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View Full Version : Interpretations of the Mahabharata (S.A. Appropriation thread derail)



Keyan
01-13-2013, 04:35 PM
You bring up a very good point. The problem is that I really do want to kind of have a conversation about some of these issues within the context of the story, because I think that they're interesting. I guess part of my initial goal was to take them out of a South Asian setting and put them somewhere that makes it less like I'm pointing fingers? But I don't suppose that's very possible considering that my source material is fairly obvious. But I don't think that these problems are just South Asian problems either; I think that there are certainly threads of them in every culture (poverty, for one; abuse of animals; sexism; classism).



I was actually thinking about removing the references I have to the caste system in the story. It is a plot point that people feel that they have no choice but to stay in the occupation they were born into- it is a particular plot point when a devadasi-type character has a daughter and is frightened by the fact that she will also be forced to be a devadasi. Though I'm not sure if this is how India's caste system works exactly; obviously I need to do more research. I know it's not exactly how becoming a devadasi usually works, though, and of course in my story there are no British colonialists who adversely affect the practice either. It's definitely something I need to think about carefully.



For the most part, actually, my characters don't challenge the customs; I tried for the most part to just present them and let the reader draw their own conclusions. I particularly tried to present the people who abused the elephant-like creatures like actual people and not monsters. I also didn't want to fall into the they-just-don't-know-what-they're-doing-and-some-white-person-needs-to-teach-them trap. (shudder) The reason I find these issues so interesting to talk about is because the people involved in them really do have powerful reasons to continue the practices in the first place... like, in general I would like my writing to be less like "look at these ignorant assholes" and more like "look at this shitty situation these people have found themselves in." And I think a lot of authors really need to strive for that, honestly.

So yes... research. I will do it. Keyan, as someone from a South Asian background, I would love it if you might be able to skim over my draft if you have time- your insight would be invaluable. I completely understand if you don't have time, or even if you simply aren't interested, though.

I can't undertake it right now (swamped!), but maybe later as your draft progresses?

I think you have given yourself a tricky problem: You want to criticize the customs of a different culture, in fictional form. (If I'm hearing you correctly.) This is tough to do - and I'm not for a moment suggesting they don't need to be criticized. But. By just laying it out for a Western audience, it almost by definition means that it will be examined through a different cultural lens.

I personally don't have a major problem with that when the lens is part of the story. For instance the indie movie "Sita Sings the Blues" is an examination of the Ramayana from the viewpoint of an American woman who follows her (American) boyfriend to India and is dumped. I think it's entirely legit, since it reflects her personal engagement with the Ramayana, and it's a great movie.

However, there are people who do mind, a lot, and consider it the worst kind of cultural appropriation because there are millions of people for whom the Ramayana is not just an epic, it's considered the religious truth - as there are people who believe in the Bible the same way in the US. (And those believers would probably be infuriated if an Indian woman came to Los Angeles and made a movie about the role of Mary or Mary Magdalene.)

What becomes more problematic is if it's laying out the culture with the sub-text of "See? Any right-thinking person would find this awful."

In that case, if the culture is identifiable, it's going to open you up to criticism that you don't understand. Filing off the serial numbers becomes more important.

If you've seen Le Miserables - consider the fate of Cosette had Valjean not rescued her. She'd have been raised as a servant girl, and probably forced into prostitution in her teens. Not because of a caste system, but because of lack of social mobility. How much does it differ from a devdasi's daughter?

koryos
01-16-2013, 12:38 AM
I think you have given yourself a tricky problem: You want to criticize the customs of a different culture, in fictional form. (If I'm hearing you correctly.) This is tough to do - and I'm not for a moment suggesting they don't need to be criticized. But. By just laying it out for a Western audience, it almost by definition means that it will be examined through a different cultural lens.

Absolutely. And I don't want to say that I have any authority to criticize any of the actual cultures myself- how could I? Even if I do all the research in the world, I'll never know what it's like to be born a part of one. Which is why I would rather take the issues and transplant them into a culture of my own making that I can define myself, and then say, "well, this is how this issue works out on the society of my own design, not necessarily in real life." But it's fairly obvious where my source material is coming from, and I think it might even be presumptuous of me to try and erase that entirely.


I personally don't have a major problem with that when the lens is part of the story. For instance the indie movie "Sita Sings the Blues" is an examination of the Ramayana from the viewpoint of an American woman who follows her (American) boyfriend to India and is dumped. I think it's entirely legit, since it reflects her personal engagement with the Ramayana, and it's a great movie.

However, there are people who do mind, a lot, and consider it the worst kind of cultural appropriation because there are millions of people for whom the Ramayana is not just an epic, it's considered the religious truth - as there are people who believe in the Bible the same way in the US. (And those believers would probably be infuriated if an Indian woman came to Los Angeles and made a movie about the role of Mary or Mary Magdalene.)?

I love Sita Sings the Blues! Fantastic animation. And it's funny you should bring it up, since I was actually thinking about it recently. Even though I like the movie and I think it brings up an interesting discussion about the Ramayana, I agree that it is a decidedly western and one-sided interpretation... and I wonder at the presumption of the creator aligning her own breakup experience with Sita's in such a way. (I also thought it weakened the narrative, personally, because Sita's heartbreak and the creator's heartbreak were from entirely different causes.) It is nice that she consulted with Actual Indian People for the myth retelling, though!

