Classics & Cult Books / Reviews

Mythological Ecstasy: Bibek DebRoy’s Ten Volume Mahabharata

Bibek Debroy Mahabharata

Mahabharata, in a sense, is somewhat similar to The Holy Bible. Every Indian knows the basic story. However, being the longest epic poem ever written (110,000 couplets – Whoa!!), few people, except the scholars, take the pain of going through the original text (which is not very reader friendly and written in Sanskrit). I was extremely excited when I came to know economist Bibek DebRoy has undertaken a project to translate a ten volume Mahabharata in modern English.

I finally bought the box set a few months back and I am half way through it. However, I couldn’t wait till I am done simply because I think this work is the best compromise between the original Sanskrit text and any other existing translation of the epic in English. Not sure if I am too fickle minded but Mahabharata has rekindled my interest in mythology.

Ramesh Menon's Two Volume Mahabharata

I have previously read Romesh Menon’s 2000 page / 2 volume translation, which is a decent abridged work in modern English and would suffice as an introduction to anyone new to the epic. DebRoy’s work, quite obviously, is in a different league altogether.

If you are an Indian reader, Mahabharata needs no introduction. If not, imagine this: the Iliad and the Odyssey coupled with the Lord of the Rings and King Arthur’s tales – ah, yes; this might conjure up a fairly accurate picture of the epic. The magnitude of the Mahabharata ensures that it is virtually impossible to make a true-to-spirit movie that can cover even the basic plot.

This ancient Hindu epic narrates events that slowly lead to the buildup of a cataclysmic war between two royal families. The war claimed 10 million lives and it is widely believed in the Indian subcontinent that this epic is loosely based on true events. It is believed that the events may have occurred 3000 – 5000 years ago. The violence and tragedy delineated in the pages of The Mahabharata are unprecedented.

The magnificent cast of characters include humans, demons, gods and demi-gods. The Bhagavad-Gita, an intense part of the Mahabharata, is a classic book in itself.

The Storyline

Exile of the Pandavas

Without mentioning the lengthy prologue and infinite subplots that lead to the main event (which is the war) and span across generations, the Mahabharata can be summed up as follows:

Two group of royal cousins — Kauravas and Pandavas — from the same lineage grow up together but do not get along well. Sensing hostility, the elders divide the kingdom in two parts. The Kauravas, led by the anti-hero Duryodhan, want the entire kingdom for themselves and come up with a sinister plot. They invite their cousins for a game of dice and the stakes are the kingdoms. Aided by their uncle Shakuni, who is a champion dice player, Kauravas win the game. They send the Pandavas to exile for 14 years. After the exile is over, the Pandavas are supposed to get their kingdom back.

During their exile, Pandavas fight demons, villains, face gargantuan snakes. They are sons of divine creatures and one of them gets to meet the lord of destruction and visits heaven. He is bestowed with unearthly weapons and fights creatures of the netherworld as well.

On returning from exile, the Pandavas find that the Kauravas would not return the Kingdom to them by peaceful means. So preparations for a ghastly war follow. Kings across the globe start taking sides. Even demons, and supernatural creatures join camps. The Kauravas are backed by dark forces while an incarnation of God lends his support to the Pandavas. The war that follows throws the best of warriors against one another. Two greatest archers on earth fight each other to death. Magical and celestial weapons wreak havoc on both armies. The sacred laws of war are violated. Unforeseen twists follow.

 

Kauravas Try to Molest Pandava Princess During the Game of Dice

Weapons: The Most Curious Thing About Mahabharata

The variety of weapons used in this epic is incredible. There are weapons which can be described as voice controlled nuclear missiles.

Weapons like Brahmaastra would destroy an entire army but few could wield it. The weapon manifests one of the four faces of the lord of creation – Brahma – on its tip.

Pashupatastra is one of the most lethal weapons in the history of Hindu mythology. It can be discharged by the mind or eyes of the one wielding the weapon. It can be wielded by mantras or special bows as well.  Pashupatastra cannot be used against lesser enemies who have no knowledge of celestial weapons.

Lord Shiva Blessed Arjun with the Weapon Pashupatastra.

 

Sudarshana Chakra or the discus of Lord Vishnu can behead anyone.

Nagaastra would take the form of a deadly snake and deliver a fatal blow.

Maheshwarastra is backed the power of the third eye of the lord of destruction. It can turn anything into ashes. If wielded by Shiva himself, it can turn the creation itself into ashes.

Narayanastra: An absolutely fatal astra that showers a combination of weapons on the enemies once it is invoked. The power of this weapon will increase if resistance is offered. It can be used only once in a lifetime.

