Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mahabharata: Work-In-Progress

For Gita Jayanti I’d like to share my opening of Mahabharata, (Copyrighted, 2007). I’ve been working on the manuscript over the last couple of years. It’s a fast paced, cinematic rendition and is a product of my work in the field of storytelling. Actually, my book is geared toward the storytelling community. Storytelling as an art form is lean and action driven. For a storyteller too much description or embellishment is gratuitous and indulgent. A story unfolds like a Zen painting where so much is suggested by one stroke of the brush.

Last year I was requested to perform a little of Mahabharata at an evening event for the 1000 attendees of the National Storytelling Conference and the response was amazing. In 2005 I received a West Virginia Artist Fellowship Award for literature and my work in storytelling and I’ve gotten several endorsements from that. So I’ve built some momentum and right now I’m half way through the manuscript which, when completed, will clock in at less than 200 pages. In the opening below, a variety of personalities and elements are introduced. For me, it’s sort of an adventure to put it all together and make it available for an American readership. But the work can only be completed, and my efforts can only be successful, with the blessings of the Vaisnavas.

The Mahabharata

“Your sons and their forces are ready, as ready as they’ll ever be,” Sanjaya told the blind king. Dhritarastra listened with both expectancy and with regret, hovering in a world of his own, molded of past and future. If only he had listened to Vidura, it would not have come to this. He feared for his sons. What would happen to them now? If he could, he would make Duryodhan give back all the land he had taken from the Pandavas. But of all his sons, Duryodhan, had always been beyond his control. Surely, Providence would now have its way.

Sanjaya sat in the royal palace at Hastinapura by the side of his king. Though his gaze was drawn within, he looked far beyond the city’s streets and walls. With Vyasa’s gift of mystic vision, Sanjaya beheld the valley of Kurushetra over a hundred miles away. There, as armies prepared for battle, Sanjaya could observe every aspect, and scan every detail. He could hear any conversation and even know someone’s thoughts.

“This is quite unusual,” Sanjaya continued, and then he paused, looking on in disbelief. Dhritarastra impatiently stamped his jeweled cane for attention. “What is it?” he insisted on knowing.

“Yudhisthira has stepped off his chariot. He proceeds eastward across the valley, toward your sons, on foot and unarmed.”

“Unarmed? Does he mean to seek a truce or to surrender?” Dhritarastra inquired. His mind hoped against hope. Could there still be time for reconciliation, for peace?

Yudhisthira walked toward the expanse of enemy warriors. The morning air was crisp. The army Yudhisthira beheld far outnumbered his own. In the distant ranks he spied Bhismadev’s splendid chariot, decorated with a variety of weapons, and headed straight for it. Bhismadev was the respected grandsire of the dynasty, the eldest and wisest. He was also Yudhisthira’s ever well wisher and like a father to him. Even now Bhismadev observed the solitary figure with pride. Yudhisthira took each step with such ease and grace. Bhismadev knew the last thing Yudhisthira wanted was this fight.

Bhismadev, in turn, was surrounded by men impatient for battle, for blood and glory, for the sweet taste of victory. Duryodhan, Dusasana, Karna, Sakuni, and Ashwattama. They had waited years for this moment. The horses drawing their chariots whinnied in anticipation. The nobles snickered upon seeing Yudhisthira approach. Maybe this would be easier than they thought. Had Yudhisthira lost his nerve when he saw the sight of their magnificent forces? After all, he had retreated to the forest to spend thirteen years in exile without a word of complaint.

Bhismadev’s mind drifted away from the moment at hand and settled into the past. How had he let it come to this? A civil war that would rip apart his dynasty. It was the one thing he sought all his life to avoid. His mind wandered back to his youth, and to his father, King Santanu.