Book Title: The Mahabharata Code
Subtitle: Yet another retelling of the Mahabharata, or is it?
Author: Karthik K B Rao
Total Number of Pages: 191
Publisher: Notion Press
Publication Date: 15th March 2016
Genre: Fiction/ Science Fiction/Fantasy
‘The Mahabharata Code’ is a personal account of the main protagonist Narayan Rao (NR), who claims to be an astronomer with NASA. NR and a few other crew members agree to take part in the NASA mission to visit this mystery planet from which they had received mysterious signals. Here, they meet a man with a long flowing white beard, and he introduces himself as Vyasa. He reveals that he has a crazy plan in mind and seeks NR and his members’ help in implementing this plan. He intends to recreate the entire Mahabharata on this planet to restore the faith of the primitive simpletons here.
As the Mahabharata incidents start unfolding, NR realizes that Vyasa intends to recreate them page by page here, if not paragraph by paragraph. Also NR begins to realize that his son, Krishna, who is being groomed by Vyasa as Vishnu’s avatar, is nothing more than a pawn in Vyasa’s scheme of things. Other incidents of Mahabharata also unfold according to the original epic. Pandavas and Kauravas grow up hating each other and finally the restaging plan culminates with both the warring sets of cousins facing each other in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
Inexplicably, like the original epic, Arjuna develops cold feet seeing his own cousins, teachers and relatives on the opposite side. He seeks Krishna’s divine intervention. Is the brainwashed “alien” Krishna prepared for this intervention?”
If someone were to ask me if I have read Ramayana or Mahabharata, there is not an ounce of doubt that they would hear “no”. But that is not to say that I do not know the stories at all. I think every Indian has watched the shows at some point in their lives and so did I and even read a few books on these two epics but not the unabridged “authentic” version. To add to that there are always our grandparents who never miss to enunciate the morals through the episodes of these mythologies to their grandkids.
From whatever little knowledge I had of Mahabharata, I sat down to read ‘The Mahabharata Code’ by Karthik Rao. The synopsis itself is intriguing and it shouldn’t come across as a surprise that I picked this book for this reason. Everybody judges a book to some extent, I do it through their blurbs. The back cover already has a precis which summarises the entire story. In short, I think it exposes too much of the actual plotline failing to retain any mystery.
The novel encompasses a lot of themes and topics which was a bit disconcerting to me. From Krishna to Arjuna to Draupadi to the whole Swayamvar scene (with a twist) to Krishna (with a camera hidden behind the peacock’s feather) to Bhisma to almost every other character of Mahabharata. One is bound to feel overwhelmed by the plenteous number of characters.
With characters comes their stories and plots (or myths as said by Aristotle). The main plot interweaves a web of sub-plots which can be thoroughly confusing if a reader is not aligned with the scenes. I would suggest brief interludes in-between. The overall plotline includes the main protagonist, Narayan Rao who supposedly works for NASA and is to visit a new planet from which Delphic signals are being sent. And, here’s where the whole Mahabharata comes into play, even Vyasa.
There is really not much to talk about the storyline since it’s a retelling of the epic, Mahabharata. So, the events are pretty much the exact same as the original epic. The only difference is Rao’s incorporation of subtle modernisation of scenes, dialogues and narration. Okay, the narration is what makes the book interesting to read. Rao has used a witty narrative with a contemporary touch which makes the mythical characters seem humane, living in the twenty first century who are as updated as we are with technology. There are even some unrealistic situations which brings out the sci-fi element in the book.
The part which I found to be a bit confusing with this book is the constant fluctuation between the stories of “Mahabharata” and the actual plot consisting of Narayan Rao. There were times when the stories were projected towards me all at once and I almost forgot that a main protagonist actually exists in the novel. To me, it felt unbalanced. As much as retellings should consist something new, with ‘The Mahabharata Code’ I felt that the author was trying to fit in numerous incidents from the epic along with newer incidents in a short period of time which disrupted the overall flow of the story. Narayan was somewhere lost in the transcription of the narrative.
Rao did manage to correlate between technology and religion, more specifically between the beliefs and advancements in the present day. The diction of the novel is colloquial and not a sophisticated one which I feel helped to visualise the scenes to some extent. I personally feel that ‘The Mahabharata Code’ would have been even better if there were more dialogues. Dialogues always provides the narrative an extra dimension allowing the story to become more coherent. The cover does accentuate the theme of the novel. The characters are twenty first century personas of the characters from the epic.
It is very difficult to make a retelling interesting since chances are that a reader has already read or heard the original story a number of times, which is the case with ‘Beauty and The Beast’. I do commend the author on taking up this epic which forms a part of the Hindu Itihasa and adding new “flavours” to it. But I also think that the overall plotline would have been much more buildable if Rao could have stuck to some of the relevant episodes which were parallel to the story he had in his mind. Anybody would be lost in such a myriad number of characters and it was not surprising to see that Rao did too at certain points in his narrative. But that doesn’t mean that the book is bad. It’s not. It’s good and definitely a great attempt by Rao. Overall, I really liked the sci-fi/fantasy theme that the author staged. There are moments in the book which would make a reader reflect on their lives and the present day situation of our world. There are life-lessons neatly tucked away in the narrative.
‘The Mahabharata Code’ is one of those books which can be read by everyone. If you are into mythology, this book might interest you.
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