As I set out to review Shiv K. Kumar’s retelling of The Mahabharata, I can’t help recalling my first visit to Kurukshetra a few years back—well, not a time-travel to the epic battleground, a mere land journey to the eponymous district in present-day Haryana.
On one of my fairly story-filled childhood days, the name of this place seemed to have cast what-felt-an-enduring-spell on me. But, alas, the age-old charm it had resolutely held for me was abruptly broken the very instant I reached the ‘heritage’ entrance where the taxi took a hazardous dive into a wily pothole. And, I meanly noted that the main gate of Kurukshetra wore antiquity in a rather tasteless manner.
As I went forth, my much-fancied megapolis began to appear incognito before me: what had the many-splendours of my dreams to do with these umpteen dingy eating joints labelled ‘Sri Krishna’ and these tiny electro-nic workshops whose bald egotistic tops seemed to have sprouted weird concrete horns that resembled conches—misplaced parodies of the panchajanyam?
The weary road led me to the town of Thanesar, allegedly the site where the Lord imparted the crucial lesson of equanimity to his sala. I got out of the car and walked along a slushy lane by the side of a canal. Rueful brick houses lined the way. Naked children ran about the road splashing the water in the gutters. In front of the houses, women squatted kneading the cow dung collected from the fields, and rattled on. On my way, I learnt that the Pandavas had once bathed during their exile in the local Saraswati Nadi, a seasonal stream.
I proceeded to see the ruins of the estate Duryodhana had gifted Karna. At the dead end of the road, there was an apology for the ‘epic’ pool supposedly brought forth by Arjuna with his earth-piercing arrow shot in order to give the last drink of water to Bheeshma, the grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, as he lay on his arrow bed in the battlefield. Standing before the ‘pool’, I thought how vulgarly the place displayed its memories. Now, bookishly lamenting how we reduce epic impulses to dreary acts, I checked into the apparently quiet Jyotisar guesthouse in Thanesar. ‘Finally, here I am’, I thought (affectedly?), ‘on the level plains that have ...
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