It can be safely stated and assumed with confidence that no other story captures the imagination of Indians across caste, class, region, religion and borders like the Mahabharata. The sheer range of books, films, television serials, critiques, essays, poems, theatre adaptations, folk dances and performances based on this epic are a mind-boggling testimony to this. Each version brings with it the claim that it is a fresh re-telling or re-interpretation of the Mahabharata, a claim that is true to a certain extent. Each author/poet/director/singer/dancer brings a perspective to the story that is uniquely his/her own in their narration. And yet, each re-telling retains the essence of the story that is the Mahabharata.
Ashok Banker, the latest writer to come out a re-telling of the Mahabharata, is very clear that his version is not a “religious polemic”, or a “historical document” or “itihasa”. It is just a great story told in his voice, a story that he wanted to narrate all his life.
This is simply the Mahabharata of Krishna Dweipayana Vyasa retold by one man.
That man is me, of course. (p.xix)
The book review
The Forest of Stories (Westland, 2012, pp. 352 + xxii, Rs.295/-) is the first of 18 books in the Mahabharata series of Ashok Banker, who prefers to call it the MBA series ! The book is divided into 9 sections or pakshas, and each paksha is further sub-divided. In addition, there is an introduction to the series/book as well as acknowledgements and some information on the forthcoming two books in the series.
The book begins with the arrival of Ugrasrava Lomarsana (also known as Sauti) at Naimisha-sharanya, a school of learning and meditation for young brahmins, which is located deep within the bowels of the hostile and dense forest, Naimisha-van. Sauti is a renowned kusalavya or wandering bard whose renditions of poems and stories and epics have made him famous all over the land. His arrival sends the ashram residents, students and teachers alike, into a tizzy of hope: that they will be fortunate to hear Sauti narrate the epic poem Jaya.