Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Talk on ‘Govinda’ – Sept 4th 2010, Singapore

What does it take to make the Mahabharata real?

This was the key question on my mind, when I gave my first talk on the Aryavarta Chronicles, and ‘Govinda,’ in particular. It was also the first time I read from the book! Truth is, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – the passion and precision behind the questions soon had me forgetting how nervous I was, and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. (Many thanks to Jayapriya Vasudevan of Jacaranda Literary Agency for organising such a wonderful do.)

Back now, to the key question of that evening:

The Mahabharata, as we all know is the story a great war; one told in all magical glory, filled with demons and demigods, magical incantations, and heroes and villains both blessed with superpowers. Flying chariots, illusions, even the power of life and death; and of course, the blue-skinned flute playing God descended to earth.

But that is mythology, in all its grandeur. It’s not real. Now, don’t get me wrong here – The Mahabharata is an awesome story – it’s full of twists and turn, and absolutely memorable characters. These characters and their moral dilemmas have remained relevant till today. Both popular writers and academics have tried to contextualise the Mahabharata by going into the psyche of its huge cast, explore the emotions and thoughts that lay behind the story as we know it. However, that still does not get rid of the magic. And the Mahabharata still remains a myth; almost fantasy.

Hence, the question - What does it take to make the Mahabharata real?

If we had to tell this story today, keeping in mind what we know about physics, sociology, politics and economics, what would that story be?

And that is what my book is about. Historians talk of the Epics age, a time broadly between the third and first millennium B.C., when the events that form the seeds of this myth may have happened – sometime after the Indus Valley Civilisation, and the rise of what are known as Janapadas – semi-democratic city states. The Mahabharata itself is pegged towards the end of the period. Which means, a time of great change.

From hunter gatherers to agriculturalists; from feudal societies to democracies; from elite cliques of knowledge, cloaked in mysticism, to an era of written records. A time when trade and technology both grew, and society grew with it; but not without upheaval and turmoil.

My story is the story of people in these times, especially of one man – a rather intelligent, brave, and undoubtedly charming man, who believes that heaven and earth are not so disparate after all.

There is no mythical lore. No magic. Only humanity.

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