A wise man once said, “There are three versions of a story – the winner’s version, the loser’s version and the truth.” However, what happens when we read the winner’s and the loser’s version? Who is telling the truth? Whom do we believe? Another wise man once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Sometimes, even fiction seems more believable than the truth. Anand Neelakantan, even though he said that his book is a work of fiction, successfully questions the beliefs of the readers of Mahabharata. He successfully questions the morality of the characters involved in the epic saga. He successfully shakes the foundation of our beliefs that Pandavas were good and Kauravas were bad. The Rise of Kali successfully carries forward the story from the climax of Roll of the Dice.
Plot: Suyodhana, along with the other Kauravas and Karna, exacts revenge of their respective insults of pasts by disrobing Draupadi and insulting the Pandavas. The elders like Dhritarashtra, Bhishma, Vidura, Drona, and Dhaumya silently witness the tragic event. Krishna, by an act of magic, saves Draupadi from getting disrobed. The Kauravas order banishment of the Pandavas for a twelve-year exile and remain incognito in the thirteenth year of their exile. Failing to do so, the Pandavas (if recognised during their thirteenth year of exile) shall repeat the punishment. Ashwatthama learns about the misdeeds of Shakuni and plans to deport him from Gandhar. Karna, on the other hand, wins the confidence of the Southern Confederate and patches up with his Guru Parshurama. Meanwhile, Suyodhana declares Eklavya as the King of the forests. Bhishma resigns from the post of the Grand Regent. Vidura is no more interested in being the Prime Minister of Hastinapura. Kunti, in the absence of the Pandavas, decides to stay in Vidura’s hut.
As time passes by, the young children of the Kauravas and the Pandavas grow up into teens and carry the story forward. Suyodhana’s children Lakshmana Kumari and Lakshmana Kumara develop a closer bond with Eklavya who treats them as his own children. Subhadra’s son Abhimanyu and Balarama’s daughter Valsala, secretly in love with each other, successfully plan and execute a wicked scheme against Kumara with Krishna’s help. Much to the disappointment of Suyodhana, Balarama labels Kumara as a homosexual (gay), thereby cancelling Valsala’s marriage with Kumara. Krishna’s son Samba rapes Suyodhana’s daughter Kumari at Hastinapura, which in turn leaves Krishna mad with rage. Eklavya defeats Arjuna in the forest and upon knowing the rape of his Goddaughter Kumari, he vows to kill her perpetrator. Krishna, in the effort to protect Samba from being murdered, kills Eklavya. Shakuni waits for a perfect moment to break the news of Eklavya’s murder to Suyodhana.
The Pandavas remain incognito in the kingdom of Virata. The Kauravas nearly blow up the cover of Pandavas during the end days of their exile. However, Shakuni successfully manipulates Dhaumya by confirming that the exile period is over. Following the unsuccessful peace treaty between the cousins, the great war of Mahabharata starts. Bhishma, Drona, Kritvarma (commander of the Yadava army), Kripa, Karna, Ashwatthama, Shalya (brother of Nakul and Sahadev’s mother, Madri) choose to fight for the Kaurava side. The Pandavas have Krishna, Drupad (along with his children), Southern Confederate and Yuyutsu (Suyodhana’s half-brother) on their side.
The war continues for over eighteen days with many of the war rules broken mostly by the Pandava side. Karna learns the truth about his birth parents and yet chooses to fight for the man who supported him irrespective of his birth and caste i.e. Suyodhana. The Pandavas kill all the great warriors from the Kaurava side by unfair means including Suyodhana. The only people to survive in the Kaurava side: Kritvarma, Kripa and Ashwatthama. Suyodhana, in his last moments, regrets doubting Karna and mourns his friend’s death. Ashwatthama, in the quest for vengeance, murders and decapitates the siblings and the sons of Draupadi. Gandhari curses Krishna following the end of the war. Dhritarashtra empties the royal treasury before leaving Hastinapura with Gandhari and Kunti. The Pandavas, except Yudhisthira (attains moksha), die on their way to the Himalayas. Krishna urges Jara the beggar to kill him thereby balancing the act of Karma.
Yuyutsu, the corrupt merchant son of Dhritarashtra, becomes the Grand Regent of Kurus. Dhaumya becomes the head priest and manipulates the baby king Janmajaneya after the untimely demise of Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit. Thus, arises the Age of Kali.
My Take: Every time I read Mahabharata, I come across new stories. This book outclasses its predecessor. Who profits at the end of the war? Pandavas? Kunti? Krishna? No. It is Dhaumya and Yuyutsu who enjoy the spoils before, during and aftermath of the war. Suyodhana, being human, made mistakes that make him regret. At certain situations, Krishna too bemoans the outcome of His actions. The book teaches two beautiful lessons. The concept of Dharma is misconstrued. What may be dharma for a person may be adharma for another. Moreover, the second lesson (which I consider the best of all), while reading the story, read between the lines. Weigh your options properly before judging the characters. Take a bow, Anand Neelakantan. You churn out a bestseller, yet again.
Peace, Poetry and Power.