Timeless Classics Retold
Pradip Bhattacharya
THE MAHABHARATA by Meera Uberoi Primus Books, 2019, 373 pp., 295.00
December 2020, volume 44, No 12

Pradip Bhattacharya


By Meera Uberoi

Primus Books, reprint 2019, pp. 373, `295.00



By Pavan K. Varma

Westland, 2020, pp. 349 including Appendix of 52 pages in Hindi,₹`699.00

What could be a better testimony to the perennial appeal of India’s epics than the fresh retellings and translations being published at fairly regular intervals? Each generation appears to need its own version in language that it can relate to. Now Uberoi’s 1996 abridgement of the Mahabharata has been reprinted and Varma has presented an anthology of the Ramcharitmanas.

Based on the KM Ganguli translation of the 1880s, Uberoi’s is a linear version following the narrow path of the Pandava-Dhartarashtra conflict, dropping everything that gives the epic its enduring place in our cultural memory. Ganguli’s being a prose translation, even the brief passages of exquisite poetry that Vyasa’s narration is shot through with are missing. Take, for instance, the burning of the Khandava forest that begins with Krishna and Arjuna picnicking beside the Yamuna. Uberoi despatches this in just two and a half sentences. Here is Padma Shri P Lal’s condensation:

To the tree-shaded pleasure garden
lower-perfumed and gem-adorned,
The group of people went’
Each making merry according to his or her pleasure,
The full-lipped and heavy-breasted ladies,
Large-eyed, a little unsteady from their wine,
Wandering amid flowers or splashing in the water,
Flirting and joking, with Krishna setting the example,
Wine-flushed Draupadi and Subhadra discarding ornaments,
Some singing or dancing,
Some quarrelling, some secretive,
The whole scene echoing the seductive sounds
Of flute and vina and kettledrum.

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