The word Arjun reminds me of the greatest epic ever written, Mahabharata. People know Veda Vyasa as its author but his original name was Krishna Dwaipayana which means the dark child who was born on a river island. He was known as Veda Vyas because he compiled the scattered hymns into four Vedas. He was also the biological father of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura.
The epic has two characters with the same name as the author without which Mahabharata was not possible – Krishna, son of Devaki and Krishna(a), daughter of Drupada also known as Draupadi.
Anyway, let’s come back to Arjun: Without A Doubt. He is the same Arjun of Mahabharata, friend of Krishna and beloved of Draupadi.
Dr. Shinde Sweety is a doctor by profession and holds a Doctorate in Medicine. She is currently learning Spanish & Sanskrit. She has a good grip on mythology. She dedicated almost one year in understanding Bhagwad Geeta under the guidance of Shubha Vilas of Iskcon, author of Ramayana – The Game of Life series.
I found many similarities between debutante author Shinde Sweety and nowadays mythological veteran and chief consultant of Star Plus Mahabharata, Devdutt Pattanaik: both are from medical background, both are well versed in Indian as well as Western mythology and both specialize in drawing sketches.
Though Sweety has been published numerous times, Arjun: Without A Doubt is her first novel. Earlier, she was published in Medical Journals.
The way she describes the Cover Design of her book, it reminds me of one of the genius of this century, Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple Inc, who was known for his passion for design, detail and perfection.
Jay Elliot & William L. Simon, in their book The Steve Jobs Way, mentioned an incidence when Steve spent twenty minutes back & forth with the engineers about the best place within a three-square-inch section to put three words in the nth revision of the Apple iTune Music Store website designing. He believed that design was not just about what a product looked like on the surface but had to reflect the product’s essence.
Arjun: Without A Doubt is all about Arjun, Draupadi & Krishn and their relationship with each other. The same is reflected through the symbols used in Cover Design. I found a similar passion for design, detail & perfection in Sweety when I came to know that lotus & peacock feather stems entwinement and their curling about silver arrow also has a symbolic meaning. The why, what & how of Cover Design could be found here.
Why This Book
People mostly know the tales of Mahabharata. They have watched and have been watching TV Serials based on Mahabharata. Then why this book?
The author said about herself, “The heart can be dissected, the brain can be spliced open, but I love to unravel the mind and emotions.” She did exactly the same. She tried to uncoil the minds and untangle the entangled emotions of the characters. She tried to look inside the characters to know what they were thinking at the time of taking decisions.
What would lead to share a single woman among five brothers? Under what circumstances, a woman would allow herself to be a wife of multiple husbands? How would a woman feel if she is forced to polyandry? How would a man feel if he is forced to polygamy? How would a person feel if he/she is treated as objects and are subjected to be wagered in gamble? Why would a man have to marry several women, if the women, themselves, are willing to have free sex with the man? What is the basis of marriage? Could a couple lead a happy married life without loving each other, just by doing their marital obligations honestly?
The perspective, the author came up with, is aligned with present mindset, with the ideologies prevalent in the modern society. This approach makes the plot relevant in current context, as polyandry is still practiced in some parts of Rajasthan & Haryana due to poor male:female ratio. Despite feminist revolutions, a large no. of women still have to sacrifice their happiness & dreams for family.
The story begins with the marriage of Arjun with Draupadi and ends with their death, in a timeline fashion. But the way of narration reveals that the story was being retold as in flashback; when Draupadi and Arjun fell on their way to heaven but not died till that time. They saw Yudhisthir reaching heaven. It appeared to them that Yudhisthir would get entry into heaven. Then Arjun and Draupadi looked into each other’s eyes and entered into retrospection, thinking: Did they take right decisions in life? Should they need to regret the way they lived their lives? How could Yudhisthir make entry into the heaven, despite losing his kingdom twice and his brothers & wife once in gamble, not them who sacrificed in the name of the unity of brothers?
The novel is a love story about human love with all its feelings intact: passion, jealousy, romance, seduction, compassion and sacrifice. It is about the same love that we refer in our day to day life – in terms of giving & receiving.
Arjun is shown saying, “I must be an emotional fool to invest emotions where none were reciprocated. I did not know how else to love. It was too late to alter myself.”
Would Arjun elevate to higher divine level of love in the end? Well, to know that, you’ll have to read the novel.
Protagonists of Novel
Arjun is depicted as humble, innocent, sensitive, moralist, courageous one woman man having ascetic qualities. He is projected as an ideal man in agreement with the opinion of Vivekananda on the subject. Vivekananda said “The true man is he who is strong as strength itself and yet possesses a woman’s heart.”
