As a child i grew up reading Amar Chitra Kadha, as almost any Indian kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s would have done. These little comic books portrayed stories from the epics namely Ramayana and Mahabharatha in a way that aroused the imagination. When a kid, the Pandavas from the Mahabharata were my heroes for they portrayed the right and the just, so was the case with Rama in the Ramayana.Growing out of the mould of the Amar Chithra Kadha gave me a broader look at the epic, wherein the lines between black and white were often so blurred that i could not discern which was which.
Very few characters in the Mahabharatha have captured my imagination like Karna, the legendary scion of the sun god but chastised for being born in a lower caste of charioteers.In a complicated epic like the Mahabharatha, Karna stands out an even complicated character.Recently managed to grab a copy of the malayalam translation of Shivaji Sawant’s renowned ” Mrityunjaya” titled simply as “Karnan”. The book follows a beautiful perspective, a look at Karna’s life from Six different angles, from Six different people.
Karna’s story is a pivotal point in the Mahabharatha, it can be put down rather bluntly as how one young princess’s curiosity with a divine incantation begins a cycle of almighty annihilation. The life story of karna is etched in detail by wiki here. An unparalleled warrior, a wonderful human being but still showered with insults and curses at every step of his life. “Karnan” proceeds through the eyes of six of the most important people in Karna’s life namely : Kunti,Vrishali( Karna’s wife),Shona or Shatrunthapa ( Karna’s foster brother),Duryodhana (the best friend), Krishna (the master manipulator ) and finally through Karna’s own eyes.
There are glowing episodes galore in the book, all of which reinforces Karna’s towering persona and his helplessness at the face of fate or destiny or by whatever names we human beings refer to the uncontrollable and unstoppable chain of events.The insults he showers at Draupadi finally losing his cool and his shame at the event, his mixed emotions when Krishna reveals the truth of his parenthood, the way he promises his mother that 5 of the pandavas will be alive after the war be it Arjuna or himself and the way he overcomes insurmountable odds to keep the word.
The final chapter in Karna’s life is as viewed by Krishna, this part is simply genius on the part of Shivaji Sawant and is the most glowing example in the book for as per the epic, Krishna manipulates Arjuna into sending the fatal arrow that takes the life of the legendary warrior. My personal favourite is when Krishna beautifully symbolises the five pandavas as the reins of the five horses he commands and Karna as the whip he uses to control the horses. The last act of kindness Karna performs before his death is quite a remarkable one and one i guess will stay with me for a long time to come.
The last line from the book, loosely translated from malayalam goes like this : ( as said from Krishna’s perspective) : As i started back from atop the mountain after the funeral pyre had burned out with the horse in tow, i could see a group with lighted torches ascending the slope. I counted the torches, yes they were 5 in all; the Pandavas at last learning the truth about their eldest and most virtuous brother were running to catch a last glimpse of Karna as their brother…but it was late…..too late