The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor is a unique take of mythical and reality. The two giant stories of India: one is our epic Mahabharata which is mythical and other is our political history of India. The two completely different stories set in different times were intertwined by Tharoor to come up with a never thought fictional adaptation of Mahabharata and Indian political history.
Many characters from the epic Mahabharata and their stories has been picked by author and twisted and turned them to fit in the time when India is a colony of British and struggling for independence. Like the Bhishma became Gandhiji, Dhritarashtra became Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandu became Netaji Subhas, Amba was fitted into the role of Nathuram Godse who kills Gandhiji. Duryodhana appears in female avatar in the book as the daughter to Dhritarashtra like Indira Gandhi daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru. Karna took over the role of Mh. Ali Jhinnah who was create Karnistan a fictional name for Pakistan.
Then there was guru Drona in the shoes of Jayaprakash Narayan who pitted himself against Indira Gandhi. In his endeavor Guru Drona in the book was supported by Pandavas. The infamous Emergency forced by Indira Gandhi was the metaphorical of Kurukshetra war.
Similarly there were many characters and events taken from the epic which were personified to play characters from political history but I couldn’t identify them all. Familiarity with India’s independence movement and Indian politics after independence is imperative in order to understand the book fully otherwise it is easily to get bored. If you know our history well, you can spot them. Otherwise it could be tad boring as you cannot draw links.
A lot of goodos should be given to Tharoor for taking up this uphill and complex concept of merging stories of two completely different era into one. In which one is based entirely on myth. The narrative could have easily gone haywire if logical explanation are not given which Tharoor managed to the best of his imagination.
There are many dull patches in the book. In few places the blend seem forced and labored, lot of chapters are too long drawn and soporific and the fact that you’re always looking for the major events from the epic being depicted in some form leads to some disappointments.
The Verdict: The book is altogether a different reading experience. It is a brilliant effort to blend India’s greatest mythology with India’s greatest political struggle for independence and post independence. This is a book written by a very knowledgeable person for other very knowledgeable people.