Other than Ramayana, Mahabharata is the greatest epic of ancient India which can capture the imagination of an Indian like no other book probably can; with its fascinating characters and the story within a story structure. The Forest of Stories is the first of 18 books in the Mahabharata series by author Ashok Banker, who calls it an MBA series.
He prefers to call it so because Vyasa wrote his Mahabharata in three years, which is the same time it takes to take an MBA course! But, he does admit that since he is not a genius like Vyasa, it took him much more time to write it.
When City Express attended the book reading session recently, the author took us through his background, his mixed parentage comprising Dutch, Irish, Goan, Irish, Portugese influences, his attending a Jewish school and what actually made him retell such a great epic. He says, "It is hard to find a single complete translation of theMahabharata in print anywhere in the world." The book starts off with Ugrasrava Lomarsana (Sauti) arriving at Naimisha-sharanya, a school of learning and meditation for young brahmins which is located deep within the womb of the dense forests. The thought of Sauti narrating the epic poem 'Jaya' makes the students, warriors and slain soldiers from the Great War of Mahabharatha ecstatic. And hence begins Sauti’s enchanting recitation of the Mahabharata, the greatest of all stories.
When anyone decides to write a book on Mahabharata, it is usually wrought with great risks and every individual has his or her way of interpreting it. Ashok keeps the narrative straightforward, crisp and simple, which is not easy to achieve in an epic which has multiple stories unfolding within a single story. The tales of Shakuntala and Dushyanta are captivating and the author has kept his promise of 'remaining as close as possible to Vyasa’s text' by keeping minimal deviation from the original. The only surprising element was no mention of the main protagonists, the Kauravas and the Pandavas.
There is a lot of back and forth of events which can get dizzying at some point, but all stories and events do lead to a single event. If the idea of reading the next 17 books in the series, which covers the entire tale of Mahabharatha, appeals to you, then it is definitely worth giving this book a try