There is extensive description of futuristic concepts like aircrafts, inter-planatory space travels, biotechnology and innovative body armors. The weapons described have striking similarity to modern day missiles.

Brilliant Characterization: 

Arjun Kills Karna When He was Off Chariot and Violates Sacred Laws of War

Sublime characters are the trademark of epics. However, the cast of Mahabharata stands out even by the lofty standards of the ancient poems.

The characters are endowed with remarkable depth. Instead of being motivated by pure good or evil, they are multi-layered human beings exhibiting intricate responses. You start developing feeling for the characters and when the war begins, you start getting excited as the titans clash.

Some characters like Krishna, Arjun, Karna and Bhisma have become legendary.

The Grand Plot:

Spanning across generations, the Mahabharata reaches a depth difficult to fathom. Though there are countless sub plots and sub quests, most of them are neatly tied up to the main story. The story of Arjun fighting the creatures of the netherworld, who have occupied part of heaven is breathtaking. The yearlong war is the main event but the events that lead to it are remarkable. Mahabharata does not follow “The happy ending” trend and it closes in the same spirit as it began — solemn, somber, and sublime.

Of course, like all ancient epics, it discusses philosophy, ethics, politics and management at length. Surprisingly, the lessons it teaches are relevant even today.

Download Mahabharata Online:

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Yeah, I said above no movie can cover even the basic plot. But someone has to make a movie with new age CGI. Oriental mysticism, esoteric mythology, epic characters and fierce violence can make an incredible combination.

An Artist's Impression of the devastating Effect of Brahmaastra

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Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: Daughter of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer

Daughter of Fu Manchu Sax Rohmer

Genre: Adventure / Crime / Mystery

Fun Manchu Books are rather weird. They are enjoyable for sure if you read them as over-the-top conspiracy novels. However, their racist and sexist nature can make some of us uncomfortable. This might result in reviews and ratings that are quite unjustified.

The Story

Daughter of Fu Manchu, fourth book in the series, is yet another great thriller from Sax Rohmer. This novel originally appeared in twelve instalments in Collier’s Magazine. It is a bit different from the other books in the series; the focus is on his half-Russian daughter, Fah Lo Suee.

Mysterious events unfold at an archaeological site in Egypt. Fu Manchu is supposed to be dead, but the case has uncanny similarities with the ones where Fu Manchu was involved. Soon our hero takes on Fah Lo Suee and towards the end Fu Manchu himself turns up.

The Style

Like the other Fu Manchu novels, this one too is marked by a sinister plot and swift pace. The fatal attractions include mummy tombs, exotic poisons, zombie drugs, and enigmatic oriental death cults. If you believe in books that are so-bad-that-they-are-good, then try this out. It’s a cheap, racist, on-the-edge page turner.

Darn it! Who wants to be politically correct?

Similar Books:

The Master Magician by Loring Brent

Slaves of Sumuru by Sax Rohmer

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Comics / Download Free ebooks / Reviews

The Best of DC Comics: Batman Knightfall

batman knightfall

I loved all Batman movies directed by Nolan. May be I still love them. But to me, they are no longer the best representative of the essential Batman spirit.

Batman, created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger, first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). There are countless standalone issues and series featuring Batman.  The notable ones include The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Batman: Hush.

The most famous, however, would probably be the Knightfall saga. In this epic story, Bane breaks Batman’s back. It’s perhaps the most shocking incident after Superman’s death.

“I am Bane and I could kill you.”

“But death would only end your agony and silence your shame.”

“Instead I will simply break you.”

“Broken and Done.”

The story, complete in 3 volumes and more than 1800 pages long, feels a lot more epic than Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises or any other films directed by him. Of course, you can’t fit 1800 pages in 3 hours.  But for this very reason, the Knightfall series has more depth and is more enjoyable.

Bane devises a strategy to set loose all of Arkham Asylum. He provides weapons to the criminals and utter chaos follows. Batman fights them as he always does, but it weakens him and Bane just waits for the right opportunity to strike. He breaks Batman but what happens then?

The knightfall saga includes three books:

Volume 1 –  Knightfall
Volume 2 – Knightquest
Volume 3 – Knightsend

If you like Batman comics, go for it. If you don’t, still go it. You cannot possibly be disappointed

Download free ebook / comics:  Batman: Knightfall

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Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer

 

Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon's Vineyard

Genre: Crime/Hardboiled/Detective Fiction

Did you think Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest was the most shocking piece of crime fiction you ever read? Try Jonathan Latimer’s Solomon’s Vineyard. Horrific animalistic motives, gruesome events, creepy characters and unapologetic sex will smoke Hammett to ashes.