(I would love to see an Indian interpretation of any of the western myths, omg, but that is probably because I am not a particularly pious person myself.)

Les Mis is another good example because I was thinking about how glad I was that they kept the heavy religious undertones of the book in the movie and didn't sanitize them as today's big-budget movies are wont to do... I only wish they'd done the same with the anti-church undertones in The Golden Compass or given it a decent movie in the first place- ANYWAY! This is entirely off-topic.

The point about Cosette is a good one, though. Someone above mentioned the effects of British colonialism, too, which is something I definitely need to look into. So I've got lots and lots of things to think about.

Kitty Pryde
01-16-2013, 07:25 AM
I love Sita Sings the Blues! Fantastic animation. And it's funny you should bring it up, since I was actually thinking about it recently. Even though I like the movie and I think it brings up an interesting discussion about the Ramayana, I agree that it is a decidedly western and one-sided interpretation... and I wonder at the presumption of the creator aligning her own breakup experience with Sita's in such a way. (I also thought it weakened the narrative, personally, because Sita's heartbreak and the creator's heartbreak were from entirely different causes.) It is nice that she consulted with Actual Indian People for the myth retelling, though!

(I would love to see an Indian interpretation of any of the western myths, omg, but that is probably because I am not a particularly pious person myself.)


I think where she went wrong with Sita Sings the Blues is by not engaging with the story at a deep enough level. Her thesis was basically FU Hindus your story is sexist and I hate it. Is it sexist and troubling? Very! Just like the Torah, the New Testament, and most of the history of western religion and literature. If she was a Hindu or of Indian descent, she would be approaching it at another level, not able to just write it off with ease, and needing to make more overall sense of it. There's more at stake as she would try to reconcile her religious world view with her modern feminist worldview. And that's more interesting anyway!

In contrast read Palace of Illusions by Divakaruni (sp?), a modern feminist retelling of the Mahabharata from the POV of the woman given to five brothers to be a shared wife. She isn't quite so screwed over as Sita in the Ramayana, but things are pretty bad. Author is an American from India. Don't know what her religion is.

Rachel Udin
01-16-2013, 08:10 AM
In contrast read Palace of Illusions by Divakaruni (sp?), a modern feminist retelling of the Mahabharata from the POV of the woman given to five brothers to be a shared wife. She isn't quite so screwed over as Sita in the Ramayana, but things are pretty bad. Author is an American from India. Don't know what her religion is.
I was told most likely Hindu from her maiden surname. Also she talks a little in her intro about why she wrote it how she read it a lot as a young girl... it's a really good book though.

Oh and, though she's not Indian (She is of Japanese descent and habitually features PoCs), Michelle West wrote several stories that have that feeling to them. The Sun Sword series. Long series, but very detailed and good. Also filed off the serial numbers very well.

Keyan
01-17-2013, 06:08 PM
I think where she went wrong with Sita Sings the Blues is by not engaging with the story at a deep enough level. Her thesis was basically FU Hindus your story is sexist and I hate it. Is it sexist and troubling? Very! Just like the Torah, the New Testament, and most of the history of western religion and literature. If she was a Hindu or of Indian descent, she would be approaching it at another level, not able to just write it off with ease, and needing to make more overall sense of it. There's more at stake as she would try to reconcile her religious world view with her modern feminist worldview. And that's more interesting anyway!

In contrast read Palace of Illusions by Divakaruni (sp?), a modern feminist retelling of the Mahabharata from the POV of the woman given to five brothers to be a shared wife. She isn't quite so screwed over as Sita in the Ramayana, but things are pretty bad. Author is an American from India. Don't know what her religion is.

Haven't read the Divakaruni book, but the general perception of Draupadi (the wife of the 5 brothers) is that it wasn't that bad of a deal. Her big conflict moment is when her eldest husband wagers her in a gambling game (having already wagered himself and his brothers). D isn't standing around wringing her hands; she first argues that her husband had no right to wager her once he himself was lost. Then, when she loses that argument to main force, she prays for and gets an endless sari that prevents her captor from stripping her. And finally, she gets her strongest husband (IIRC) to promise to revenge the attempted insult to her, which he does in the last battle.

Contrast that with Sita, who is kidnapped, remains "pure" (to her captor's credit as much as hers, since she's not shown to have any power to actually resist him if he'd forced her), but is still repudiated with her husband. Because he can't deal with overheard gossip.

The problem for India is that Sita, not Draupadi, not Savitri, is considered the ideal woman. India has many narratives, but the culture selects passive ones for women.

This is getting off-topic. Sorry...

Kitty Pryde
01-17-2013, 06:41 PM
Haven't read the Divakaruni book, but the general perception of Draupadi (the wife of the 5 brothers) is that it wasn't that bad of a deal. Her big conflict moment is when her eldest husband wagers her in a gambling game (having already wagered himself and his brothers). D isn't standing around wringing her hands; she first argues that her husband had no right to wager her once he himself was lost. Then, when she loses that argument to main force, she prays for and gets an endless sari that prevents her captor from stripping her. And finally, she gets her strongest husband (IIRC) to promise to revenge the attempted insult to her, which he does in the last battle.


