Tunnel Of Varnavat: A Review

Book: Tunnel of Varnavat

Author: Gautam Chikermane

Publishers: Rupa Publication

Genre: Fiction

Tunnel of VarnavatThe characters of the epic Mahabharata are as complex as it can get with each one having shades of good and bad, right and wrong, compassion and ruthlessness and the more you read various stories of Mahabharat, more facets to each character are exposed.

Every author has his own version of the individual player from the great epic. While most books I have read have stories revolving around the members of royal family or the estranged son ‘Karna’, less has been written about all those characters that played subtle yet important role in life of Pandavas or Kauravas.

In the great epic, the Pandavs had to fend off conspirators, death threats, fight for their rights and face hardships all their life. But where a political conspiracy brews, bravery alone might not suffice for escaping a bid on life. A warrior besides all his skills needs loyal people around him to be his eyes and ears in a hostile atmosphere, people he can trust to warn him of impending danger around the bend or to fight by his side if the need arises.

And though Pandavas, having spent much part of their growing up years away from palace, royal life and subjects of the kingdom, seemed helpless, alone and vulnerable but their endearing politeness and humility had won them trust and affection of people in and around the high walls of palace. People were ready to make sure that the Pandavas escape unscathed and every attempt to compromise their safety was foiled. Vidur, their uncle cum prime minister of Kuru kingdom, the grand regent Bhishma Pitamah, their grandfather, and their maternal cousin the divine Krishna helped them throughout against the reining blind King Dhritarashtra’s secret wish to see his nephews destroyed.

Duryodhana, the crown prince with his maternal uncle Shakuni, always carried a grudge against his five cousins and sought out ways to kill the Pandavas. In one such conspiracy, he built a palace of highly inflammable lacquer and gifted it to the five brothers with an aim to burn the building while the five men slept at night. However Pandavas escaped yet again through a tunnel under the palace.

Tunnelling is an engineering skill which needs careful planning, knowledge of terrain, soil conditions and accurate execution for it to become a successful escape route. It certainly is not an overnight work. The thought, that the ‘Lakshagrah’ the palace of lac, might have tunnels that could be used to escape either would not have occurred to Duryodhan and his scheming uncle or the more likely explanation could be that Pandavas had a friend in the enemy camp who was loyal enough to construct a tunnel after the palace was built to save them.

This is the aspect that the author Gautam Chikermane explores in his book ‘Tunnel of Varnavat’. Never in the stories was the making of an escape tunnel given its due… Author ‘digs out’ a story about this intricate world of tunnels which permitted royals to escape and be safe.

The chief engineer, Badri along with the prime minister Vidur chalk out a parallel conspiracy in favour of Pandavas and right under the enemy’s nose successfully execute the escape. With a  few impromptu allies the tunnel is dug and enemy fended off.

I simply loved the idea around which the story is woven because in all other stories it was always taken for granted that Pandavas knew the peril and would escape. The author takes the reader under the ground describing the making of a tunnel and the dangers involved. I was almost transported to that era and could smell horses, hear the metal clang of the practising swordsmen, walk through the forest with hidden tribal warriors and feel the conspiracy  brewing.

The story though quite gripping drags sometimes at places. Also I was not convinced of the inner demons, turmoil and webs of tunnel in the mind of the chief engineer. The wolf-dog and his army of wild dogs was stretching the fiction a bit too far.

In all it was entertaining read but could have been slightly shorter even without losing its flavour. Good for readers who love elaborate period stories.



Bhima: The Man in Shadows by Vikas Singh

Book: Bhima

Author: Vikas Singh

Publisher: Westland Limited

BhimaI have grown up listening to the tales of Mahabharata, read Amar Chitra Katha books on various characters of Mahabharat and have even seen the mega serial on the same, directed and produced by BR Chopra with the faces of actors still etched in mind.

When WritersMelon sent me the book for review I was eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Having read the Mrityunjaya by Shivaji Sawant, Jaya by Devdutta Patnaik and Ajay, The roll of Dice by Anand Neelkanthan, I was expecting this story in similar vein with great characterisation and detailed narration of various events.

The Epic story of Mahabharata has a plethora of characters, each with a story of its own. Each character of the story is capable of telling and retelling the story from his or her own perspective.

Author Vikas Singh chooses to be the voice of Bhima, one of the Pandavas. In this short volume, Bhima is the solo narrator who voices his view in a sort of monologue. Vikas has wanted to portray Bhima’s feelings for Draupadi. The story weaves Bhima’s passion towards his shared wife into all events since the day of swayamvara till the great war and final journey towards heaven.

I liked the way author has attempted to impart some life lessons with the help of events like Bhima’s meeting with Hanuman, . When Bhima meets his half-brother Hanuman, he is taught the importance of humility…

There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is good, arrogance can prove fatal.

When Arjun returns with new wife Subhadra, Bhima consoles and advises Draupadi…

“We can’t  force someone else to feel particular way about us… You can choose to be resentful…Or be grateful that the person is a part of your life”

However, the story nowhere highlights Bhima’s virtues properly. From the beginning of the story it looks as Bhima has broken into a tirade against all people around him. He laments how his mother was always biased towards his younger brother, how his teacher was always partial to Arjuna, how his wife who is also the wife of all brothers pines only for Arjun and even in the most passionate moments imagines she is with his younger sibling, how Devas keep on beckoning Arjun, how women are almost always attracted to Arjuna, how he never gets credit for the wars he has fought and so on..

