Sunday, 26 June, 2022
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Subramanian Swamy attacking Modi minister as Shakuni shows he must read Mahabharata again

Shakuni is much like Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister. They both overcome lack of military training to perfect the art of strategic thinking.

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Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy Tuesday tweeted confidently about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term would be without Shakuni, clearly referring to a powerful minister against whom he has long held a grouse.

Swamy loves to sprinkle his tweets and politics with characters from texts like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He famously uses Vishkanya and Tadaka to describe his political opponent. But perhaps he needs to go for an upgrade. Shakuni is no longer the villain you grew up hating – though Sadhguru calls Shakuni a “slimeball of a man”.

Author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, however, offers a different take on this much-maligned character in Mahabharata. He refers to an old folk tale from Andhra Pradesh based on the epic, where the elders of the Kuru clan (from which Pandavas and Kauravas descended) put Gandhari’s entire family under house arrest. The story goes that Gandhari’s father realises the family will starve to death and decides that none but his youngest son would eat the little food they have. This son, Shakuni, would survive to take revenge.

“This folk story transforms the villain of the Sanskrit epic into a victim and an avenging angel. So who is Shakuni – a hero or villain? It all depends on the story we are told, and stories we choose to believe,” writes Pattanaik.

Also read: Our daughters will see Sita as a single mother and Draupadi as a #Metoo warrior

A new book, Shakuni: Master of the Game (Juggernaut), by journalist Ashutosh Nadkar, reinforces this theory, as he narrates the Mahabharata from his point of view. It also provides a psychological explanation for all his machinations and manipulations, which stem from his desire to avenge his beautiful sister Gandhari’s marriage to the blind Dhritarashtra, planting in him a lifelong desire to bring the great patriarch Bhishma to justice and a hatred for the Kurus.

The prince of Gandhara, Shakuni has a limp, is light-eyed, and is not trained to be a warrior. He does become a master of the dice, a wizard at backgammon, a quality that he finesses and which later helps his nephew Duryodhana win the kingdom of Indraprastha and all its possessions from the feckless Yudhishtra.

At every point though, his motivation is pure – to protect his sister, even if he uses any means of “deceit, duplicity and dissimulation,” writes Nadkar in his racy, revisionist retelling. Shakuni moves to Hastinapur, with his sister who chooses to wear a blindfold over her eyes, even as he masters “the art of looking like an innocent flower while actually being the deadly serpent that lay coiled beneath it”.

Also read: Hindu gods like Rama & Shiva have six packs now to kill bad guys, like American superheroes

In recent years, authors and cultural commentators have reinvented the epics for us, transforming their protagonists from the cardboard characters we watched in the Ramanand Sagar and B.R. Chopra versions on television. Nadkar’s book is one among a series from authors such as Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Samhita Arni, which re-examine the roles of central characters and give voice to hitherto forgotten, and supposedly marginal, characters such as Ravana’s sister Shurpanakha (Kavita Kane’s Lanka’s Princess) and Shantanu’s wife Ganga (Anuja Chandramouli’s Ganga: The Constant Goddess).

Shakuni is the latest to get OG treatment.

In fact, he is much like Tyrion Lannister, ‘The Imp’ from the just-concluded HBO series Game of Thrones, who does everything for the love of his queen, Daenerys Targaryen. He even advises Jon Snow (another Targaryen) to murder Daenerys so that she does not inflict any more death and destruction as she goes around “liberating the world”. In the finale of Game of Thrones, as he helps Westeros choose a new king, Tyrion says prophetically: “The sons of kings can be cruel and stupid… From now on, rulers will not be born. They will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm.” He may as well have been speaking of Duryodhana. Like Shakuni, Tyrion is not a master of war, but overcomes his lack of military training to perfect his art of strategic thinking.

As he lies dying on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, cut open by Sahadeva’s sword, Shakuni has enough time to contemplate his actions and wonders why all his schemes are seen as treachery even today while Kaurava adviser Vidura’s are considered ethical strategies and Pandava tactician Krishna’s are regarded divine play. Shakuni asks himself and the reader: “Was I the vilest of villains in that epic story?”

For Nadkar, Shakuni is tragic rather than evil, constantly thwarted in his designs by Krishna. At one point, in frustration, the novel has Shakuni saying: “I realised there was no end to the depth of Krishna’s cunning,” whether it was placing Shikhandi as a shield in front of Arjuna when attacking Bhishma or persuading Arjuna to aim at an unarmed Karna.

But Shakuni acknowledges the biggest mistake of his life: that he did not condemn Duryodhana’s behaviour with Draupadi after the game of dice. And he ends his life on a philosophical note, which would do us all a world of good: “I realised, only belatedly, that my real fight was not with Bhishma’s might or Vidura’s wit. My true adversary was God.” That is, Krishna.

