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Published on: 11/15/15 7:01 AM

Book review: Pradyumna by Usha Narayanan

A karmic burden

There is valour, cowardice, glory, shame, sex, lies and deception in Pradyumna’s story.

What do we know of Pradyumna? That he was Krishna and Rukmini’s eldest born who, even as he lay in his crib, was snatched away by an asura. Taken deep into the netherworld, the boy grows up to be something of a rakish dandy, chasing women with undimmed enthusiasm even as his mother, Queen Mayavati, makes her displeasure felt in cruel ways.

Soon, though, just who he is and what he was born on earth to do is revealed to him. The rest of the story is the transformation of a youth given to the pleasures of the flesh into a worthy son of the Blue Lord himself — the metamorphosis into a being who is described by none other than the sage Narada thus: his gait is majestic like that of Nandi, Shiva’s bull.

In battle, he is like Rudra, Shiva’s fearsome form. In archery, he matches Bhishma, the invincible forebear of the Pandavas. In speed and strength, he rivals Garuda, king of the skies. And in dharma, he is a worthy son of his father.

For all that Pradyumna becomes a great warrior and goes on to vanquish foe after demonic foe, Kaalasura, Nikumbha, Banasura, Vajranabha, he is not the noblest of heroes, given as he is to occasional bouts of self-pity and self-doubt. It does not help that his step-brother Samba lives in a welter of loathing and envy of him, forever plotting his downfall.

Quite a few homilies appear as the story moves from war to peace, then back to war again. Pradyumna’s tale invariably meshes with that of the Pandavas, the Kauravas, the Kurukshetra war, Abhimanyu, Ghatotkacha, and of course the impending doom that looms like so many thunderclouds over the perfect city of Dwarka.

This book ends with the distraught Gandhari pronouncing her awful curse on Krishna. Those who want to know how Pradyumna’s story proceeds will have to wait for Book Two.

Aficionados of mythological stories know that a spare, cut to the bone style will not hack it, a lush telling, a frame narrative, serves this kind of tale better. Indeed,Pradyumna runs true to that type. If the prose is a tad overwrought in style, the pace is well calibrated. If the details sometimes run to the banal, the descriptive passage of the battle between Shiva and Vishnu in the form of Krishna, is an impressive bit of story-telling.

Like the best of our mythological tales, this too, is a multilayered one and for the patient reader, worth the peeling off of layer after layer. There is valour, there is cowardice, there is glory, there is shame, there is sex, lies and deception.

The moral remains the same, that no one, not even the gods, can escape karma. That as you sow, so you reap. However, if there is nothing mystical about the telling of this tale, alas, there is nothing magical either.

Pradyumna: Son Of Krishna; Usha Narayanan, Penguin Metro Reads, Rs.299.

This ran in THE HINDU LITERARY REVIEW of 15 Nov 2015.


historical fictionmythologyPradyumnason of KrishnaUsha Narayanan

Sheila Kumar • November 15, 2015

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