The Story

A noir tale. A classic example of hardboiled detective novel.

A private dick comes to town to rescue a wealthy heiress and avenge the death of his partner. He stumbles upon a cult group whose leader, long dead, seems to rule from his grave. Our dick fights a bloody war with a mob boss and crosses path with a femme fatale.

The Style

Latimer, quite clearly, is a no-nonsense writer. He gets down to business right away without wasting time. Graphic violence, ethnic slurs, moral ambivalence, booze and guns combine together to form something outrageously offensive. And for this very reason, the story becomes diabolically entertaining. Not for the faint-hearted.

Rating ****

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The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

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Historical / Reviews

Book Review: I Am a Barbarian by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I am a barbarian Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

Genre: Historical Fiction

Who on earth expected a well researched historical take on imperial Rome from Edger Rice Burroughs? Told from the point of view of one of Caligula’s slaves (Brittanicus), this is one of Burroughs’ more mature works. Sadly, it’s long out of print; you’re lucky if you can manage a copy. Note that I Am a Barbarian is one of the only two historical novels written by the author; the other being The Outlaw of Tor.

The Story

Brittanicus is brought by Caligula’s parents to be a companion to their son. The slave watches Caligula grow up from a spoiled brat to an insane ruler. The ruler both trusts and fears Brittanicus. The story describes the adventures of Brittanicus and yes, there is a romantic angle too. Dejah thoris is substituted by the slave girl Attica.

The Style

Action packed, poignant and humorous at times, I am a Barbarian is one of the finest novels Burroughs has ever written. Surprisingly, even his trademark flat characterization is replaced here by well defined and fairly intricate individuals. Burroughs’ writing style is imaginative and crisp.

This is an epic novel of historical adventure and altogether a darn good package. You don’t have to be an ERB fan to enjoy I Am a Barbarian.

Ace Edition (1974).  Cover Art by Boris Vallejo.

Similar Books

Historical fiction of Robert E. Howard

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

 
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Horror / Fantasy / SF / Reviews

Book review: Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer

brood of the witch queen sax rohmer

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Brood of the Witch Queen is one of the creepiest and scariest books of Sax Rohmer — the creator of the fiendish Fu Manchu and Sumuru. Originally serialized in a British Magazine, this intriguing Egyptian tale of ancient curse and black magic takes you from London to Cairo involving a great adventure.

The Story

Set in London in the early 1900s, this is a tale of ancient sorcery with vampires and crawly bugs. Dr. Richard and Robert Cairn fights against diabolical powers and a dark figure called Anthony Ferarra. And the odds turn terrible when Ferarra’s ancient ancestor — a Polish/Jewish witch that placed a curse on her husband’s family — casts her evil shadow.

The Style

Rohmer’s novel reflects his passion for dramatic prose and abrupt ending. Also, the characterization seems a bit wooden. Nonetheless, Brood of the Witch Queen holds a lot of value in terms of pulp entertainment. This fast moving novel is full of adventure and creepy scenes. The plot, though predictable, will not disappoint you. Though the book is about a century old, it does not seem much dated.

Not a perfect story, pretty much over the top, but Brood of the Witch Queen is pure escapist fun.

Similar Books:

Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

Rating ***

Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer ebook Download

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19706

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Reviews / Thriller / Crime Fiction

Book Review: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

The maltese falcon Dashiell Hammett.

The Maltese Falcon, widely regarded as the mother of all noir novels, has been immortalized by the classic Humphrey Bogart flick. If you have seen the movie but haven’t read the book, you are missing more than you can imagine.

The Story

The Maltese Falcon features Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s self-serving San Francisco detective. When Sam’s partner is murdered, the cops put the blame on the detective. Things get super complicated when a gorgeous woman begs for Sam’s help, bad guys demand a payoff from Sam, and a mystery develops around a priceless gold statuette of a falcon.

The Style

The coolest thing about the book is Sam Spade himself. He talks, fights, and flirts with inimitable style. Hammett’s style is pretty much straight forward and without too much description. The focus is more on action; the story is high on murder, betrayal, and sex. The plot, as you may guess, is highly intelligent and intricate.

The Maltese Falcon is a solid proof of the fact that even pulp/crime fiction can be a classic. It stands the test of time and the plot makes as much sense today as it did in 1930. For most readers, The Maltese Falcon will be even more appealing than even Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Farewell, my Lovely.

Similar Books:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Solomon’s Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer

 

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