Friday, May 19, 2023

Book Review: Fate Eclipsed by Deepak Kaul

The Mahabharata is an epic that has inspired the creativity of artists for generations. Writers, painters, sculptors, and moviemakers have used the epic for inspiration. Innumerous masterpieces are born in the shade of the massive banyan tree that is the Mahabharata. There are several interpretations, elucidations, and analyses of events and characters available. It's safe to say that the Mahabharata is a treasure trove for all.

One character of the Mahabharata who has awakened the fascination of artists all over India is Karna, the first son of Kunti, the mother of five Pandava brothers. His father was Surya, the sun. When Kunti abandons him, a chariot driver and his wife adopt him. The transformation from Kaunteya to Radheya and from Surya Putra to Suta Putra defines the character of Karna in the Mahabharata. He was supposed to be numero uno, but fate quashed his destiny. His ambition to become the world's best warrior was scoffed at, and his talents were not taken seriously. Karna is a complex psychological figure who will any day stand tall before even the best of Shakespeare's tragic heroes.

Karna is a character about whom numerous novels, plays, poems, and movies are made. From Shivaji Savant's Mrityunjay on, there are many novels that explore different aspects of the warrior. Karnabharam is a Sanskrit play by Bhasa, in which Karna is the protagonist. Rasmirathi by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar is a long poem that is also about the life of Karna. The first book that I read is a classic in Malayalam with the title Ini Njan Urangatte (And Now Let Me Sleep), written by P. K. Balakrishnan. Dana Veera Soora Karna, a Telugu movie starring the legend NTR, and Kalyug, a Hindi movie by Shyam Benegal in which Shashi Kapoor does a fabulous modern-day version of Karna, are some examples from the silver screen that I have watched. Mani Rathnam's Thalapathy and Prakash Jha's Rajneeti have Rajni Kanth and Ajai Devgn playing characters inspired by Karna.

Entering this already oversaturated list is a short novel or novelette titled Fate Eclipsed, penned by Deepak Kaul. From his Goodreads profile, I could gather that he has written 25 books, including at least one that is a retelling of the Mahabharata. To be honest, my first reaction when I started reading Fate Eclipsed was relief because it was pretty short and I wasn't sure if another retelling of Karna that could be fairly interesting was even possible.

The title Fate Eclipsed is perfect for a story about the tragedy of Karna. Being the son of Surya, his death can be equated to an eclipse. In the book, Karna feels that he receives his strength from being exposed to the sun. When all the other warriors get tired of the furious rays, it seems Karna gets more ferocious. Even though Karna is forewarned of his end many times, he never recognises these signals. It is only when he finds the sun eclipsed that he realises it is his end. The title very cleverly alludes to the tragic fate of this brave warrior.

The story is told in four chapters. It begins with the return of the Kauravas to Hastinapur after the insult to Draupadi by Duryodhana. This is the beginning of the descent for Karna, as he becomes weak in front of his loyalty to Duryodhana. After that, each chapter goes one step further towards the final tragedy. The narration mostly happens from Karna's point of view, with certain inputs from his wife Uruvi as well. The writer wisely forgoes the descriptive mode and focuses on being inside the mind of his protagonist. We get a glimpse of his emotions at work, his feelings towards others, his ego, and his beliefs.

The writer uses a language that is quite simple and sufficient to mirror some of the basic emotions of his protagonist, culminating in his eventual downfall. I feel the book is written in a teen-friendly way. So you can see Uruvi wishing for a nice vacation after the end of the war and some characters using modern expletives while angry. To the writer's credit, it never descends into becoming unintentionally funny. He is somehow able to sustain the emotional arc of the story intact.

Fate Eclipsed is a short novel that is inspired by the Mahabharata. It offers an interesting, though not very deep or illuminating, insight into the mind of one of the most influential characters in the epic. I found it an entertaining and quick read, and I hope the author can come up with a longer book that unearths and explores a different facet of the Mahabharata.


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