Vikas Singh has made Bhima look like one who keeps harping about all his exploits at various situations himself and is always jealous. If he was aiming to bring out his virtues, I haven’t been convinced. Instead I feel Bhima is resentful, jealous and always complaining… a sign of an under-confident person.

I found the passionate episodes in the story very undesirable. The brothers are shown discussing their personal post-marriage first-night experiences which is very racy and like the juvenile jokes.

Bhima was never in shadows….he was considered the most powerful….most of his exploits and adventures are known to many. He was not under-confident even or else he would have succumbed to his own flaws.

The fact that there is so much information about the various events is proof itself that Bhima was never in shadows. I feel the great warrior has been wronged in this story. I am hugely disappointed with the book.

The story is good for readers who are interested in reading a juicy racy story without much details of history and mythology.

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E for Eklavya

In ancient India when King Dhritrashtra ruled the land, there was a boy Eklavya who was the son of a tribal chief in the kingdom of Magadha.He wanted to master the skill of archery under the tutelage of  Sage Dronacharya, the royal teacher in the kingdom of Hastinapur. 

Eklavya did not belong to the upper strata or caste of the society, though he was  as good as any upper class prince in behaviour, dedication and skill. 

Sage Dronacharya did not have the freedom to select his pupils according to the law of Hastinapur and he was a little biased towards Prince Arjuna, whom he wanted to have the fame of best archer. When Eklavya requested Dronacharya to become his mentor, Dronacharya declined citing his caste as the reason.

Eklavya though heart-broken, did not give up. He had made up his mind to improve his archery skills in Dronacharya’s guidance, so he made a clay statue of his mentor and practiced day in day out in the forest. He also hid in trees to see the Pandava and Kaurav cousins who  were instructed by Dronacharya in his ashrama in the forest.

One day while the archery class was going on, a dog disturbed the class barking incessantly. As the teacher and his pupils contemplated for a way to stop the nuisance, the dog came whimpering with his mouth stuffed with arrows. The dog however was not hurt and was not bleeding, it just couldn’t close its mouth. The teacher and pupils wondered about who could be as skilled to carry out such feat!

When everybody realised the master of such accurate skill was none other than Eklavya, Dronacharya asked him who is guru was. Eklavya humbly touched the guru’s feet and told him about the clay idol.

Dronacharya was not only impressed with the boy’s skill but also amazed by his dedication to learn the art. However he still wanted his favorite student Arjuna to be the best archer so he proposed a difficult task as a fee from Eklavya. ‘Gurudakshina’ or a teacher’s fee was given by the student according to the teacher’s choice.

Dronacharya asked Eklavya to sacrifice the thumb of his right hand as ‘Gurudakshina’ as Eklavya had mastered the skill by considering Dronacharya as his teacher. Though Eklavya was dejected because with his right thumb gone he would never be able to be a skilled archer, yet to honor his word and his guru he cut his thumb with a knife and laid it at his teacher’s feet.

This story from the epic Mahabharata, though reeks of social discrimination, teacher’s bias, favoritsm and inappropriate ways which rich people can get away with but I chose to see the greatnes of Eklavya in this story.

Such was this lad’s dedication that he could master the skill by practice alone even after the absence of a mentor. His urge to learn made him cross all hurdles. He couldn’t be an archer when he lived but his name still lives as a great archer and as a great human being who did utmost sacrifice to honor his teacher.

This only goes to prove that dedication, complete surrender to the passion and a strong will goes a long way….

This post is for A to Z Challenge.

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Poem : Tum Kab Aaoge(when will you come?)

अधर्म  हो चला है अब सहन से परे,
दुर्योधन, दुशासन हैं अब हर ओर खड़े,
कहीं कोई चीर करे हरण,
कहीं चरित्र करे कोई हनन,
अग्नि परीक्षा देकर भी,
नारी के ही भर आयें नयन
कर हर आयु की मर्यादा का उल्लंघन,
आज का रावण लगा रहा हर जीवन पर ग्रहण,
अरे कृष्ण , तुमने कहा था ….
करने रक्षा और स्थापित करने धर्म ,
हर युग में आओगे लेकर जन्म,
किन्तु है, तुम्हे अभी भी प्रतीक्षा,
कि मानव का हो और पतन…
हे कृष्णा, चेतो, नारी का हो रहा है भक्षण,
जगत जननी को और कितना रुलाओगे?
इस युग के असुरों का संहार करने,
ओ देवा, कृष्णा तुम कब आओगे?

These days the news papers are full of news about rapes and sexual harassment of all age groups of women. It seems no woman or child is safe in any city of our country.

The poem says that like “Prince Duryodhan” and “Prince Dushasan”, the villains of “Mahabharat” who harassed the queen Draupadi, wife of Pandav princes, while all courtiers stood as helpless witness, the men these days, have been ill treating women everywhere. According to  the scripture “Bhagvad Geeta ” in the epic “Mahabharat” of Hindu Mythology, whenever sins would increase on earth Lord Krishna will be back on earth to slay the demons and bring peace and happiness to the mankind. This poem  asks Lord Krishna when would he fulfill his promise.