Pol­i­tics and Pas­sion

A vet­eran Con­gress­man’s retelling of the epic is an unashamed love song to a most com­pli­cated char­ac­ter

India Today - - LEISURE - —Aditya Wig

Dr Veer­appa Moily’s The Flam­ing Tresses of Drau­padi—newly trans­lated from Kan­nada into English by D.A. Shankar— retells the Ma­hab­harata from Drau­padi’s point of view. The fem­i­nist ap­proach of­fers “the am­brosia of orig­i­nal epic in [a dif­fer­ent] ves­sel”, as Dr Moily puts it, and is an unashamed love song to one of the most com­pli­cated fe­male fig­ures in In­dian lit­er­a­ture.

Fate is cruel to Drau­padi. Her mar­riage to five broth­ers makes her life unimag­in­ably com­pli­cated. But so­ci­ety re­serves only mys­ti­fied sym­pa­thy and the oc­ca­sional “oh, poor dear”, for those who suf­fer such tri­als. To Dr Moily, that is why the char­ac­ter is mis­un­der­stood. “By por­tray­ing [Drau­padi] as soft and del­i­cate,” he says, “civilised so­ci­ety has un­der­mined her per­son­al­ity.” Given the present con­cern of the Hindu right over polygamy, it’s an in­ter­est­ing choice of source ma­te­rial for the vet­eran Congress party leader from Kar­nataka, whose book was launched at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van last month. But if there’s any com­ment on the times, it’s subtle.

“There is an im­pres­sion in In­dia that women are sub­ju­gated,” he says. “Drau­padi is some­thing above that. She is not tied to any hus­band.” When pressed about those five hus­bands, he quickly reaches for the text. “She was the woman who un­der­went op­pres­sion and ex­ploita­tion more than any other woman in the Ma­hab­harata,” he reads aloud, paus­ing to glower at us over his mous­tache. “But,” he makes a fist and punches in the air for em­pha­sis, “she did not shrink with fear or dif­fi­dence, nor did she blame prov­i­dence! Not only did she sub­mit her­self for the great cause, but was also a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence be­hind many of her con­tem­po­raries!”

Though the po­etry is oc­ca­sion­ally made stilted by trans­la­tion, Dr Moily’s pas­sion for the sub­ject is clear. More­over, his for­mi­da­ble knowl­edge of the epics of­fers some in­ter­est­ing per­spec­tives. Take Drau­padi’s re­la­tion­ship with Kr­ishna. As Dr Moily says, “Kr­ishna called her sakhi. That is more than just ‘friend’.”

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