I know. I've read plenty of versions of it. Read Palace of Illusions. It puts a different spin on it. Consider: she gets a pretty raw deal. Her father auctions her off to a really good archer and all around nice guy, whose only fault might be he is a little too enamored with his BFF. When they get to his house, the brothers want to show her what they have brought home. Her mother in law says, "Whatever it is, you need to share it." And thusly was she divided up amongst five brothers, who are quick to put her on a rotating schedule of who she needs to sleep with. Polyandry wasn't much practiced in that culture (too much laundry to deal with, one presumes...) The mother in law never thinks to say, ohh, perhaps I misspoke. And indeed, the later exile, and her total powerlessness at every boneheaded thing her heroic protagonist husbands get up to. She's not passive, but she is victimized.

In contrast, I can't even make sense of Sita's story, except as an extreme victim of the sexism prevalent in a patriarchal society. But then, yes, she is held up as an ideal of womanhood, and I do think surviving and living on is a good ideal, to my eye it is a lesson in accepting the injustices of society without complaint, a lesson which many Indians involved in social justice haven't followed.

But to bring it back to the original topic, then I think I'm out of my depth and not understanding the issue enough to critique or validly write about (despite all my research), so I would bow out on the topic of the Ramayana.

Rachel Udin
01-17-2013, 11:26 PM
I also read the Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (When researching India). That covers the Mughal empire, the politics, etc. But that's fairly well written about in India and about India in general. Previous time periods weren't. I kinda needed something about those times to see what the popular notions of India are from an Indian POV and since I wasn't writing about that time, what had persisted from the earlier time I could actually use. Mughal Empire had a ton of Arabic and South Western Asia influence.

I should note that sedentary agricultural societies, in general, are not very fair to women. I wouldn't pin it on one culture. Usually it's the product of the type of subsistence. Earlier, before the two books and the transition to agriculture it's thought that women had larger and fairer roles in the society. (I wouldn't use evolution). Sanskrit and Prakrit are also written to have been divided among the sexes and may have been one language. Prakrit was used by women and Sanskrit by men. Which means effectively you needed to know both.

Draupadi's deal was that she was always painted as evil, which seems a bit unfair to Divakaruni. That's why the Palace of Illusions was written. It gives her a sympathetic, but fair voice. (Her faults aren't all erased.)

Kitty Pryde
01-18-2013, 06:10 AM
I also read the Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (When researching India). That covers the Mughal empire, the politics, etc. But that's fairly well written about in India and about India in general. Previous time periods weren't. I kinda needed something about those times to see what the popular notions of India are from an Indian POV and since I wasn't writing about that time, what had persisted from the earlier time I could actually use. Mughal Empire had a ton of Arabic and South Western Asia influence.

I should note that sedentary agricultural societies, in general, are not very fair to women. I wouldn't pin it on one culture. Usually it's the product of the type of subsistence. Earlier, before the two books and the transition to agriculture it's thought that women had larger and fairer roles in the society. (I wouldn't use evolution). Sanskrit and Prakrit are also written to have been divided among the sexes and may have been one language. Prakrit was used by women and Sanskrit by men. Which means effectively you needed to know both.

Draupadi's deal was that she was always painted as evil, which seems a bit unfair to Divakaruni. That's why the Palace of Illusions was written. It gives her a sympathetic, but fair voice. (Her faults aren't all erased.)

Yeah, I would attribute massive sexism to most cultures, my own ancestors included.

I agree, I thought Draupadi was not likable, but she was massively relatable. My favorite character out of the whole thing is Arjuna, who is pretty bland in PoI. But I still liked it!

Maybe the equivalent feminist retellng for judeochristian tradition would be The Red Tent? Which I have not read.

aruna
01-18-2013, 09:19 PM
Yeah, I would attribute massive sexism to most cultures, my own ancestors included.

I agree, I thought Draupadi was not likable, but she was massively relatable. My favorite character out of the whole thing is Arjuna, who is pretty bland in PoI. But I still liked it!

Maybe the equivalent feminist retellng for judeochristian tradition would be The Red Tent? Which I have not read.

Hmmm. I just wrote a long post on Draupadi, and deleted it by mistake!

I self-published my own version of Mahabharata last year, a story I've known and loved for 40 years, and much as I loved Palace of Illusions, I was very aware that Divakaruni was putting her own very Western-feminist interpretation on Draupadi.

In retelling and reading these ancient tales it's so important to understand the mentality form which they emerge. For Draupadi it was probably an honour to marry the five greatest heroes of her age; she would never have fretted about her "lack of choice". That's a purely Western slant and interpretation. She would have accepted that marriage and her role in life with far more equanimity than Divararuni gives her, and that is her strength. What she rebelled against was the dishonour and insult paid to her by the Kauravas; that is what she objected to. Not to the marriage the Pandavas.

(I was delighted to see that she preferred Karna to Arjuna, however; Karna I've always felt is by far the greatest hero of the lot , mofe so than Arjuna, and that's the role I assigned to him, as did Divakaruni.)

aruna
01-18-2013, 10:02 PM
I know. I've read plenty of versions of it. Read Palace of Illusions. It puts a different spin on it. Consider: she gets a pretty raw deal. Her father auctions her off to a really good archer and all around nice guy, whose only fault might be he is a little too enamored with his BFF.



But to bring it back to the original topic, then I think I'm out of my depth and not understanding the issue enough to critique or validly write about (despite all my research), so I would bow out on the topic of the Ramayana.

Remember that this is not the original story. In the original, Draupadi is born of fire for the express purpose of marrying Arjuna. She has always known this; and accepts it. As in all the other weddings of the day, she chooses her husband at a Swayamvara, "ceremony of bridal choice" which in this case is held only to bring Arjuna out of hiding. Ans she gets four more hero brothers, including the King himself, as a bonus.

Yes, the mother's words are taken as truth and must be adhered to, even if she meant something else. But this is again the mentality of the day: words spoken cannot be revoked, no matter what, no matter how inconvenient they might be. That is strength, not fighting against circumstances.

Seems wrong to the Western mind, of course; but the Mahabharata cannot really be evaluated correctly divorced from its spiritual roots.
That's why the strongest brother is not actually Bhima, who is physically strong but rather a buffoon, but Yudhisthira, who seems agonizingly passive to modern day readers but is regarded as the wisest.

And Draupadi only gets her endless sari once she stops fighting, puts her hands together, and prays to Krishna for help. Surrender is considered of higher value than fight. Strength is an inner virtue, not a matter of outer control

(OK, sorry to derail with such detail! Couldn't resist, this being my favourite story of all time!)

aruna
01-19-2013, 11:07 AM
I dug up a blog post I wrote almost a year ago on the Mahabharata's women, Draupadi, and Palace of Illusions!

Here it is: Women in the Mahabharata (http://sonsofgods.blogspot.de/2012/02/women-in-mahabharata.html)

This is what I said back then:



As for Draupadi: she’s the most assertive of all the women; something of a diva, in the way she orders her husbands about! She’s not a female character I particularly like; she’s proud and vengeful and very bossy, and that’s how I’ve portrayed her. Thank goodness, another author, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, managed to portray a different side to Draupadi in her book Palace of Illusions, so that I ended up understanding and even liking her.
(snip)



It was only when I read the book mentioned above, the Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruna, that I finally saw a different side to Draupadi. Unfortunately, I first heard of, bought and read this book the very week after Sons of Gods was published; but in a way that’s a good thing, because I might have been tempted to go back and make some changes to the manuscript! As it was, I was astonished and delighted to see how well the two books complement each other. Divakaruni wrote the entire Mahabharata from the point of view of a single character, which of course means firstly, that the point of view of that character is biased, and secondly, that the reader only gets to see those scenes in which that character is present; everything else is by definition only hearsay, reported by the narrator or by the other characters, and by necessity much condensed. I often wondered, while reading Palace of Illusions, how well a reader unfamiliar with the Mahabharata story would really understand what is going on. But for a reader who does know the story, Palace of Illusions is wonderful; I have to thank Divakaruni for opening up the character of Draupadi and making her not only a living, breathing character, but one I could actually sympathise with and even love.


And here's the point I was trying to make a few points up:


We must remember that in Hinduism, the so-called female attributes of selflessness, forbearance and gentleness are seen as positive, whereas the so-called male characteristics of assertiveness, domination and control are considered negative, being traits of the ego that must, eventually, be surrendered to God.

Siva and Shakti, male and female energy, are seen as two halves of a whole, each valuable in its own right, each needing the other as a complement. God can be mother as well as father, and the Mother is, finally, divine. Ideally, women are seen as the invisible backbone of society; it is that backbone that holds society upright, and when it falls, so too, according to traditional Hindu thought, does society. Of course this ideal, humans being as flawed as they are, is seldom realised, and women all too often trodden underfoot in India as everywhere in the world. But it is there, a goal to be aspired to.

In Sons of Gods I’ve tried to get under the skin of the few women, so that the reader understands their inherent, though perhaps quieter, strength.

Keyan
01-19-2013, 02:41 PM
I also read the Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan (When researching India). That covers the Mughal empire, the politics, etc. But that's fairly well written about in India and about India in general. Previous time periods weren't. I kinda needed something about those times to see what the popular notions of India are from an Indian POV and since I wasn't writing about that time, what had persisted from the earlier time I could actually use. Mughal Empire had a ton of Arabic and South Western Asia influence.

I should note that sedentary agricultural societies, in general, are not very fair to women. I wouldn't pin it on one culture. Usually it's the product of the type of subsistence. Earlier, before the two books and the transition to agriculture it's thought that women had larger and fairer roles in the society. (I wouldn't use evolution). Sanskrit and Prakrit are also written to have been divided among the sexes and may have been one language. Prakrit was used by women and Sanskrit by men. Which means effectively you needed to know both.

Draupadi's deal was that she was always painted as evil, which seems a bit unfair to Divakaruni. That's why the Palace of Illusions was written. It gives her a sympathetic, but fair voice. (Her faults aren't all erased.)

Wait up, "evil"? I never heard that one. Her "flaw" when they were marching into heaven was that she loved Arjuna better than her other husbands, instead of loving them all equally.

Keyan
01-19-2013, 02:49 PM
Hmmm. I just wrote a long post on Draupadi, and deleted it by mistake!

I self-published my own version of Mahabharata last year, a story I've known and loved for 40 years, and much as I loved Palace of Illusions, I was very aware that Divakaruni was putting her own very Western-feminist interpretation on Draupadi.

