Book Review: The Karna Pages by Sayantan Gupta

A Story of  Anti-Hero

A story of “anti-hero” as called by the author, Sayantan Gupta in Preface of the book, The Karna Pages, charts the trajectory of one of the most ambiguous and enigmatic heroes in The Mahabharata. Conceived out of wedlock, probably an offspring of violence and rape (like the myth of Leda and Swan), Karna is abandoned by his mother at birth only to be found and raised by a charioteer and his wife. Although marked for greatness from birth, he is constantly ridiculed as Suta-Putra which also defines his personality and the choices he makes throughout his life. The author examines the societal attitudes towards Karna that spurns him only because of his birth, “…Have you ever asked Fate how one, as valiant a hero as you are, could be born in the shanty of a lowly charioteer? Have you ever questioned society about why should a man’s birth be higher than what he truly is?”

Truly tragic and heroic, The Karna Pages narrates the story of Karna from his own view-point and evokes compassion for one of the most forlorn and star-crossed characters in The Mahabharata.

Beginning with the conception of Karna, the narrative swiftly jumps to the present. Deploying the technique of flashback, jump-cuts; the novel intersperses the mythology with fiction. Much like The Da Vinci Code, a young professor, Max finds out about the existence of Karnacharitam, the lost manuscript which deals with the character of Karna and contains “several untold truths about him; truths that could shatter the existing beliefs.” Determined to discover the lost manuscript, the professor travels across India; however, he is not the only one who is after the manuscript, there is a gang of international criminals set to recover the book and the much hideous secret society, The Blood of Arjun, the direct descendants of the Pandavas. Thus, begins the chase.

Re-telling of Karna’s story

Fluidly blurring the boundaries between the present and the past, the author retells the story of Karna and questions the epitome of righteousness and morality, i.e. Yudhisthir who emerges out as petty, jealous and not above treachery by re-imagining the scenes of The Mahabharata from the Karna’s perspective. In translating Karnacharitam, Max (read author) creates a subtext which affords substantial space to Karna’s perspective.

The author weaves a story where the Pandavas, barring Arjuna are not the true paragons of virtue; and are as malicious, wicked and deplorable as Kauravas; thus the author asks the readers to rethink and reevaluate the rigidly defined boundaries of good and evil, just and unjust, moral and immoral.

It was supposed to be a war to establish righteousness and is taken as a war of supremacy of good over evil. But history tells otherwise…None of the Kaurava generals were killed in a straight or righteous fight. All were killed through tricks or deception. That could hardly be possible if Yudhisthir had not given his nod. Could it?

Episode after episode, the author unravels the psyche of Karna, voices his emotions and re-narrates his story with sensitivity and understanding. “Wronged against since birth”; chided, ridiculed, mocked, disdained, disparaged by society, by his guru, Karna’s only goal in life is to be immortalized as the greatest archer in history.

In exploring his psyche, the author creates a flesh-and-blood character that is not as wicked as portrayed by his rivals.

“Contrary to what people believed, Arjun was not his enemy – never had been one. True, he was his greatest competitor. But enemy? Never! He never wished ill of the third Pandava brother.” He is the only one who averts his eyes in shame from the Kaurava camp while Draupadi was getting disrobed, the only one who calls the Pandavas exile to the forests as “downright injustice”, the only one who strips off his indestructible armour and ear-rings and gives them to Indra. Even after discovering his true identity, he refuses to sway from his stand and does not join the Pandavas camp, “…No, Basudev, Karna will rather die, than live the life of a greedy, cowardly man, who has fallen in his own esteem.” Articulating his own tragedy, he exclaims, “…At heart I knew I match up to any of those who called themselves my better by virtue of their birth alone. Yet, I was taught not to look into their eyes – to kneel and grovel, whenever any person of higher caste passed in front of me.”

Neither the Pandava, nor the Kaurava, he fights the Kurukshetra war to repay Duryodhana’s kindness and hospitality. Even though a member of the Kaurava clan, he points out the injustice meted out to Abhimanyu, “This is wrong, utterly wrong! No one should mete out such a treatment even to a rabid dog. Please desist, Acharya” and abstains from killing Abhimanyu by unfair means. In one incident after another, the author reveals Karan’s greatness, his tragedy which ultimately culminates in his beheading by Arjun by deceit.

Demystification of Supernatural Elements

In rewriting the narrative of Karna, the author demystifies the supernatural and divine intervention as employed by the original text. Thus, Krishna is a mere man and not God. Even though, commenced with elements of thriller, The Karna Pages is predominantly a story of “anti-hero” Karan who emerges out as a more rounded character, rather than a consummate evil whose greatest flaw is his anger and impulse and whose choices are determined by his identity crisis. Narrated in simple language, the book also brings to life the voice of Karna’s wife who is never afforded any space in other narratives of The Mahabharata and the romance between Draupadi and Karan which is being hinted at, in other accounts as well.

In this alternative recounting of Karna’s tale, the author brilliantly takes a fresh and exhilarating look at one of the most conflicting and paradoxical characters of The Mahabharata.

The book is recommended to mythology lovers and to anyone who is interested in deciphering and fathoming Karna’s psyche and in exploring alternative narratives and retelling of the timeless epic.

Title: The Karna Pages

Author: Sayantan Gupta

Publisher: Authorpress

Pages: 400

Genre: Mythological Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Buy it from: Amazon Flipkart

About the Author

Dr. Sayantan Gupta is a gynecologist in Malda, West Bengal. Writing is his passion. Till date, his publications include collection of poems, Where The Rainbow Ends, Sayantan Gupta’s Poems on Love and Sayantan Gupta’s Poems on Life, A Short Story Collection, The Unclaimed Luggage and Other Stories, Novels, The Abode of Kings and The Flames Burnt Dark – The Tale Of The Aryasura and a collection of detective stories Bombcase Baxi And Cleo – Detectives Extraordinaire (co-author). (Courtesy: authorspressbooks.com)

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