Recently, I quit reading Ajaya: Epic of the Kaurava Clan by Anand Neelakantan. I felt bad about it because I want to read a version of the Mahabharata told from Duryodhana’s point of view (I know, there’s that Bhasa play, I plan to read that). The introduction got me pumped up because Neelakantan shared his inspiration for writing about Duryodhana. Alas, the writing style for the novel itself just ain’t for me.
In the Mahabharata, Duryodhana is my favorite character. He’s the one who acts the most like a real person. That includes some shitty decisions. And for all that, he is the main villain, he just… doesn’t come across as evil. I found it easier to relate to him than to the ‘heroes.’
Neelakantan visited a place with a temple dedicated to Duryodhana (or rather, Suyodhana). He asked the villages why. The villagers were Dalit and shared a story of Duryodhana visiting this village and taking a stance against caste-based prejudice. This is consistent with his characterization in the Mahabharata. He’s not opposed to the caste system per se, and he’s a proud Kshatriya, but he disregards the rules of the caste system when he believes the results would be unjust, most famously when he defends Karna.
Of course, the moral system of the Mahabharata elevates the caste system, so someone who says, ‘eh, let’s ignore caste-based rules when following the rules would hurt someone’ is immoral.
Ironically, Duryodhana’s worst actions are in line with him ‘behaving as his caste’ (Kshatriya). Such as the notion that he must control as much territory as possible, and that force is a fine, even noble, way to conquer.
Duryodhana’s cosmic purpose is to begin the Kali Yuga, the last and most degenerate era in the Cycle of the Yugas. According to Hindus, we live in the Kali Yuga now. Maybe that’s why I find it easier to relate to a character who represents the Kali Yuga now. (Also, I’m not Hindu).
Even the Mahabharata can be read in a light sympathetic to Duryodhana… especially the ending. That’s the point of the ending (which I won’t spoil): it makes the audience ask who the real villain is.
These thoughts… make me think about writing my own version of the Mahabharata story, told from Duryodhana’s perspective. But I won’t do that. I’ve never been Hindu and I have no strong cultural ties to India. I’m not comfortable enough with the lore of the Mahabharata and would need to do tons of research. And the writing itself would be a major effort.
But I hope someone else writes—or has already—written that in a style which appeals to me.