:
- “Peace is the first casualty in every ambition. It comes at the price of conflict for every warrior. “
- “Religion is nothing but a series of conveniently placed loopholes”
- “Goodness is an asset – but if you allow it to be exploited, it is a liability”
- “Truth is a kaleidoscope, it alters with perspective. “
These are just few example of the many gems that have been embroidered into the fabric of this book.
As for story and plot, well, there can be no doubt that it tells a great tale. The story of Mahabharata is so complex and so vast. Limiting it within 280 pages is no easy task. The story moves along at a fast pace. Many times I did have difficulty in understanding the events as a lot has been left unsaid in the book to save space.
And for that reason, the book demands some prior knowledge of Mahabharata. And then it also demands the unlearning of that knowledge and popular beliefs and to adopt newer insights and understanding of its events and characters. Not all of this new knowledge you’ll find easy or comfortable to accept.
What I liked best about this book’s characterization is how easily it makes readers accept the epic heroes as humans.
For example, the first time Arjun and Draupadi are alone while returning from Draupadi’s Swyamvar, Draupadi touches Arjun with a finger. And he pales and forgets to breathe. Draupadi knows then that she has the power to orchestrate his breath. And with that, in just two simple sentences, a mythological hero becomes a man you can fall in love with. You do fall in love with him! Arjun, in this book, is not someone who demands your respect, but someone who pulls at your heartstrings and makes you feel for his joys, sorrows, hurts, and bitter losses.
And Draupadi in this book is not some damsel in distress, nor is she a spiteful, arrogant princess who insults Karn or Duryodhan out of malice. She turns against them only when she is insulted by them in the grossest possible way.
Krishna is the third pillar of the book. Yet, he is not there as a God. He is there as a good friend, as a wise advisor, and as a philosopher. The book suppresses his divinity and stresses his humanity. To the extent that he is shown to play no role in saving Draupadi from public stripping. She gets saved when Gandhari comes and takes her away.
Honestly, I felt that rather disappointing. Rather an anti-climax to one of the most important and famous events of the epic. More so because we don’t even get to hear Draupadi’s arguments and debates at that event. The scene rushes away too soon. In her notes at the end, Sweety mentions how Draupadi was at her most powerful at this time because even when she was in such grave danger and being insulted so grossly, she kept her senses and debated and argued most brilliantly. I would have loved to hear some of those arguments.
Mahabharata is an epic in which one can find a shade of grey in even the most brilliantly shining characters. Be it Bhism Pitamah, Mata Kunti or Dharmraj Yudhishthir. They all were inherently good but not always right.
Arjun: Without A Doubt colours them up in even darker tones. Not all would find it comfortable to accept the way these characters have been depicted. Yudhishthir suffers the worst fall of reputation in this book. Sure, Yudhishthir was wrong in betting away his kingdom, his brothers, and his wife. Not just once but twice, as the book informs us. Other Pandavas were wrong in remaining mute while Draupadi was being insulted. But the book makes one feel as if Yudhisthir did this as revenge because he knew Draupadi did not love him as much as she loved Arjun. He felt that she considered him inferior to his other brothers and wanted to display his destructive power to her by destroying their whole life and happiness. He is depicted as a dark shadow hovering in the background later when other Pandavas try and console Draupadi. Krishna even warns Draupadi in this book about the dangers that might come from Yudhishthir. I found this a little uncomfortable to accept.
Also, when Draupadi is insulted, Arjun conveniently goes into a daze. He is shown to be quite unconscious of the wrong that is happening, thus absolving him of the blame. Although, he is later shown to feel guilty enough. Arjun is also very conveniently excused of marrying other women and abandoning them and the children he has with them. At the same time, Bheem is found to be wrong in abandoning Hidimba. Also, when Draupadi says she has six sons, she is counting Abhimanyu as her child. Why does she consider him as her son but not any of the other sons of Arjun or other Pandavas by their other wives?
But anyway, a book is told as per the perspective of its author. I may not agree with all that I read, but I’ll still say that it was a gripping, engrossing, and thoroughly enjoyable book. And it did dispel many illusions and cleared up many doubts and questions. There’s much in our epics that we might feel is wrong and unjust. But we are made to accept it and even admire it as having been necessitated by some dharma. Sweety focuses light on much of this and dares to call the wrong as wrong.
After reading this book, I’m sincerely thinking of reading the Mahabharata and find out exactly what it says. And what can be a greater victory for a book than that it makes the reader to want to seek out the real truth and question the old and popularly accepted knowledge?
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