Saturday, September 24, 2011

Puffin Mahabharata by Namita Gokhale

The Puffin Mahabharata, by Namita Gokhale
(, IndiaPlaza, Amazon.commy review on
Lavishly illustrated. Ideal for children to read on their own.
5 stars

For people looking to introduce their children to the Mahabharata, there are several options. For decades the standard has been C Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata. Then there is the Amar Chitra Katha version. There are countless other versions available.
So what's new and different about this version?


For one, this book has been lavishly produced. The paper is thick and glossy. The hardcover book makes you want to pick it up and read it. The cover is a bright yellow, with the young Arjuna, Drona disciple, taking aim at a wooden bird perched on the branch of a tree. This in itself is one of the famous stories within the Mahabharata. The production quality of the book is  important when it comes to children's' books. It is important that a child like a book at first glance - which is the cover. Opening the book and turning the pages the child should find something on each page to want to read it. Once drawn to the book, there is enough in this epic to hold a child's attention, but it is important to make a child want to pick the book up. The large print, crisp printing, adequate spacing between the lines, the shiny and glossy feel of the paper, and colorful watercolor illustrations - all go a long way in attracting the child's attention and then holding it.

Secondly, the illustrations by Suddhasattwa Basu, painter, illustrator and animation filmmaker, are of high quality. Every second page you find an illustration. Some are spread over the entire page. Each illustration is tied to the story, which helps children tremendously. Looking at an illustration helps them identify the episode in the epic. The illustrations are an integral part of the book.

Thirdly, the story itself is very well written by the author, Namita Gokhale. There are a couple of instances where the narrative may need to be whetted by an adult, but by and large it is suitable for pre-teens. The language itself is simple without being dumbed down.

Fourthly, this is a long book. The intent is to cover a lot of ground with respect to the several strands that run through the epic, without making things overtly complicated. At 200 pages, this is not a book most children will finish in a single sitting. By breaking things up into small chapters, the author makes it possible for a child to stop at a logical point and then pick the book up again later.

I would suggest, that parents serious about making the full use of a child's interest in the Mahabharata, to read and keep handy Devdutt Pattanaik's Jaya with them. They can use Jaya to supplement the child's knowledge of the epic, as well as use the endnotes after every chapter in Jaya to bring up topics of discussion on important events, as well as start a discussion on such topics as karma, boons, curses, dharma, and so on.

As is to be expected of translations of the Mahabharata, the translator brings his or her own perspective to the epic. That includes casting characters in a slightly different light than popular perceptions, choosing to include or exclude certain events in the epic, and retelling some events slightly differently. This book is no different. Krishna, for instance, does not play as pivotal a role in the story as in, say, BR Chopra's teleserial adaptation. Karna gets the full measure of the author's sympathy, as the tragic hero who lived and died alone. The climactic battle of the Mahabharata, fought between Duryodhana and Bheema, is ended by Bheema who flings his massive mace at Duryodhana's thighs, without the prompting of Krishna. And so on...

At a cover price of Rs 499, the book is not cheap. However, you can get it at a 10%, 20%, or more discount from several online retailers. Last I checked this book is available for a whopping Rs 200 off (that's 40%)  the cover price, for Rs 299, from India Plaza. Check it out.

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.