Growing up in India has many disadvantages and advantages. One of the advantages is that you are exposed to a rich variety of stories about Gods and Goddesses whose superpowers are rivaled only by those of the Avengers. While there are virtually thousands of mythological stories out there, two have stood the test of time and still manage to attract a large amount of attention: The Ramayana and the Mahabharata. They have inspired many creative souls who have attempted to recreate them and also include a small part of themselves in it. From retelling to recasting, here are a few books that are based on the two great epics.
1. Palace of Illusions – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2008)
While the Mahabharata is an epic with an enormous number of characters, the main protagonists of any retelling have always been the Pandavas or the five sons of Pandu. But this book has only one protagonist: Draupadi. This entire book is a narration of Draupadi’s life in her own words. While the original version focuses on the actions of the men of the Kuru family, this book focuses on the effect these actions had on the women folk of the Kuru clan. Chitra Banerjee sheds light on the dusky beauty’s feelings and emotions, her thoughts on being shared by five men while she chose to marry only one of them. It doesn’t portray Draupadi as the person who causes a great war but as a wife who fears for the life of her husbands, a mother who mourns her children and a daughter-in-law who has to deal with a controlling mother-in-law. In short, this book tells Draupadi’s side of the story which makes it a must-read for any lover of books.
2. Sita’s Sister – Kavita Kane (2014)
When one thinks of Ramayana, the characters that come to the mind are Ram, Sita, Hanuman and of course Ravana. But hardly anyone ever thinks of Urmila. Everybody pities Sita for all the hardships that she had to suffer but no one notices Urmila who suffered just as much. Kavita Kane’s Urmila has lived her entire life under her sister’s shadow but has never resented her for it. She is overjoyed when she and her sisters get married into the same household. But this state of affairs doesn’t last for long as Ram’s decision to go on exile separates Urmila from her husband Lakshman. Kane talks about the responsibility that suddenly fell on young Urmila’s shoulders and how well she handled it. While Ram and Sita go off to the forest, Urmila is left alone at the palace. She has to preserve the already fragile relationship between the members of her family while dealing with the sorrow of being separated from her husband. She doesn’t crumble under the pressure but stands for what is right. These are just some of the reasons why this book should be on the list. Others will be apparent as you read it!
3. Asura: Tale of the Vanquished – Anand Neelakantan (2012)
"History is written by the victors.", said Winston Churchill. Why shouldn’t this be true for myths? What if there really was a clan called Devas and a rival clan called Asuras and the Devas always won in the end? What if all the myths are just biased accounts of the events written by the Devas? In Anand Neelakantan, the Asuras finally find someone to narrate their side of the story. Ravana’s story in particular. Ravana is not the evil mastermind that the epics describe but just a conqueror who doesn’t believe in social and religious norms. When fate pits him against Rama who is the exact opposite, war and bloodshed proves inevitable. While Anand doesn’t portray Ravana as the better person here, he definitely highlights Rama’s faults. If this complete reversal of perspective intrigues you, do not hesitate to start reading this book as it will definitely be worth your while.
4. The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor (1989)
This one is probably the most interesting book in the list. Shashi Tharoor, the genius that he is, perfectly recasts the Mahabharata in pre-Independence India with fascinating results. Eighty eight year old V.V (short for Ved Vyas) dictates this story to his scribe Ganapathi. It’s the story of India’s struggle for freedom. While there are many characters, the ones that make a lasting impression include Gangaji (sounds familiar?), the Grandsire of the Kuru clan, Priya Duryodhani, daughter of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari and Draupadi Mokrasi (shortened as D. Mokrasi) daughter of Dhritarashtra by Lady Drewpad. Though everyone is generally familiar with Indian history and the great epic, this story’s unique nature leaves us yearning to know more about how Dhritarashtra and Gangaji head the Kaurava Party against the formidable Mohammed Ali Karna and his party. This book is filled with interesting twists and turns as Tharoor superimposes history and myth. Filled with clever wordplay and exemplary language, this book is a veritable feast for readers!