Evading the Shadows by Rajesh M Iyer is a slice of Mahabharata – albeit laced with author’s own imagination and fascination. I always say that Mahabharata is one story that has a million stories inbuilt in it. The stories are complete yet open to interpretation. Any reader can pick them up and play with them, add his own imagination and create a new story. Sounds pretty much like the open source software. Every author has his favorite part of the story. Author Rajesh M Iyer is fascinated and I guess curious about what did Pandavas did during their Agyatvaas – the period of exile that they had to spend in hiding.
To be fair, even I had this curiosity, how did they manage to remain anonymous given that each of them was so well known for one trait or the other. So, I was very happy when I began reading this book. Now, what Rajesh M Iyer has done is that he has mixed Mahabharata with some interesting spy story. So, it becomes a story of spy vs spy and a mind game of sorts.
Evading the Shadows: The story begins from the day the hiding period is supposed to start. The 5 Pandavas go in search of a kingdom where they can potentially live in hiding. They each go and explore and kingdom, come back and reconvene to analyze what they saw in each place – kind of do a SWOT analysis and figure out their choice. They then discuss the garb each of them is going to take. Draupadi’s beauty becomes a matter of concern as no matter what she wears, her personality is regal. Arjuna, of course, becomes a eunuch and is unrecognizable.
The story for next one year is all about games between the spies of Duryodhan & Shakuni and those of Pandavas. I am not sure if Pandavas could afford a spy network but I assume they would have their own followers or well-wishers. There are multiple situations where they are on the verge of getting recognized, but they manage to escape somehow. Bhim continues to lose his anger and create such situations. Others are cautious but sometimes tend to shine due to their virtues or habits. There is a bit of action – with fights and duels.
What is interesting about this episode of Mahabharata is the fact that Kauravas comes and steal the cattle of Matsya kingdom – where Pandavas are hiding and Kauravas rightly suspect the same. Pandavas come out to save the cattle of the kingdom that gave them shelter – even if anonymously. To me, this seems like a piece straight out of original Mahabharata or Jaya as it was known in its original version. This must have been the time when cattle were the biggest assets. I am glad Rajesh did not tamper with this part of the story.
The story moves in the present and in the past, where the popular incidents of the story of Mahabharata come forth as flashbacks. These are kind of skippable if you know the story. If you do not know the story, they would make no sense to you. I wonder if it was a short story that the author decided to give a long format by adding these back flashes. The story of one year of anonymous exile was good enough to explore in detail.
Language is simple, but you can see a techie/management person behind the language. The narrative is decent.
What stands out for me in this story is the focus on a part of story that has not been explored by many storytellers.