The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 8, 2010


The literary works of Indian antiquity have long held fascination for readers of all ages, and indeed in all ages. The flurry of reinterpretations and revivals and retellings of the Mahabharata are a case in point. In the last few months alone, there have been new publications of this great tale.

Aficionados are no doubt aware that there are several single- and multi-volume editions of the Mahabharata published in India alone. At a pinch I can mention
Ramesh Menon's works, and Kamala Subramaniam's, and Bibek Debroy's. The abridgements by R. K. Narayan and C. Rajagopalachari are usually the first introductions to this tale. There are also the reimaginings by Pratibha Ray (Yajnaseni) and M. T. Vasudevan Nair (Randaamoozham) (further retold by Prem Panicker in Bhimsen), Shivaji Samant (Mrityunjay) and P. K. Balakrishnan (Ini Nyan Urangatte). This article in the Telegraph describes other efforts by Namita Gokhale, Amruta Patil and Devdutt Pattanaik. And the grand-daddy of them all is the otiose Victorian version by K. M. Ganguli.

Recently, there was
a review written by Wendy Doniger in the London Review of Books, mainly about the new Mahabharata by John Smith, but also providing some coverage of the world of Mahabharata translations. Incredibly enough, she didn't mention any of the Indian works (except Ganguly's) .

I wonder why this is. It could be that the Indian works are not widely available in the West. Possibly Doniger was unaware of them? I doubt that very much - she cites, for example, her review of Ramesh Menon's Ramayana in her list of publications. Or she didn't think it worthwhile to talk about them, assuming that that her readers would find it difficult to procure them. In this world of international shipping, the latter argument is specious.

And so I continue to wonder if this is yet another example of implicit dismissal in the Western academy of Indian intellectual achievement.


Space Bar said...

What a coincidence - just got a new Mahabharata to review!

Interesting point about the Doniger (which I can't read in full, not being registered at the LRB; send full piece if you can?). Wonder why, in a Mahabharata round-up, she'd be silent about other versions (it's possible that she doesn't know about the half of them, esp the more recent ones or works in progress or those in other languages; but ignorance is not an excuse, esp for someone like Doniger!)

wv: consiess

Fëanor said...

Which Mahabharata are you reviewing? And when does the review come out? I bate breath, etc.

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