My final guest this month is the delightful Aruna Sharan, who has taken on the mammoth task of rewriting The Mahabharata and presenting it to a modern audience, a western audience and a digital audience.
It is available for purchase from Amazon. Undecided? You can read the first chapters here. Still undecided? One reviewer called Sons of Gods “a literary soap opera with a soul that spans the full horizon.” Check out the full review here.
So, with no further ado…
Dooley: You’ve rewritten the Mahabharata. Why?
Sharan: When I first read an English condensation of Mahabharata in 1974 I was completely swept away—such a magnificent story! And yet the writing was clumsy. So I went in search of a better English version. I never found it; every version I read, I felt, was either just a bland summary, or it contained too many diversions from the main story, or it glossed over some of the most important elements. So a few years later I began to write my own. I continued to do so over the decades; it’s been almost 40 years now! Not constantly, of course. Sometimes I forgot all about it as I got on with my life—but always it came back to me, and I just kept working on it till I was satisfied that I had captured what I felt was the essence of the great epic. I’ve called it Sons of Gods.
Dooley: Is it a rewriting or a reinterpretation?
Sharan: It’s both. Since I don’t know Sanskrit I have had to rely on English translations or condensations for the basics of the story, and I’ve read just about every English version, long and short, that’s out there. I took the story elements—the basic well-known “bones” of the story—and put my own “meat” on them, words that I hoped would do the story justice. I chose the scenes that would make a continuous story, dramatized events, gave the characters new dialogue, and even altered a few plot elements: tying up a few loose ends with developments of my own. The changes are all minor—a scene here, a bit of dialogue there—and yet in a way I did reinterpret the whole story, gave it a new emphasis, a different slant. I’ve also retold it for a primarily Western readership, while retaining—I hope!—the Indian style and spirit of the original.
Dooley: Do you have a favorite character from the Mahabharata? Which one and why?
Sharan: The anti-hero Karna has always been my favourite. I’ve always been a supporter of the underdog, and that’s what Karna is, right from the beginning when he is born illegitimate and abandoned. He is followed by rejection and curses all his life—and curses, in those days—were serious matters, because they came true! And yet Karna is the lynchpin of the whole story. Invariably, the Mahabharata is summarized as a conflict between two sides of a great dynasty, ending in a cataclysmic war—without mention of Karna. Yet Karna is the one character who by just saying the word could at any time change everything around, to his own advantage, yet doesn’t. He’s an incredibly moral character, in spite of being on the side of the villains. We can all learn something about true greatness from him.
Dooley: What are the last three books you read?
Sharan: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro — at last!
Palace of Illusions – by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni. This is a version of the Mahabharata written from the point of view of the main female character, Draupadi, and it’s just wonderful. Best of all, it gives Karna his rightful place of prominence. I wish I had read it earlier! I feel it thoroughly complements Sons of Gods; one is the whole, the other a detail.
I’m now re-reading an old favourite, The Rich are Different, by Susan Howatch, a writer of wonderfully long, wise, captivating novels.
Dooley: You’ve travelled extensively. How has this affected your writing?
Sharan: Not just travelling, but living in a variety of very different cultures has played an enormous part in my own maturing as an individual. It forces me to place my own identity—or what I thought was my own identity—on hold while I adapt to a very different way of being. I think this gives me the ability to truly slip into someone else’s skin—whether that someone else is a real person or a fictional character—and see a situation from a variety of perspectives. And, of course, travelling gives me firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to live here and there. It gives me smells and sights and atmospheres, the feel of a place, and so it increases the palette of settings I can use in fiction. I love to read books set in faraway places, places I’ve never been to. Travelling gives me the tools to also write books set in faraway places—faraway, of course, always in relation to the usual British or American settings.
Sharan: Janet Jagan – the American-born Guyanese activist and later President (see left). Aung Sang Suu Kyi – the Burmese leader. Shree Ma Ananda Mayi – an Indian spiritual teacher I’ve had the privilege of meeting
Dooley: What’s up next for Aruna Sharan?
Sharan: The very week I let Sons of Gods out into the world I started a new novel. I hadn’t planned to do so; I wanted to rest for a while, but it simply grabbed me and before I knew it three chapters and the vague outline of a story were out there, and I’m quite looking forward to where this will go—it’s always a thrill when a new story starts to grow in me, because I never know myself just how it will develop.
The Blurb for Sons of Gods:
Spurned by all, Karna finds a friend and ally in the avaricious prince Duryodhana. But Duryodhana’s worst enemies just happen to be the five brothers, the Pandavas, the noblest warriors in the world. And their mother is Kunti, that princess who still grieves for the child she gave away as a young girl.
Karna and Arjuna — the middle and mightiest Pandava — each vow to kill each other without knowing they are brothers. As tensions mount, so does their hatred for each other; until, in the cataclysmic war that will wipe out the entire warrior caste, they meet in the inevitable facedown.
This is war in which no-one can be the winner.
Dooley: What else have you written?
Thank you for your interest!
Dooley: Thank you, Aruna, for agreeing to be my guest. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors!