Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust by V S Khandekar
Tales from Mahabharata have this quality that you can read them over and over again. Every time you read them you get more drawn to them. They are simple stories of characters whose lives are intertwined, leading to a whole set of dilemmas at every point in time. Characters have to make choices all the time, between what they want and what duty calls, between good and bad, between bad and worse, between good and better, between ego and devotion. Between family and society, between themselves and their partners, between now or later. Between eras and everything that comes in between.
The stories are always multilayered and no character is completely white or black. Every character has certain things that should have been done or could have been done better. Just like they have stories that glorify them. There are all the rasas or emotions that you can feel. You can feel what is going inside each of the characters as they make their choices. You feel for them, identify with a lot of their dilemmas and wish you had the wisdom to take decisions like them. And sometimes you wish you never have to face the situations like them where you have to take such tough decisions. What I particularly like about these stories is that they are well rounded and have no morals, they do not preach anything. They are like case studies without the analysis, just read them and have your own interpretation.
This book Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust, tells the story of Yayati, an ancestor of Kauravas and Pandavas. Yayati had everything that one can dream of, born a prince in the most mighty empire of the time. Brave, went around the world with his winning horse establishing himself as the greatest warrior of his times. Married the daughter of the most influential sage and had another princess as his wife. Had sons that any father can dream of. But could never lead a happy life owing to a curse that was given to his father. At times destiny chose him and at times he chose his destiny. He was played around by his first wife Devayani, who married him but never loved him. But he also got a devoted wife in Sharmishtha.
He had a weakness for wine and women. And it is in wine and women that he sought the answer to his problems or disappointments. He went so ahead in his addiction that he lost account of women who gave up lives because of him. And the nadir of his lust is when he asks his sons to exchange their youth with his old age so that he can go back and enjoy bodily pleasures. On the face of it, Yayati is a character you would want to hate. But the story has been told from so many dimensions that you can not do so.
The author claims that since there are not many references available for Yayati and his life, he has woven the story from his own imagination, and hence is a piece of fiction. But of course, whatever has been found through the references is depicted as such in the story. The story is told in the first person, by the three main characters Yayati, Devayani, and Sharmishtha. Each of them gives their own view of things as they happened in their lives. Driven as they were to various acts and how they felt through the life. There are not too many characters in the story. So the story keeps revolving primarily around these three characters.
Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust is an excellently written book by the noted author who for sure has a well deserved Sahitya Akademi and Jnanpith awards, and has been awarded Padma Bhushan way back in 1968. The original work is in Marathi and I happened to read the English translation by Y P Kulkarni. Look forward to locating more such books.
I would strongly recommend this book Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust to anyone interested in reading quality Indian literature, and anyone interested in India’s historical literature.