Title: The Forest of Stories | Author: Ashok K. Banker | ISBN-13: 9789381626375 | Binding: Paperback | Publisher: Westland Ltd | Pages: 351 Language: English | Price: Rs. 295
Who doesn't love the epic tale of Mahabharatha? It is without doubt the most mesmerizing and the most magical of all tales in the history of mankind. As any regular child in an Indian household, I have grown up to the story in its various forms - from an over imaginative grandma's versions to accomplished writers' (both contemporary and otherwise) renditions. Everyone is fascinated by the Mahabharatha, and I feel that it calls on to every story teller's imaginations, hence making it impossible to stay true to the original epic written by Ved Vyasa in Sanskrit. And this is probably the best thing about The Forest of Stories.
We have watched and/or read Mahabharatha in numerous forms, we have scrutinized every character in different books (Biographies of individual characters written by various writers) and we have imagined a lot about the situations those characters were in. Ashok K. Banker's Forest of Stories stays away from all of it, stays true to the original text with the sole purpose of retelling Vyasa's epic the way it is meant to be. And it works!
The Forest of Stories is the first of Ashok's 18 books in his Mahabharatha Series. The book shares the exact same structure as the original Sanskrit epic - even the order of Parvas and Chapters are kept the same. There are 9 sections called Pakshas which are further divided into sub-sections.
The book starts with a description of Naimisha-van that takes the reader in the wild and untamed forest for real, and feel the trickery of the winds and the menacing darkness that was not a natural one. Ugrasrava Lomarsana, better known as Sauti, arrives at Naimisha-Sharanya, a school in the middle of the hostile forest where young brahmins and seasoned gurus stayed, learned and meditated. Sauti brings the sad news of Maharishi Ved Vyasa's demise and agrees to recite Vyasa's epic narrative story called 'Jaya' consisting of 8800 shlokas, later expanded by Vyasa himself to 24000 sholakas and known as Mahabharatha.
Sauti begins to recite the enchanting tale to a spell bound audiences that include not only the ashramites, but also warriors and slain soldiers from the Great War of Mahabharatha, listening intently for night after night to the history composed by Vyasa, hoping to find their solace. This is not just a story, or even a collection of stories - it is a story within a story, sometimes unconnected, sometimes a dream within a dream and there is a lot of back and forth but everything thing leads to one event and I am already looking forward to reading the next books in the series.
The Tale of Parashurama, The Tales of the Bhrigu, Shakuntala and Dushyanta and others are all captivating. Ashok's writing style is brilliant - easy flowing, crisp and apt. I have admired Ashok Banker's writing since his Ramayana series and here he shows his brilliance yet again. He has not let his imagination run, and has stuck to just 'retelling' the epic. This, in my opinion is a tough job that he does well.
There are a few question in my mind after reading part one, but like I said, I'm already looking forward to the next books and I hope they will bind the stories and fill in the gaps. The stories are wonderful and Ashok's lucid writing makes it enjoyable and highly readable.
Westland Publications has published some notable books in the past few years and The Forest of Stories is definitely on top.
So, do I recommend this book to you? Of course I do. However, as the author says in the introduction, if you are expecting an epic fantasy, or a sci-fi rendition or a futuristic version of the Mahabharatha - you're going to be disappointed. Ashok says -
This is simply the Mahabharatha of Krishna Dweipayana Vyasa retold by one man.
That Man is me, of course.
So read it if you have an interest in Indian mythology, if you are interested in the Mahabharatha, if you are ready to invest time in the next seventeen books that would cover the entire tale of Mahabharatha, or read it as fiction for the sheer joy of it.
My overall rating is 4.5/5.