Reading an interesting link on Quora, I was struck by the fact that while Harry Potter and the Twilight novels have captured the imagination of millions of fan-fic writers, we don’t seem to have made much headway with that greatest story of all time, the Mahabharatha.
The specific article I read was a incredibly thought-provoking. It was a ‘what-if’ question – what would have been a good strategy for Abhimanyu to defeat the Chakravyuha? You can read some brilliant (and very well articulated answers) here: http://www.quora.com/Mahabharata/What-was-the-right-strategy-for-Abhimanyu-to-defeat-the-Padmavyuha-formation-from-the-Mahabharata
The Mahabharatha has the richest cast of characters of all the stories in the world. For sheer quantity, there’s nothing that comes close. Likewise for quality: the level of detail with which both the main characters as well as the peripheral ones are fleshed out is immense.
So the Mahabharatha provides (indeed, it has for centuries provided) the Indian creative artist with inspiration in one form or another – whether it was to Girish Karnad for his play Yayati, or to Mani Ratnam for Thalapati. And in the generation of our parents and our grandparents, there are enough ‘Mahabharatha geeks’ – who know the lineage of every major character, the quirks and flaws of each of them, and innumerable intertwining interesting stories about them all.
I wonder the form in which the Internet will consume the Mahabharatha, and why it has not done so yet. Fan fiction is, of course, an obvious avenue. The rich yield of characters could certainly inspire hordes of amateur writers to create their own mini-episodes with characters staying true to form. When you consider that great Indian works of literature in historical times have explored topics as specialized as, say, Duryodhana’s mace-battle with Bhima (Bhasa’s Urubhanga), it is possible to find worlds within a single frame of the epic.
Also, the playwright and the screenwriter have left the Mahabharatha curiously unexplored. I was re-reading one of my favourite plays by Shakespeare recently, the quasi-historical Richard III, and was wonder-struck once more by how the Bard fleshed out even the most historically sketchy English monarch into a believable, realistic super-villain. How much more could we do with our own epic characters! I remember that in the 70s and 80s, the famous characters of the Mahabharatha, such as Karna, Arjuna and Krishna, had a large number of movies made about them; the heroes of many of those movies went on to become permanently associated in the minds of myriads of cinema-goers with the characters they represented, propelling people like N T Rama Rao into powerful positions. However, these movies and plays were often religious in nature, hagiographic in their story-telling; they most often did not portray the intricate complexity of the Mahabharatha’s most famous characters.
Finally the what-ifs and how-dids. I loved the detailed and thought-provoking exploration of the Chakravyuha in the Quora answers above. I also noticed a few other interesting such questions that pick at appropriately intriguing bits of the Mahabharatha – questions of law, of strategy, of relationships, of survival skills. I’m looking forward to the online communities that discuss the Mahabharatha in as threadbare detail as they apparently loved discussing the vastly inferior Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.