Mahabharata The anti-war narrative
A broken sun
Author- Aditya Iyengar
Publisher- Rupa, Rs 295
His characters are real, ordinary, pompous, terrified, vulnerable, and ambitious. They are neither fully good nor absolutely evil. Through this refreshing portrayal of its characters, the epic Mahabharata is demythified in Aditya Iyengar’s A Broken Sun, writes SHWETA DUSEJA
A Broken Sun is a retelling of the fourteenth and the fifteenth day of the great war in the Mahabharata. It is a sequel to Aditya Iyengar’s The Thirteenth Day: A Story of the Kurukshetra War. The author states his motive at the very beginning of the book, “My attempt has been to tell the story of these people as human beings with human problems, and not seemingly invincible demigods blessed with awe-inspiring powers.” True to his claims, Iyengar paints all of his characters with their human failings giving a truly unique flavour to his book among several others in the epic retellings genre.
It’s a thin book which focuses only on the thoughts of the Pandava and the Kaurava warriors pondering upon their losses on the battlefield during the days following Abhimanyu’s brutal murder by the Kaurava forces. The novel is divided into five sections based on the time frame: thirteenth night, fourteenth day, fourteenth night, fifteenth day, and fifteenth night. Unlike other novels on the epic, A Broken Sun does not go much into what led to the war. Its time frame is what makes it different from other books. Like the original epic, the narrative relies on multiple narrators. Each of their narratives contributes to the wholeness of the story. The narrative oscillates between the five voices of Radheya, Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Ghatotkacha, and Sushasana.
These characters are neither romanticised nor demonised as white or black. There has been an attempt to see these characters without their superhuman powers. They do not have any divine vision. They are ordinary humans to their core. They are just good warriors. Iyengar’s characters are constantly analysing themselves on the war front. Their self-analysis (during the battle) is an interesting deviation. They are not just mindless fighters.
His characters are either an exaggeration of the popular images that we have of these characters or they have been seen in a new light. Sanjaya, the narrator of the eighteen days of war, is portrayed as an extremely old and experienced man. He excels in numbers and hence, he is given the responsibility to keep a track of the happenings of the war in terms of loss of lives on the Kaurava side. He does well at it because of his skill at numbers and not because he has a divine sight. Sanjaya’s is a first character that the reader will find appealing.
Radheya is shown as an intelligent warrior who understands things happening around him scientifically and can see through the clever, if not cunning, words of Krishna (who is nothing more than a tactful strategist) in the novel. He is able to point out the scientific reason behind the sudden disappearance and reappearance of the Sun on the fourteenth day which coincidentally works in favour of the Pandavas. And it’s not just Radheya but some others too who know about the mysteriously presented eclipse in the epic. It’s only the ignorant(s) who get carried away by Krishna’s explanation of the phenomenon as an episode of divine intervention.
Iyengar has been effective in his attempt to a great extent in stripping the epic off several inexplicable events. He shows the readers the alternative ways of thinking about the events that must have happened in the past in a realistic fashion and how in the course of thousands of narrations, they acquired their mythical quality.
Sushasana, who we remember as the brutal brother of Suyodhana, is painted as a ridiculously funny character with his moments of fear and exaggerated courage. His honest acceptance of fear on the battlefield is comic, tragic, and brutal at the same time. He says, “All warriors shit before battle. The ones who don’t are lying. I felt a warm river snake its way down my leg and felt its wet warmth mingle with the rough leather of my sandals. Then, my bowels released their load into the seat of my dhoti.”
He paints his fear as a truism and forces the readers to see if his statements are indeed true. His thoughts are an evidence of the fact that the markers of identity one is born with can imprison beings unwilling to surrender themselves to what they are meant to be. Yudhishthira is another example of a Kshatriya warrior who feels out of place. He prefers living in poverty in peace as compared to fighting for a kingdom. There are several moments in the novel, where Yudhishthira is terrified of being killed which is absolutely normal for anyone. His vulnerability and reluctance to be on the battlefield make him way too human and not like some godlike figure with wisdom.
Another character that is remoulded in a positive light is that of Ghatotkacha. He is not a rakshasa who kills hundreds of warriors and soldiers mindlessly. He is pained to see the plight of humans as well as the beasts on the battlefield. He is a forester who has lived his whole life in the forest and does not understand the world outside it. He cannot fathom how cruel humans can be.
The picture we have of Ghatotkacha is far from what we had in the original epic. He is an endearing character whose death causes as much pain as does Abhimanyu’s.
Overall, A Broken Sun has attempted to reimagine a realistic version of the great epic and Iyengar has been successful in doing that to a great extent.
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