I had heard a lot about Ashok Banker and was indeed excited when his books on Mahabharata were up for review. What also excited me was the interesting positioning of the books. They were positioned as the ‘Epic Love story collection’. By no means can I be considered to have even a remotely romantic disposition. But keeping with the demands of Indian publishers, I have been trying my hand at writing romance these days. So I was keen on seeing how an acknowledged master of fiction writing has handled this genre; that too mixed with my favorite genre of mythology.
The stories as such are nothing new for someone familiar with Mahabharata. But probably most of the current crop of youth would have missed Rajagopalachari’s Mahabharata, the Amar Chitra Katha mythological comics and BR Chopra’s Mahabharata serial as well. For them, these books would be an excellent opportunity to get familiar with one of the world’s most ancient and greatest epics. For me personally though the books did not hold that much charm. I have been told these stories in great detail by my grandfather in my very early childhood. Then as I grew up, I read the comics and saw the serial on TV serial as well. So the books felt more like a rerun.
I have read different foreign authors’ rendering of the same Arthurian legends. So I expected something of a similar nature in Ashok Banker’s books. At least the two books I picked for review – ‘Satyavati and Shantanu’ and ‘Amba and Bishma’ however had hardly any novelty factor. There were hardly any new elements or unique interpretations to the already known stories. It was just the basic old story narrated as it is with details filled in. I must say the author has done a commendable job filling in the details though. I especially liked the description of the war scene in the ‘Amba and Bishma’ story. I would actually rate these books a good read in themselves for someone who does not know the Mahabharata stories. But given that it is an existing plot and not originally conceived by the author, I hardly see any strong stamp of the author in the stories. That in some ways can be viewed positively as well. Some readers may like to enjoy the purity of the original stories without them being twisted by the author’s own interpretations and improvisations.
So I would call these books a plain and simple retelling of the original stories from Mahabharata as tales of romance and adventure, leaving out the more philosophical and esoteric elements to make them more palatable for the casual reader.