Also read: Robots guarded Buddha’s relics in an ancient Indian legend

Perhaps, Swamy would like to reconsider his description of Shakuni as a villain. For Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana, and indeed his sister Gandhari, he could not have been a better protector and a more honest saviour.

Swamy is obviously getting ready to position himself for that plum position in the new government, even before the results are out. His weapons of mass metaphors are ready from the epics just ahead of the new season of the Twitter-bharata.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. Pointless article. Every one seems bent on arriving at contrived interpretations. Mahabharata is collection of characters, all of whom have shades of grey. In some way or the other every act can be justified from the perpetrator’s view point. This is true for all of us even today. The point is whether the act can be justified from a social view point. In case of Shakuni- his sister is already married and she has accepted the kauravas. Shakuni is actually harming his sister and not protecting her. He in fact is bitter about having failed to protect her and is simply hatemongering.

  2. Pointless article. How can somebody’s tweet inspire you to go o this extent to even quote Game of Thrones. Laughable. Please concentrate on productive criticism. This is neither entertaining nor enlightening. Hope to see something different in your next article

  3. All Chokidar Chors are shakunis Fenku,Tadipar,Jutlie,Sun Prasad,State Nath,Wether specialist,Bearded Moody,Palturam all are Shakunis.

  4. “At every point though, his motivation is pure – to protect his sister ” – from whom???

  5. I do agree with Mr. Balagopal. If Finance is given to Dr.Swsmi & CBI, ED under him, the pending cases against stalwarts politicians will get momentum. But, being very independent, he will not cope up with fellow ministers. I doubt whether PM will induct him in his council of Minister. Let’s wait & watch.

  6. Dr.Swamy’s expression about finance ministry is all about the most ignorant,arrogant ,non economist,harm full ever Arun Jaitley who never wanted to after Sonia and family.Arun Jaitley was silent on charges against his daughter,once by Rahul Gandhi.
    Also it was clear that Arun Jaitley was comfortable with all the Delhi cricket club fund handling cutting across party lines.While Modiji ,for some funny wierd reason ,may not give FM job to Dr.Swamy,who will vanquish all black money holders irrespective of party affiliations ,catch hold of all 84 and odd hawala traders,stop PN notes,catch all thieves taking money out our nation,remove income-tax,severely punish people taking money away from our nation,bring down lending rates to SSI,because he can make close 0.75 billion dollers available in the market,promote innovation in agriculture,etc and most importantly clean the govt of all congress plants to rejunuate our economics,free from the nehurivain blunders etc

  7. The article is a good one but out of context. Whatever Swami said was based on popular belief. Too much intellectualism is rotting the intelligent minds of our country where people have stopped thinking and behaving with simplicity. This article is deteriorating a profound analysis of mythology with an idiotic analogy.

  8. Dr Swamy is all capable to boost the indian economy.India certainly needs a finance minister like Dr swamy.It will be wise and concrete step on part of PM modi to make Dr swamy ,finance minister..

  9. Shakuni the cunning, Shakuni the scheming, Shakuni the character who schemes behind the scenes to position himself in pole position without deserving (in terms of merit) to be in that position, all these are attributes that Dr Swamy refers to while Brandi his party colleague with the title. If not for the nefarious activities of Shakuni, the corrupt would be in prison!

  10. Man seriously you hate him so much that you wasted time and wrote specifically an article for a word shakuni truly amazing describes how much you S.swamy

  11. Sbakuni, is traitor for whom he worked. He is a master strategist, and the story of his background is well known. The dices are made from the bones of his kin.

    I am sure susa knows mahabaratha well enough, and his point is the said minister is a liability for the government. The writer of this article is upset with susa, and questions his knowledge of mahabaratha

  12. The very reason that Shakuni protected Duryodana and Gandari, Mr jaietly was regarded as Shakuni by Swamy !! The very reason that PC,KC RG and SG are still roaming freely is also him. Give CBI, ED and IT to Swamy, you will see all high profile corrupts in Tihar in a short period of time.

    • Wishful thinking, Susa is an intelligent joker wanting to put his finger into every pie. Best let him be, he is 80+ years now and senile

  13. Irrelevant in this kal tug. But Modi’s two close aides have a grudge or afraid of Swamy’s revolutionary ideas. So he is not in Modi’s team. But Modi tries to backstab Swamy he will show job a Cunning Chanakya neethi as did it to Vajpayee, Sonia and Jaya.

  14. Dr Swamy taught at Harvard, once upon a time, but some of his ideas on how the economy should be managed seem quixotic. By contrast, what Ms Suhasini Haidar writes on foreign policy is always on target. One billion Indians cannot get by love and yoga for another five years. FM is one slot the government should get absolutely right. The entire team should be studded with the sort of talent that men like Shri Vijay Kelkar and Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia brought to their jobs.

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