The Thirteenth Day & A Broken Sun – War & Mythology in Aditya Iyengar’s books

5 years ago Shaili Desai 0

There is something banal about war. So much of the ordinary about death. There is nothing probably more unoriginal than death and destruction. However, numerous writers and poets have written about war and tried to romanticise the essential nature of war. Some have told of love stories, some have written about a coming of age, amidst a backdrop of war. Others have been cynical and shown war for what it is – death, a gory one at that. Aditya Iyengar has a different take on War. He has chosen to do so through the lens of the characters in the Mahabharata in his books – The Thirteenth Day and A Broken Sun.

Aditya Iyengar
Aditya Iyengar, Author (Image Source)

A retelling of the Kurukshetra War – The Thirteenth Day

The Thirteenth Day starts with the tenth night, when Bhishma lies injured and defeated, close to death. It is on his deathbed that he calls for Radheya (Karna here) and hopes to entice him into capturing Yudhishthira. That is his plan for ending the war, without more casualty and making sure the Kuru side ends up being the winner. The story continues with changing narratives of various characters – most notably Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Radheya and Abhimanyu.

As with the original Mahabharata, many actions are morally ambiguous. However, it is refreshing to see a realistic take on the Kurukshetra War. This narrative is undistorted by grandiose myths of the supernatural abilities of the warriors. In the context set by the Iyengar, there was of course a Kurukshetra war. However, the actual war got embellished with time into the Mahabharata that we know today. The narrative changed to include fantastical abilities of the warriors, sophisticated nuclear weapons and a war that subsumed all of Bharatvarsha. People always need somebody to play a God or a Hero. In Aditya Iyengar’s story, The Thirteenth Day, there is a quiet humility and a realism.

We see a Yudhisthira forced by peer pressure and familial duty to participate in the war (even though he’d rather read), and a strong and humble Radheya (Karna) disparaged by many on the Kuru side as an undeserving king. Radheya wrestles with the request of Bhishma. Then there is Abhimanyu – driven by the optimism and folly of youth into proving himself a hero.

The sequel to The Thirteenth Day – A Broken Sun

A Broken Sun starts from the thirteenth night. Abhimanyu has been killed in a heroic effort to break through the Chakravyuh. There is mourning in the Pandava ranks as Arjuna tries to come to terms with the death of his son.

I’ve never really spoken to you, my son. Conversation is a terrible tool for expression. I preferred to present myself as an example instead, and hoped you would observe and learn from it. This may have been a mistake. Sometimes, I suppose, it is best to use crude or imperfect tools, rather than none at all. But we all must learn from our mistakes. The task at hand for me is to talk to you now.

You are listening to me, aren’t you?

-Arjuna, A Broken Sun, Pg 5 

A Broken Sun has much to do with fatherhood and the agonies that Arjuna, Yudhishthira and Bhima face when confronted with the possibility of death. It is about coming to terms with the fact that nobody wins in war. Even the winner loses so much. War is banal and yet profound. You can’t stop the dominoes from falling.

Sum Total

Iyengar’s books shows a different side of the characters, one not often seen in various retellings by contemporary Indian writers. There is battle strategy and realistic descriptions of war. The Thirteenth Day, is like a mix tape you’d make in your mature years – there are songs about human nature, the folly of youth and misplaced intentions. A Broken Sun is another mix tape in continuation of the original. There are songs of mourning and meditative thinking. There is still hope and cynicism mixed in equal amounts. While The Thirteenth Day ends like a taut background score, A Broken Sun follows up by a tune reminiscent of a sad, grieving play of the violin.

About the books:

The Thirteenth Day | Aditya Iyengar | Rupa Publications India | 260 Pages

A Broken Sun | Aditya Iyengar | Rupa Publications India | 208 Pages

You can read my thoughts on war here.

Note: The books were provided by Rupa Publications India in exchange for an honest review.