http://cms.boloji.com/articlephotos/Mythic Resurgence.jpgIt is this realisation towards which the novel moves through its 350 pages. Arjuna is the archetypal seeker: the man-of-action par excellence who failed to act at the critical juncture: the dice-game. He is Krishna to Uttar's Arjuna in making the fleeing prince turn back and face the invading Hastinapura forces. Indeed, as Krishna is the behind-the-scenes chief warrior for the Pandavas, so Arjuna openly champions Virata and routs the invaders. Yet, it is the same paragon of manhood who shakes with ague in Kurukshetra and is paralysed with overwhelming ethical pangs.
With Arjuna as spokesman, the novel is the account of his journey into the self. In this unique exploration of the human psyche through the matrix of an earth-and-soul-shaking conflict so fresh in the memory of twentieth century humanity, Maggi Lidchi-Grassi follows a path not unfamiliar to her. In her very first novel, Earthman (Gollancz, 1967), she had traced a somewhat similar search of a European in modern India. To her present novel, she brings a mind, a heart and soul steeped in the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The result is a re-creation of Mahabharata that assumes the proportions of a profound exploration of the meaning of life itself.
In this exploration, she touches, more than once, upon the vexed question ofDharma. Far more than Pilate's cryptic query, 'What is Truth', does the question of Draupadi in the Kaurava Court reverberate down the millennia: 'Wherein lies Dharma?' Is it dharma not to protest against the disrobing of a queen because loyalty to the throne takes precedence? Is it dharma to side with those one knows to be in the wrong because they are the ruling paymasters? Is itdharma not to refuse to gamble with known cheats? Is it dharma for a husband who has staked and lost himself to pledge his wife? Is it dharma to stake one's brothers' wife in a gambling match? Is it dharma to remain silent while one's wife is grossly insulted in one royal court and to rebuke her for making a scene when she is kicked in another? Is it dharma to release the abductor of one's wife, who is also the wife of one's brothers, because he is a relative? Is itdharma to suffer wrongs without protest? Is it dharma to lie for bringing about the death of a guru? Is it dharma to refuse to allow one to compete in a tournament because of his caste? Is it dharma to ask five sons to share a wife won by one of them? Is it dharma to compel a woman to marry five brothers? Is it dharma to agree to have five husbands? Is it dharma to go into exile because one has had to violate the injunction against intruding upon the privacy of a brother with the common wife? Is it dharma to marry thrice while observing a vow of celibacy in exile? Is it dharma to burn down a forest and decimate its inhabitants to build a palace? Is it dharma to ask for a disciple's thumb as fee for having learnt archery under a titular guru? Is it dharma to be so inflexible about one's vow as to disobey the mother's commands to perpetuate the dynasty? Is it dharma to abduct three princesses for marriage to one prince without their concurrence? Is itdharma to refuse a princess' plea and the guru's command to make good the harm thus caused for the sake of one's vow? Is it dharma to forsake one's illegitimate new-born son and later pressurise him to secure the victory of one's legitimate sons? Is it dharma to force a king to marry his daughter to one's blind nephew and not protest against her decision to blind herself for life? Is itdharma to shoot down a warrior engaged in lifting his chariot-wheel out of the rut? Is it dharma for seven chieftains to jointly attack and slay a sixteen-year old? Is itdharma to watch one's grand-uncle decimate one's army despite having experienced the Song Celestial? Is it dharma to hit below the belt to win victory? Is it dharma to slaughter enemies who are asleep and to kill a foetus?
The Mahabharata is precisely about the difference in the dharma Krishna is bringing into being to replace the obsolete version of which Bhishma remains the last magnificent tragic edifice. With incisive insight Maggi Lidchi-Grassi speaks through Arjuna, 'Greatfather had not chosen. He had been chosen to show that even strictest Dharma would not serve for it was a Dharma that was dying'Greatfather's throne sat on the cusp of what was old and what was new. He was faithful to his vows and not his vision' This, indeed, is the point. Bhishma, who has given up the throne and progeny and women, is blinded by the very splendour of his renunciation and is incapable of looking beyond it to achieve that sense of balance and detachment that so characterise Vyasa. By shutting himself away from knowledge of woman and of progeny, he insensibly causes the tragedies of Amba, Ambika, Ambalika, and Gandhari and views the agony of Draupadi as essentially a knotty intellectual problem. He failed to protect Chitrangada from a premature death at the hands of a Gandharva; he brought about the early death of Vichitravirya by unthinkingly foisting two wives on a sickly adolescent. He failed to protect his grand-nephews, the Pandavas, from the beginning. He made no attempt to enlarge the boundaries of Hastinapura or to continue the bloodline of Shantanu. Thus, the children of Amba and Ambalika had the blood of Vyasa in them'the son of a sage and a fisherwoman.