The Great Human War

The Mahabharat is the greatest epic India has ever produced. The layers to the story, the symbolism, flawed heroes, upright ‘villains’ – it has the works. You could enter a debate on the Mahabharat and it could continue for weeks and months J

The Thirteenth Day begins at the end of the Bhishma campaign or the beginning of the Drona campaign, depending on which way you look at it. It attempts to humanize the characters we have come to know and love/loath. Aditya Iyengar cuts through the mists of legends and introduces them to us as normal people, with their strengths and fallacies. It makes us relate more with them in terms of understanding their fears, their desires and their reasons for being in ‘The Great War’.

The story is told from the viewpoint of three figures: Yudhishthira, the leader of the Pandav clan, fighting for the crown and recognition. From our earlier readings, we remember him as a just, honourable, silent man who is remorseful of his treatment of his wife. Here, he is torn between who he needs to be as a leader of the war, an active combatant and a valorous one at that; and who he is, a thoughtful leader who does not see the need for so much bloodshed, one who would see the war end even with a victory for the other side.

The second figure is Radheya/Karna, a man who for me is the most intriguing character in the great tale - the lost son of the Pandavas; the best friend of the leader of the Kurus, Suyodhana – the man who would be king. Fresh with the knowledge that recognition would give him the throne in case of a Pandava victory, he is torn between his duty and desire. Does he abandon Suyodhana’s cause for pursuing his own ambition of being king; one that will potentially end the bloodshed? Or does he stay true to the man who brought him to the limelight and remains his closest friend till date? This dilemma is what defines Radheya, and what makes him the most human character among all.

The final character is Abhimanyu, the boy warrior itching for a chance at glory. This is the character I found to be cast in the most different light. Rather than be a prodigy thrust into the pitch of battle because of his Dharma as a warrior; he comes across as a warrior yearning to make his mark on history and be remembered forever. He is not a fledgling prince, but a fully aware, honourable warrior.

The author writes of the Chakravyuh used by the Kauravs as an onion with layer upon layer. His story is something similar. As a reader, you go through multiple iterations of the major characters, and come to know newer and newer nuances of not only them; but the people, times and even how history was written for them.

War is no light matter, and you can sense a shadow of gloom towering above everyone, a sense of impending doom pervading the air. As the story builds towards it crescendo, you can see yourself yearning for the best ending – one that would do all three of our narrators well – and see it coming towards you, in sight. And then you see it being torn away cruelly, and the reality or the yatharth of war, stares you squarely in the face, and smiles a hard, yet understanding smile, as if saying – “This is what was to happen, and this is what will”.

If you want to strip away the layers of the mystique, and understand the emotions of the people and the war around them, pick up a copy of The Thirteenth Day. You will enjoy it thoroughly. I rate it 4.5 out of 5.