In retelling and reading these ancient tales it's so important to understand the mentality form which they emerge. For Draupadi it was probably an honour to marry the five greatest heroes of her age; she would never have fretted about her "lack of choice". That's a purely Western slant and interpretation. She would have accepted that marriage and her role in life with far more equanimity than Divararuni gives her, and that is her strength. What she rebelled against was the dishonour and insult paid to her by the Kauravas; that is what she objected to. Not to the marriage the Pandavas.

(I was delighted to see that she preferred Karna to Arjuna, however; Karna I've always felt is by far the greatest hero of the lot , mofe so than Arjuna, and that's the role I assigned to him, as did Divakaruni.)

Yes, I agree with your interpretation of Draupadi. But I didn't quite get why you disliked her.

She was always one of my favorite characters. When I wrote my Mahabharata story (does every Indian author have one? Mine is fortunately-for-the-world unpublished) I wrote it from Kunthi's POV because she was the one who was there from the beginning to the end. But I liked Draupadi better. A tough queen, nothing of a wimp.

Keyan
01-19-2013, 02:54 PM
I know. I've read plenty of versions of it. Read Palace of Illusions. It puts a different spin on it. Consider: she gets a pretty raw deal. Her father auctions her off to a really good archer and all around nice guy, whose only fault might be he is a little too enamored with his BFF. When they get to his house, the brothers want to show her what they have brought home. Her mother in law says, "Whatever it is, you need to share it." And thusly was she divided up amongst five brothers, who are quick to put her on a rotating schedule of who she needs to sleep with. Polyandry wasn't much practiced in that culture (too much laundry to deal with, one presumes...) The mother in law never thinks to say, ohh, perhaps I misspoke. And indeed, the later exile, and her total powerlessness at every boneheaded thing her heroic protagonist husbands get up to. She's not passive, but she is victimized.

In contrast, I can't even make sense of Sita's story, except as an extreme victim of the sexism prevalent in a patriarchal society. But then, yes, she is held up as an ideal of womanhood, and I do think surviving and living on is a good ideal, to my eye it is a lesson in accepting the injustices of society without complaint, a lesson which many Indians involved in social justice haven't followed.

But to bring it back to the original topic, then I think I'm out of my depth and not understanding the issue enough to critique or validly write about (despite all my research), so I would bow out on the topic of the Ramayana.

Actually, rotating schedules in polygamous situations (whether polygyny or polyandry) were considered the *fair* way to divide one's time. The not-so-fair way was that the scarce resource picked his or her favorite spouse most of the time, thus causing jealousies in the household.

Sita has a lot in common with Griselda, but without the positive payoff.

[Okay, I promise to shut up now. /Derail]

aruna
01-19-2013, 04:35 PM
This derail seems to be evolving into a fully-fledged Mahabharata discussion! :)

Perhaps dislike is too strong for what I felt about Draupadi. It's more along the lines of her being a little bit hoity-toity, her nose up in the air. She rejects Karna at her Swayamvara - even though he has the skill to win - because he is low-caste. And she eggs Bhishma on to revenge, because she is so insulted, even though Yudhisthira pleads for caution. She's too much of a diva for my liking, and i really don't get along well with divas.

(I'd love to read a Kunti-centred ms! Is it available?)

Rachel Udin
01-19-2013, 10:06 PM
Wait up, "evil"? I never heard that one. Her "flaw" when they were marching into heaven was that she loved Arjuna better than her other husbands, instead of loving them all equally.
Yeah, my friend, a Hindu, said that she thought that it was unfair that Draupadi was often painted as the "evil" woman that brought down the empires in the Mahabharata (thus agreeing with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that it was unfair). Which is why she liked Palace of Illusions and recommended it to me. Also, because she said that Historical novels/movies are rare in India. (She joked that they have a tendency to get banned or sued, citing some examples.)

Despite this, there is a village that holds her up as their regional goddess. (Explaining how that works might be a bit too involved, so I won't launch into it.)


This derail seems to be evolving into a fully-fledged Mahabharata discussion! :)

Perhaps dislike is too strong for what I felt about Draupadi. It's more along the lines of her being a little bit hoity-toity, her nose up in the air. She rejects Karna at her Swayamvara - even though he has the skill to win - because he is low-caste. And she eggs Bhishma on to revenge, because she is so insulted, even though Yudhisthira pleads for caution. She's too much of a diva for my liking, and i really don't get along well with divas.

(I'd love to read a Kunti-centred ms! Is it available?)
The vice Divakaruni gives her is that she has a short temper. Says it several times. Also pride. Lots of pride.

The only anachronism I found was the use of chili... which wouldn't come until the Mughal empire. (I'm a food nerd, though... so yeah)

The points that Aruna bring up do bring up some interesting points--which is how one bridges the gap between two cultures where the cultural understanding is different. But, that may be waaaaayyy off topic.

Let's get back to the OP. Something beyond research? Has the OP settled on a specific region/culture/subculture?

