'We must not confuse faith with history'

Over a cuppa
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:27 IST

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Why did you decide to “re-imagine” the Mahabharata?

I re-imagined aspects of the story in my mind over the years as I read and re-read the epic. It wasn’t a planned process at all. Just something I had fun doing – playing with situations and characters that made sense to me in a worldly, human way. It made me feel closer to the characters and identify with the story more intimately. It also de-mystified the epic for me – made it less scholarly and high-brow and more accessible.

Then I decided to write a book about it.

What aspects of the character of Draupadi drew you in towards the idea?

Draupadi is probably the most-written-about character in the Mahabharata and there is a reason for that. She represents the struggle that all modern Indian women face – how to balance an independent and intelligent spirit with the demands of traditional family and society. Her life is played out millions of times everyday – sacrifice and giving in to family pressure, being taken for granted by husbands, fathers, brothers – Draupadi is what makes an average Indian woman think, “well, if SHE couldn’t do anything about it, what makes me think I can.” She’s a figure of strength and reform and yet the ultimate patriarchal weapon!  I’m no different – I feel for her because I’ve been there, had the same struggle in my life.  

You have picked specific characters from the epic. What special traits in them attracted you?

I try to think of the characters as people. Not children of gods or demons and not one-dimensional representations of ideals. Honestly, if a woman like Gandhari had to spend her whole life with her eyes bound up, it had to have had some effect on her. It’s unrealistic to expect she would be saintly and sacrificing the whole way through. I think she would be angry, anxious and unhappy. If a man who grew up as a red-blooded warrior like Bhishma had to deny himself his natural passions for the rest of his life, I would think he’d be pretty tightly wound up and, sometime or the other, the dam would have to crack to let off some steam. I picked the characters who I thought would have had the most conflict in their lives and tried to think how that conflict would shape their personalities and their choices.

What is that makes Mahabharata an immortal epic?

My first brush with it came as a toddler when my maternal grandfather used to sit me on his lap and tell me stories from the epic. That piqued my interest and I went on to read many versions of it throughout my childhood, starting with R K Narayan’s and ending with K M Ganguli’s translation.  In college, I used to tell my hostel roommates stories from the Mahabharata at night and they were always surprised that it was quite ‘masaledar’ (spicy) and not the dry, religious text they believed it was. Many times I heard from them, “This sounds like it’s straight out of a soap opera!” and even the people who had never willingly read a single book in their lives found the stories interesting. But that’s what makes the Mahabharata immortal – the fact that no matter which century you live in, it’s always relevant and juicy.

Did you take elements from various versions and then developed your story or it was your original “re-imagination”, so to say, of the story that is in your mind?

That’s difficult to say since so much has been written about the epic and its characters.

Have I re-imagined it or been unconsciously influenced by anything that I’ve heard or read? Who knows! Certainly, the plots of the stories are in keeping with the original. I’ve only re-imagined the motives, fleshed out the characters and, in many cases, added sub-plots. I believe the heart of my book is in the interpretation of the details.

For a re-telling of an epic, your book is quite slim. Did you plan out that way or do you plan to take up other aspects of the epic in more books?

R K Narayan’s book is even slimmer and it’s probably the most widely read version of the epic! Its length makes it more accessible. I have many more stories – let’s see how people respond to this book first.

Since you are also a filmmaker, have you ever thought of trying such a subject in cinema?
Probably not. The scale is mind-boggling. It tires me just thinking about it!

The Mahabharata has fascinated people through the ages, and scholars and academicians have given perhaps thousands of interpretations to its plots and sub-plots.

Draupadi, Bhishma and Karna have been the most-analysed among all the characters in the epic, thanks quite naturally to their complex characterisations. National Award-winning documentary filmmaker Trisha Das is the latest to fall prey to the charms of Draupadi, so much so that she has come out with a version of Mahabharata from the viewpoint of Draupadi, titled “The Mahabharata: Re-imagined”. Singapore-based Das talks to Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari

Published 13 June 2009, 15:01 IST

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