Draupadi is portrayed as intelligent, learned, jealous, loving, caring, courageous beautiful woman and adept in using verbal whiplashes.
Krishn is shown as a normal human being who was pretty good in strategy with excellent understanding of human psychology. Spiritualism is stripped off Krishn and he is presented as shrewd, who only focussed on end without caring much over the means.
Mahabharata and Geeta Interpretation
Geeta is also interpreted on worldly plane without a tint of spiritualism in it. Mahabharata and Geeta without spiritual interpretation are precarious. I must appreciate the guts of author for taking a huge risk in her debut novel.
Since the story is not narrated in Universal Omnipotent Tone but put into words through the eyes of Arjun and Draupadi in First Person, the idea of non-spiritual Krishn seems to be fine because it is portrayal of Krishn as understood by Arjun and Draupadi not as HE actually was.
Moreover, the indication that there is much in the story is given time to time by author as in this excerpt: “It was more than the loss of Kingdom. It was the crumbling of his (Krishn) dream. Magadh-Panchal-Indraprastha-Dwarka was his uninterrupted chain of power – his idea of righteous rule. Was!” But chances are that the tiny italicized ‘Was!’ could be easily overlooked and the sentence could be misinterpreted.
Style of Narration
Author’s narration is tight, intensive, vivid, opinionated and a bit provocative. Author deviated from popular storyline at many places and came up with her own interpretation, sometimes backed up with reasoning and some other time just to glorify Arjun & Draupadi and vilify others. In fact, author dedicated a few last pages on whys and why nots of epic. Author also compared Arjun with ancient Greek heroes: Achilles and Alexander separately, apart from main story.
The book seems to be more about Draupadi than Arjun. No description of Arjun’s relationship with his other wives. Subhadra is dealt in cursory manner. Uloopi might be a one night stand but not Chitrangadha. Is this because Chitrangadha was equally talented as Draupadi?
The strong part of the book is its intense gripping dialogues especially of Draupadi. It forces you to get involve in story and take sides. You have to either appreciate or criticize the author’s stand. You just can’t ignore and be a mute spectator of the events in the book.
Excerpts to show author’s imagination and words selection
I lay sprawled by the lake, my fingers floated lazily along its edge. I ruffled the surface once in a while and gazed at the ripples – perfectly symmetrical ripples emanating from an epicentre… this is how arrow should leap. My other hand reached up to trace the reassuring curves of my bow.
I stood on tiptoe to lift a sweat drop on my tongue tip. His lips seared mine, then trailed fire down my throat. Thirstily he retraced his path. ‘Spice, musk and honey’, he used to say.
Some quotes from the book:
- Success is more difficult to handle than failure.
- Don’t try to please everyone. It is not worth it. Somebody always gets hurt in the process.
- A person who gets something precious with no cost to himself can never know its value.
- The interest in the chase wanes when the chase ends. Don’t reduce yourself to a mere chase.
- Goodness is an asset – but if you allow it to be exploited, it is a liability.
- Fate reserves its worst blows for those who are strong enough to bear it.
Arjun and Men are from Mars Women are from Venus
John Gray, in his book Men are from Mars Women are from Venus, highlighted some points, which could enable one to understand the opposite sex in better ways. He brought to light the fact that major cause of sore-relations is: When He communicates something, She gets something else or vice versa.
John pointed out that offering unsolicited advice to a man is just like insulting him for his incapability and it is considered as a sign of caring from woman’s perspective. This conflict & confusion is reflected in the conversations of Draupadi and Yudhisthir.
Often, when a female is seeking empathy, male interprets she is asking for solutions. Female talks about problems to get close and not necessarily to get solutions. Just as a male is fulfilled through working out the intricate details of solving a problem, a female is fulfilled through talking about the details of her problems. A female under stress is not immediately concerned with finding solutions to her problems but rather seeks relief by expressing herself and being understood. If she does not feel understood then it is difficult for her to release her hurt.
This understanding of female psychology by Krishn is beautifully described in the dialogues of Krishn and Draupadi. On a cursory glance, sometimes, it appears that Krishn accepts his defeat in debate with Draupadi or keeps mum instead of offering solutions but it was his way of honouring her by listening patiently with empathy, seeking truly to understand her feelings.
Sweety’s Arjun: Without A Doubt could be used as a guide of relationship. It throws light on why Arjun loved Draupadi, despite Subhadra having the qualities of ideal wife. It provides ample options to mull over why Draupadi chose to live with her husbands during the exile of 13 years, even though there was no binding for her to do so, and above all, they wagered her in gamble.