Kitty Pryde
01-19-2013, 10:22 PM
I split my first thread! *cheers*

So yeah. For me the big question: what is the "right"* way to do a modern interpretation of something like this, which is centered in such a wildly different set of cultural values? I think the feminist interpretation of this story has value in the 21st century. I think the modern Indian interpretation has value. I'm not so sure the modern white Judeochristian American person's interpretation has value :P

Have you folks read Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor? I tried it, but I had a lot of trouble getting into it. It's a retelling of the Mahabharata covering 20th century Indian history of independence. The book is supposed to be great, but for me the setting felt even more distant than the ancient magical/mythological setting of the original.


*least offensive? most interesting?

aruna
01-20-2013, 10:00 AM
I split my first thread! *cheers*


Have you folks read Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor? I tried it, but I had a lot of trouble getting into it. It's a retelling of the Mahabharata covering 20th century Indian history of independence. The book is supposed to be great, but for me the setting felt even more distant than the ancient magical/mythological setting of the original.


*least offensive? most interesting?

I tried it and also couldn't get into it. Also, the title is pretty presumptuous! Imagine an American writing a book called The Great American Novel... He'd get slammed to the moon (somehow, I imagine that writer to be male, which I suppose is presumptuous in itself!)

Keyan
01-20-2013, 04:40 PM
I tried it and also couldn't get into it. Also, the title is pretty presumptuous! Imagine an American writing a book called The Great American Novel... He'd get slammed to the moon (somehow, I imagine that writer to be male, which I suppose is presumptuous in itself!)

I read it as a youngster. It contains a lot of in-jokes (including the title, because Maha Bharat can mean Great India), some of which were very clever. It also had a lot of contemporary political references, which made more sense at that time and in that place.

I loved it with envy; it was the book I wanted to write when I was 20. I was disappointed when it veered off completely into politics at the end. (I have this problem with some of the Indo-Anglian authors - the books don't have satisfying endings. Felt the same way about Midnight's Children.)

But now I think a book that's written so tongue-in-cheek tends to be distancing. I doubt I'd get into it now. I have it lying around somewhere, but haven't felt the urge to re-read it.

aruna
01-20-2013, 04:43 PM
Coincidentally, I bought Midnight's Children at the airport when I returned from the UK last Monday. It's one of the next books I will read. I have tried Rushdie before but couldn't get into it (The Moor's Last Sigh). So he's getting a second chance.

Keyan
01-20-2013, 04:57 PM
This derail seems to be evolving into a fully-fledged Mahabharata discussion! :)

Perhaps dislike is too strong for what I felt about Draupadi. It's more along the lines of her being a little bit hoity-toity, her nose up in the air. She rejects Karna at her Swayamvara - even though he has the skill to win - because he is low-caste. And she eggs Bhishma on to revenge, because she is so insulted, even though Yudhisthira pleads for caution. She's too much of a diva for my liking, and i really don't get along well with divas.

(I'd love to read a Kunti-centred ms! Is it available?)

I'd say Yudhisthira is a fine one to urge caution, having gotten them all into the mess via his fatal flaw - his addiction to gambling. I was completely with her on the revenge. If ever Duryodhana had it coming, it was then. I always felt she had a right to her pride.

I take your point on the caste issue; but then again, consider the context. Caste was considered a *good* thing, because it defined your duty. One of the things the Bhagavad Gita said would result from things going wrong was "varna-nasham."

Of course, Karna was not actually of a lower caste, being born of Princess Kunthi and the Sun-God. He just didn't know it, but then, neither did she.

[For anyone following along this thread without MB background: Kunthi was a Princess who bore her first son Karna by the Sun-God sort of by accident. She floated him down-river, where he was rescued and raised by a charioteer couple. Later, she married King Pandu and had 5 more sons (well, actually she and her co-wife Maadri did). They were called the 5 Pandavas, and they were the 5 husbands of Princess Draupadi. They didn't know about Karna (or he about them), and one of the tragedies of the MB is they ended up on opposite sides of the great war.]

On the ms. - there's a paper version. Some day I'll scan it in and see if there's something worth saving. It was my first novel, and trunked for a reason!

Keyan
01-20-2013, 05:01 PM
Coincidentally, I bought Midnight's Children at the airport when I returned from the UK last Monday. It's one of the next books I will read. I have tried Rushdie before but couldn't get into it (The Moor's Last Sigh). So he's getting a second chance.

It's the only book of his I really got into, and even then I found the last third - when it moves away from Bombay - a let-down. But I was hugely taken with the first part of it. I read Shame, where he tried - with less success - to replicate it for Pakistan. Then I read a couple more but found they just didn't work for me.

I'd be interested to know your views once you've read it.

aruna
01-20-2013, 05:01 PM
But the whole Karna story, for me, shows that it's actually an anti-caste teaching: the fact that the readers knows that Karna is not low-caste means that they realize that it's what inside that counts. It's a great lesson. Several times, Karna is reviled because of his low caste, and each time the reader is forced to see the injustice of it.

Keyan
01-20-2013, 05:04 PM
Yeah, my friend, a Hindu, said that she thought that it was unfair that Draupadi was often painted as the "evil" woman that brought down the empires in the Mahabharata (thus agreeing with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni that it was unfair). Which is why she liked Palace of Illusions and recommended it to me. Also, because she said that Historical novels/movies are rare in India. (She joked that they have a tendency to get banned or sued, citing some examples.)

Despite this, there is a village that holds her up as their regional goddess. (Explaining how that works might be a bit too involved, so I won't launch into it.)


