Badrinath: The Mahabharata

For some reading is a hobby. Although I started it as a hobby, gradually it has become a part of my life. When I was working as a sales representative, I used to keep a book by my side to read while I was taking orders. When the client was busy attending his customers, I would read a few lines until he came back. When I was going to office, I took a book and would read while I walked when there wasn’t any traffic. I still remember the way my mother snatched the book I was reading while I was eating. So, I am not merely a bookworm, but books have become a part of my being.

When I read, I don’t do it casually. I take notes and arrange them according to topic and record my comments, side by side in the book itself. This helps me to reflect on certain points that the author conveys. Naturally, I never accept the views of the authors without questioning them, though I appreciate their sincere efforts to present them.

Though I read books related various topics, my main interest is related to religious scriptures and historical ones. In all these years, though I enjoyed the writings of many authors, I cannot forgot the influence of few who helped me to understand the subject in depth and forced to change my views.

Though Prof. Kane cannot be replaced by any one else as my most favorite writer, there are a few both in the past and present who often challenge my views. One such author is Sri Chaturvedi Badrinath.  When I first read his book: Dharma, India and World Order, he helped me understand the concept of dharma in its proper context. This book forced me to get all his other works to read. When I completed his recent book: The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition [New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2007] again I found his special mark in this work too. 

I appreciated his hard work, and in thanking him I wrote the following short introduction before I shared my reflection on certain points. I do have certain genuine doubts and questions, which I will share next.

 

Dear Badrinathji,

Shanti!

I completed your book on December 13th and at present typing notes as per my habit. I am tempted to write to you to express my thanks for your valuable contribution. But I thought that I will do after I write my views on your book. As I began to type and reflect on your writings, I think it will take many more weeks for me to complete the work, as I am also doing other works too. 

The main reason for writing this is to know whether you will have time to enlighten me on some points which are not very clear to me. I am limited in many ways. Some times I don’t understand very high English to understand the mind of the author. However, as a student of Scriptures, I want to learn from the scholars. You are one such scholar and from your writings I have learnt a lot. So, you should view my comments from this perspective of a ‘students’ reflection (and question) rather than a critic’s comments on a scholar’s work. I will send one by one which I have written so far. I am still typing the notes from this book and it will take time for me to send all my reflection on this book. Thanks. 

 

Dialogue One. (Sent on 31st December 2007)

Badrinath, as usual, does not merely write to challenge, but change our perception on concepts, ideals, worldviews etc.  Because, as he said else where,

‘That the others can misunderstand you is too well-known.  That you can misunderstand your own self is seldom recognised.  Of the two, which is more harmful?’ [Chaturvedi Badrinath,  Dharma, India and the World Order, Saint Andrew Press, Pahl-Rugenstein, 1993, p. 339]

And this becomes more important, when we not merely read and write on several important Indian concepts, but even explain away our own acts in the context of the concreate reality of life, that too in our relationship with one-self and others.

And once such misconceived, misused Indian concept is ‘dharma’. Since this is his favorite subject, his recent work on Mbh. alone could serve this purpose better than any other Indian literature. As expected, he never disappoints us. As reading, understanding and thinking of Mbh. became his life endeavor, what he presents in this book will not only break new ground in our understanding of Mbh. but will help every lay person come to terms with Mbh., as I find it the most difficult book of Indian literature.

At Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh of India, there is a monument called ‘boolbhuliah’. Unless you have a guide you cannot come out of it, once you have entered. The guide, after showing it, will leave you with a challenge that if you could come out of the building in the same way as you entered, he will give one thousand rupees. Unless you have luck or real knowledge about such intricate construction, you will go round and round in the same building. And each passage will look the same. When you think you have found the way out, it will take you to some other direction.

This is the reality about the Mbh. too. In a thick forest without any path, one must take some help from the sun, moon and stars to come out of it. The problem with Mbh. is that there are so many paths, crossing each other, as so many people have walked it. Unless you have someone to help to find the right path, you will be trapped again and again by crossing the same path, without knowing which is which. This is even endorsed by Mbh. itself: The path of dharma is a grand path from which several paths branch off; which of them must one follow? (Shanti-parva, 108.1-2, 158.2-4; Vana-parva, 213.2)—p.94

More than five years ago, I began to read Mbh. (Dutt’s translation in English) and in that time I completed only Adi parva. Though I am a bookworm and reading is my very life, unlike other books that I read, I found Mbh. difficult to comprehend. Probably because it is not the work of a single author, but an encyclopaedia in which anybody can insert any thought. Considering its size and various subjects presented by various people with various views, it is difficult for a lay person to have a minimum understanding of Mbh.

Those who read it for entertainment or religious purposes can find their satisfaction. But as a student, if one wants to comprehend the basic teachings of Mbh., it is not possible by simply reading its text. There is no point of reading some book on Mbh. to understand it as well. Unless you find a guide who can teach with some authority on Mbh., it will remain a boolbhuliah or a thick forest with many paths to lead you.

Thankfully I now have a good guide in Chaturvedi Badrinath, not merely to guide me, but also to take me along with him to understand Mbh. which will help every Indian to have a right understanding of him/herself as well as in her/his relationship with others.