Interview with Bibek Debroy on the Mahabharata

Icing on a Delicious Cake

People following my blog will know that I started reading and writing about Dr. Bibek Debroy's unabridged translation of the Mahabharata in 2012. Some time ago I asked Dr. Bibek Debroy if he would be willing to answer some questions I had on the Mahabharata and its unabridged translation he has been doing. He graciously consented, and soon enough I typed out a list of fifteen questions. Within a couple of days I got his detailed response to my questionnaire.

Mahabharata Ch 6-10, Adi Parva, Pouloma Parva

[Ch 1,2,3,45 « Ch 6,7,8,9,10 » Ch 11,12,13,14,15]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:6Shlokas:13

Puloman carried away Puloma, but this angered her unborn son, still in her womb. He fell down, and thus got the name Chyavana ("The word means to be deprived of, or perishing."). Puloman let go of Puloma, but himself fell down and was burnt to ashes. As a weeping Puloma carried Chyavana, a river of tears followed in her footsteps. Brahma named the river Vadhusara.

Mahabharata Chs 1-5, Adi Parva

[Ch 1,2,3,4,5 » Ch 6,7,8,9,10]

Parva: Adi; Upa-parva: Anukramanika; Chapter: 1; Shlokas: 210

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

"Jaya must be recited after having bowed in obeisance before Nayarana and also Nara, the supreme human being, and also the goddess Sarasvati."

The first upa-Parva in the Mahabharata - Anukramanika Parva - consists of only one chapter, and as stated by Dr. Bibek Debroy, is "clearly a later addition and sets out the background for the recital of the story and summarizes the main incidents...".

In Spite of the Gods, by Edward Luce

In Spite of the Gods - The Rise of Modern India, By Edward Luce

2 stars
One line review: Crass. Clueless. Sadly Shallow.

Long review: Written by an editor with the Financial Times (Edward Luce was the newspaper's South Asia bureau chief between 2001 and 2006, based out of New Delhi), the book starts off earnestly enough, but falls rapidly into a morass of political biases, cheap shots, shallow-to-nonexistent analysis, ending as another example of those books that people aspire to write, have the connections to do so, yet should not.

Land of the Seven Rivers, by Sanjeev Sanyal

Land of the Seven Rivers, by Sanjeev Sanyal

5 stars

One line review: Five millennia, one history, one nation, one helluva book.

Short review: This book is a second, much grander and a much better attempt by the author to answer one question. This time around though, he goes deeper and farther back in the history of the land of seven rivers - India, presents us with his findings, and posits that India has had a sense of history - one that not only goes back several unbroken thousand years, but has found echo in successive empires and invaders seeking to associate themselves with this history. As the author travels through the country - in time as well as geography - we are treated to some long-forgotten incidents that should have been part of our curricula, as well as fascinating insights into such endeavours as the mapping of the country by the colonials, which itself was a source of competitive advantage in a manner of speaking. The second question, which the author attempted to answer in his first book, but with less than middling success, is why India went into decline a thousand years ago. The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind, and you need to turn the pages to find it. The truth is out there in the hardcover. A must read. Makes it to my best books I have read in 2013 (see this and this for a review of the notable books I read in 2012).

Long review:

Using R to Unlock the Value of Big Data

Using R to Unlock the Value of Big Data, by Tom Plunkett, Mark Hornick

4 stars

This is a brief (approximately 80 pages) introduction targeted at users with an intermediate-level exposure of R and who want to get a quick look at working with R with Oracle's products. Strictly speaking, this is not an introduction to R, nor is this an R tutorial. It is, very specifically, an introduction to R as it integrates with and relates to the Oracle Database, the Oracle R Distribution, and the Oracle R Connector for Hadoop. The main chapters are "Using Oracle R Enterprise" and "Oracle R Connector for Hadoop", which have sixteen and seventeen examples, respectively, to help you get started.

Krishna on Svayamvara

(edited Aug 4, 2014)
Svayamvaras resulted in much confusion and carnage in the Mahabharata. There is the svayamvara of the daughters of the King of Kashi - Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. The story of a spurned Amba is an epic in itself.Then there is the most famous of all - Droupadi's svayamvara, where none of the princes and kings could win the competition. It was then that Arjuna, in disguise as a brahmana, won. Krishna attended Droupadi's svayamvar, but did not participate in it. Why we are not told. The svaymvara of Damayanti that Nala attended, but with four other gods also desiring Damayanti is another interesting episode. Krishna was involved in yet another svayamvara, this time not as a spectator but as an active participant - that of Rukmini. Rukmini wanted to marry Krishna, and not Shishupala. Krishna swooped down and carried off a willing Rukmini.

Mohammed Rafi - My Abba - A Memoir

Mohammed Rafi My Abba - a Memoir, by Yasmin Khalid Rafi

One-line review: a daughter-in-law's honest and loving tribute to a legend.
Short review: That Mohd Rafi was a genius at his craft is well-known. That he was also a genuinely good human in an industry known for its cut-throat and back-stabbing competition is what makes him an awe-inspiring legend, even thirty three years after his death. This book collects together his daughter-in-law's reminiscences of Mohd Rafi - her idol, her father-in-law, interspersed with her life before and after marriage, in Indore and later in London. A brief index of songs referenced in the book and twelve pages of black-and-white photographs add to the appeal of this short book.