The vice Divakaruni gives her is that she has a short temper. Says it several times. Also pride. Lots of pride.

The only anachronism I found was the use of chili... which wouldn't come until the Mughal empire. (I'm a food nerd, though... so yeah)

The points that Aruna bring up do bring up some interesting points--which is how one bridges the gap between two cultures where the cultural understanding is different. But, that may be waaaaayyy off topic.

Let's get back to the OP. Something beyond research? Has the OP settled on a specific region/culture/subculture?

Food nerd? Oooh!

I was discussing this just the other day. When did chilly peppers make it into India and elsewhere in Asia, and by what route? Iranian food doesn't seem to have it - in fact, it doesn't seem to exist in the indigenous cuisines of the Persian Gulf. I heard it came from South America in the 16th century or even later.

Keyan
01-20-2013, 05:11 PM
But the whole Karna story, for me, shows that it's actually an anti-caste teaching: the fact that the readers knows that Karna is not low-caste means that they realize that it's what inside that counts. It's a great lesson. Several times, Karna is reviled because of his low caste, and each time the reader is forced to see the injustice of it.

Hmm. Interesting. I interpreted it differently: that what it said was that your caste was in your genes. The injustice is not that he's reviled because he's low caste, but because he's reviled for being low caste when *he's actually upper caste.*

The whole point of caste is that it's supposed to be inherent at birth. Had he been the biological son of his charioteer father, but had the same noble qualities, it would not have seemed unjust.

Then, of course, there's the story of Ekalavya...

aruna
01-20-2013, 05:20 PM
The whole point of caste is that it's supposed to be inherent at birth. Had he been the biological son of his charioteer father, but had the same noble qualities, it would not have seemed unjust.

.

Then again, the highest aim for a Hindu is Samadhi, which anyone can attain, no matter what the caste.... and then they are revered by all. Caste refers to the body, but not the spirit.

RichardGarfinkle
01-20-2013, 08:37 PM
It struck me reading the Mahabharata that part of the point was that everyone in it, no matter how good, competent or noble messes up at some point. That those errors, the offenses against Dharma come together to produce the war. So that the very presence of those failings is part of what brings on the change to the Kali Yuga through the agency of the war.

Rachel Udin
01-21-2013, 12:20 AM
Food nerd? Oooh!

I was discussing this just the other day. When did chilly peppers make it into India and elsewhere in Asia, and by what route? Iranian food doesn't seem to have it - in fact, it doesn't seem to exist in the indigenous cuisines of the Persian Gulf. I heard it came from South America in the 16th century or even later.

I caught the anachronism when Draupadi's mother is talking about cooking...

Anyway, most people know that the majority of the East Asian spice trade was done by the Portuguese who had a very good and early handle on a variety of spices, including chili peppers and nutmeg. They first introduced it to the Japanese through missionaries and trade, who in turn introduced it to Koreans during the Japanese occupation, which is how it ended up in Kimchi. Hot pepper never really took hold except in Mabo tofu and curry.

Portuguese also were trading in India, which is the most likely route for Jaoanese curry to come about. Also, missionaries there, thus introducing the chili pepper. China I'm foggy on how it got there, it's either India or through Japanese trade.

What spices WOULD have been in India at the time of Draupadi most likely would have been cumin, turmeric, Asofoetida--maybe.., ginger, (no garlic or at least reduced garlic, since it was against Hinduism at the time), cardamom (though may have come a bit later... estimates), tamarind, fenugreek, maybe mint, bay leaf.

This makes it unlikely she was making pickles (which was highlighted at the end of the story) as well. (pickles suspended in mustard oil) I found that also came with the Mughal empire. =P

Naan also was a later invention since the tadoori hadn't been invented yet.

So Draupadi probably would be eating the same things as my characters, probably with more milk products, though. Raita is a possibility. (Yogurt and cucumber), daal definitely (lentils), rice, most likely, chapati, most likely. No pickles... maybe chutneys, but I was told those came from the South Western Asia region, most likely Persia. Ghee, (Clarified butter) maybe... the food rules were more strict back then. anything with garlic.. no.

Paneer was a no (milk cheese...). regular saag, I think I could pass it but it has a lot of garlic in the modern version and it most likely wouldn't have used spinach as the primary ingredient.

Biryani was a no. Came in with the Persians, and most likely is a Mughal dish, especially the version with tomatoes.

Vindaloo is a British Indian dish. That was a no.

Korma and kafta--the most favorite US dishes, those are also British Indian. So that was a no.

I researched the food from before the time the Mahabharata was officially written. I was left with lentils, chapati and saag. No lassi either. Yogurt is questionable. Mangoes was a yes. And Bhang (a drink made of MJ). Bharta (fried eggplant) was a probably, but not quite sure. Definitely chickens and Jungle fowl.

So vegan Ayurvedic food without garlic, or any of those new world foods.

Draupadi didn't have that diverse of a diet... or I'm missing some other kinds of Indian food. But I asked and I couldn't find much else.

Keyan
01-21-2013, 04:07 PM
Then again, the highest aim for a Hindu is Samadhi, which anyone can attain, no matter what the caste.... and then they are revered by all. Caste refers to the body, but not the spirit.

True, that.

