It was in my ninth grade that I read the Mahabharata for the first time. It is one of the most complex book ever and is rightly referred to as an epic. The characters in Mahabharat do not seem unreal. They are flawed and have their own uniqueness. There are hundreds of plots at every nook and corner, but somehow they are all interlinked. To write an epic so intricately and perfectly woven is an art that only Ved Vyas could have. Equally complex is the history of India, with freedom struggle and post-independence politics taking the center stage. Only a highly knowledgeable writer and a profound philosopher can think of writing a novel that uses Mahabharat as its vertebra and Indian freedom struggle as its anatomy. Shashi Tharoor displays just the right balance and skill to give us “The Great Indian Novel“. Calling this book “amazing” may sound most banal adjective, but that is all what I could think of once the book ended. Or maybe after each chapter too!
The Great Indian Novel is the story of India’s freedom struggle and post-independence atmosphere viewed from the lens of Mahabharat. By drawing genuine and remarkable resemblance between characters in Mahabharat and the characters of India’s freedom struggle, Ved Vyas narrates to Ganpati the story of India’s road to freedom. The dictation inundates with deep philosophy and wonderful light humor. Gangaji or Bhishma Pitamah denotes Gandhiji in the book, while Dhritrashtra being Jawahar Lal Nehru, and Pandu being Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
There are moments where the correlation between the epic’s and the real characters is not just immaculate but also has such powerful meaning behind, that I could not help but simply read the line over and over again. For instance, an ethereal voice tells Amba who is determined to kill Gangaji, that “Ganga Datta will only leave this world when he no longer wishes to remain in it. When such a moment comes, he can be destroyed—but only by a man made unlike all other men.” From the epic we know that Bhishma Pitamah was conferred this boon by his father and he was eventually killed by Shikhandi who was neither a man nor a woman. But here Tharoor draws the similarity that meant that no man is by birth born to hate someone else, let alone kill. It is a man made by the society he lives in, that transforms this loving creature to one full of hatred and vengeance. Nathuram Godse was such a man-made man, who killed Gandhiji.
Apart from great storytelling and wonderful philosophical references, Dr. Tharoor doesn’t fail to enchant his readers with his command over English language. At one stance, Tharoor philosophically writes that there is nothing called “the end”. He writes “There is, in short, Ganapathi, no end to the story of life. There are merely pauses. The end is the arbitrary invention of the teller, but there can be no finality about his choice. Today’s end is, after all only tomorrow’s beginning“. With a little more philosophical description on his take over stories and lives to be instead in a “To be Continued” state rather than “The End“, Tharoor starts telling Ganpati of the Greek origin and meaning of the term “philosophical”. I as a reader would have found this sudden transformation from philosophy to etymology odd, but not if the author is Dr. Tharoor.
Overall reading this book was a wholesome experience. Dr. Tharoor has been a Member of Parliament of The Congress Party. The straight forward way in which he has described the personality of both Nehru (as Dhritrashtra) and Indira Gandhi (as Duryodhini) with no words of flattery, speaks not only about his writing skills but also the liberal attitude of The Congress Party members, particularly given the era of bootlicking the world is transforming into. This book is a must read and can be purchased from Amazon.