Mrinalini Sarabhai’s Mahabharata, at just under 20 pages of a pocket-sized book, is possibly the shortest version of the epic ever written. The verse is necessarily dense but nevertheless simple and unadorned, allowing the epic’s main story to take centre stage. Sarabhai’s brevity works beautifully in scenes such as the famous dice game:
“Yudhisthira, as though in a trance, lost all.
The only sound was Sakuni’s ‘I have won!’
Brothers he lost and then himself,
Now taunted by Sakuni and desperate to win
Spoke “I stake that fairest woman Draupadi.”
A hush, a breathless silence, till Duryodhana roared
“Fetch Draupadi, for he has lost.”
The book, if so slim a volume can be called a book, is beautifully presented with white-on-black double page sketches (see mranalini-sarabhai-11) and simple line drawing motifs on each page. Sarabhai is first and foremost a dancer, for which she has won the prestigious Padma Bhushan, but she is also a prolific writer of essays, poetry and novels, many of which deal with traditional divine and literary material.
The Mahabharata – Retold by Mrinalini Sarabhai was published by MapinLit in India in 2004