Keyan
01-21-2013, 04:19 PM
It struck me reading the Mahabharata that part of the point was that everyone in it, no matter how good, competent or noble messes up at some point. That those errors, the offenses against Dharma come together to produce the war. So that the very presence of those failings is part of what brings on the change to the Kali Yuga through the agency of the war.

Right, but when it's all in the cycle of rebirth, it puts a pretty different spin on it. People do mess up, because the only time you don't are when you're on the final iteration.

The war. There's Arjuna sitting in his chariot, and asking Krishna why he should engage in a war against people he loves and admires - uncles and grandfather, teachers and friends. It's not a game. He's going to be killing these people.

And Krishna essentially says (1) It doesn't matter; they've all been born before and will be born again and (2) It's your duty. And finally: You should achieve a freedom from feelings.

I suppose the Christian equivalent would be (1) It doesn't matter; death is not the end. Kill them and let God sort it out afterward. (2) You must do your duty, which right now involves killing your opponents. And finally: Whatever your feelings, they cannot be allowed to interfere with your performance of your duties.

Now that I think about it, it's not really that different.

Keyan
01-21-2013, 04:45 PM
Hmm.

I always thought hot peppers were an American vegetable, so they would have entered the European/ Asian trade only in the 16th century? With tomatoes and potatoes?

In terms of pre-Mughal spices...
turmeric certainly, it's got ritual uses that hint at being deeply embedded in the culture. Cumin and quite likely coriander. Wonder about asafetida, I think that comes out of Afghanistan. Possibly it was traded down to the plains. Ginger probably. Mustard as a seed and a vegetable, and possibly the oil. Curry leaf. Black pepper, both as a condiment and as a vegetable. Coconut, ditto. Tamarind as a flavoring agent. Salt. Fennel? Possibly, but also may have been a Muslim-era import.

In terms of the vegetables - there's a whole range of pumpkins, squash and related vegetables. Various kinds of beans. Fruit that aren't found in the West, like ber, bel, jamun. Mangoes yes. Apples and pears, no. Yoghurt - very probably. It was a milk-based culture right across India, and sooner or later a milk-based culture is going to discover yoghurt. For the same reason, paneer. It doesn't require rennet, so it's not prohibited under any culinary restrictions. (Any souring agent can be used to turn the milk - lemon or tamarind - and then it's just a matter of squeezing the moisture out.)

And of course for non-vegetarians, there would have been venison, rabbits, game-birds, fish.

You're right about naan. The whole tandoori thing was an import from the North-west frontier. Afghanistan-ish.

I don't even know when wheat made it to India. (Any idea?) But there was rice. And there were various other grains that could be made into unleavened breads.

There wasn't as much reason to preserve food as in climates with snowy winters. Something or the other grows year round, though summers can be sparse. Pickles may have come later, but relishes - strongly flavored stuff chopped up with vegetable oil and spices - may have existed.

And of course - much variation by region, season, socio-economic class, etc.



I caught the anachronism when Draupadi's mother is talking about cooking...

Anyway, most people know that the majority of the East Asian spice trade was done by the Portuguese who had a very good and early handle on a variety of spices, including chili peppers and nutmeg. They first introduced it to the Japanese through missionaries and trade, who in turn introduced it to Koreans during the Japanese occupation, which is how it ended up in Kimchi. Hot pepper never really took hold except in Mabo tofu and curry.

Portuguese also were trading in India, which is the most likely route for Jaoanese curry to come about. Also, missionaries there, thus introducing the chili pepper. China I'm foggy on how it got there, it's either India or through Japanese trade.

What spices WOULD have been in India at the time of Draupadi most likely would have been cumin, turmeric, Asofoetida--maybe.., ginger, (no garlic or at least reduced garlic, since it was against Hinduism at the time), cardamom (though may have come a bit later... estimates), tamarind, fenugreek, maybe mint, bay leaf.

This makes it unlikely she was making pickles (which was highlighted at the end of the story) as well. (pickles suspended in mustard oil) I found that also came with the Mughal empire. =P

Naan also was a later invention since the tadoori hadn't been invented yet.

So Draupadi probably would be eating the same things as my characters, probably with more milk products, though. Raita is a possibility. (Yogurt and cucumber), daal definitely (lentils), rice, most likely, chapati, most likely. No pickles... maybe chutneys, but I was told those came from the South Western Asia region, most likely Persia. Ghee, (Clarified butter) maybe... the food rules were more strict back then. anything with garlic.. no.

Paneer was a no (milk cheese...). regular saag, I think I could pass it but it has a lot of garlic in the modern version and it most likely wouldn't have used spinach as the primary ingredient.

Biryani was a no. Came in with the Persians, and most likely is a Mughal dish, especially the version with tomatoes.

Vindaloo is a British Indian dish. That was a no.

Korma and kafta--the most favorite US dishes, those are also British Indian. So that was a no.

I researched the food from before the time the Mahabharata was officially written. I was left with lentils, chapati and saag. No lassi either. Yogurt is questionable. Mangoes was a yes. And Bhang (a drink made of MJ). Bharta (fried eggplant) was a probably, but not quite sure. Definitely chickens and Jungle fowl.

So vegan Ayurvedic food without garlic, or any of those new world foods.

Draupadi didn't have that diverse of a diet... or I'm missing some other kinds of Indian food. But I asked and I couldn't find much else.