Shinde Sweety Vs Devdatt Pattanaik
As like charges repel each other, so does Sweety and Devdutt. The differences could be felt from Sweety’s opinion on Star Plus Mahabharata TV Series. Sweety said “The Star Plus TV Serial was so way off the mark and so incorrect, that I gave up seeing it very early on.” Her comment on the review of Devdutt’s book, Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, written by Avinash Gupta, had somewhat similar opinion.
(Here needs a little clarification. The statement was posted under the comment section of Shikhandi Review Post. But author confirmed that it was made for Krishna Uday Shankar’s Aryavarta Chronicles Trilogy, not Devdutt’s book.)
There are many differences in Sweety’s book Arjun and Devdutt’s book Jaya not only in interpretations but simple facts also. I’d like to mention one here – the names of the seven commanding officers of the seven armies fighting on Pandava side.
According to Sweety’s Arjun, they are Drupad, Virat, Dhrishtadymn, Satyaki, Dhrishtaketu, Sahadeva (of Magadh) and Shikhandi. She cited Udyog-Parv as source.
On the other hand, in accordance with Devdutt’s Jaya, they are Arjun, Drupad, Virat, Satyaki, Dhrishtaketu, Sahadeva (of Magadh) and Vrihatkshatra & his four brothers (Rulers of Kekaya).
Reality Distortion Field
Apart from passion for design, details & perfection, I feel, there is one more thing common between Author and Steve Jobs – Reality Distortion Field. Walter Isaacson, in official Biography of Steve Jobs, mentioned Steve’s reality distortion field as a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will, and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If reality did not comport with Steve’s will, he’d ignore it. It is said that it was dangerous to get caught in Steve’s distortion field, but it was what led him to actually be able to change reality.
Likewise, I don’t find any talk about Arjun’s failure, though there are many in Mahabharata. I also don’t find any praise for Yudhisthir or any compassionate line on him; whereas, in Mahabharata, there is an incidence in which Yudhisthir brought the lives of other four brothers, including Arjun, back from Yama disguised as Yaksha, by using his intelligence.
Instead, I find a sympathetic line for Duryodhan: “I saw the brief flicker of apology in his eyes, before he deliberately lifted his hand and patted his thigh.”
If one get caught in author’s distortion field, he’s sure gonna hate Yudhisthir more than Duryodhan.
At this instance, I’d like to quote author’s opinion on Vyasa’s Mahabharata. She said “If Mahabharata was mere literature, I’d find fault with Vyas. Since Mahabharata is history, perhaps Vyas was merely being a faithful chronicler and could not alter facts to what should-have-been.” The author emphasized on ‘should-have-been’ by italicizing it. It may be assumed as the extent of empathy & love of author for Arjun and Draupadi from worldly perspective.
Arjun and Practical Ways to a Powerful Personality
Psychotherapist Dr. George Weinberg, in his book Practical Ways to a Powerful Personality, said “Your feelings are your cues in the interpersonal world. If you want to alter a feeling or attitude, like chronic depression or rage, the first step must not be to deny its existence but to try to identify the feeling, and to describe to yourself in as much detail as possible the thoughts evoked in you by the feeling.” He further said “Try to accept the fact that you’ll hold nearly every attitude at some time, even toward the people closest to you.”
In a Draupadi-Arjun chat, Draupadi said “If it helps you to heal, I will say ‘I forgive you,’ I may even mean it. But you will have to learn to forgive yourself. I cannot help you with that.” Would Arjun able to forgive himself in the end? Well, to know the answer you’ll have to read the book.
Arjun: Without A Doubt has potential to earn a reputation of a good book for exploring & understanding human emotions in great details.
To get more out of the book, I’d like to recommend you to watch the Ted Talk of Parul Sehgal, an editor for The New York Times Book Review, before reading the book.
The author said in her book, “There was something about questions; questions opened up unfound vistas and unexplored ideas…. He (Arjun) needs to learn to distrust. Some things need to be learnt the hard way. I believe in practical demonstration.”
Did the author intentionally use the strong, opinionated, provocative narration to churn our stagnant blood? Did the author purposely censor some facts, practise favouritism and vilify other Kunti’s sons including Karn to compel us to ponder instead of believing blindly on religious matters? Is it the author’s way of preaching spiritualism practically, through introspection, instead of conventional theoretical approach?
In words of Devdutt Pattanaik,
Within infinite myths lies the Eternal Truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes
Indra, a hundred
And I, only two