As unerring in impact, as the immaculately whetted tip of an arrowhead employed in the epochal Kurukshetra war, “Unsung Valour” is an unvarnished, unabashed and unashamed tribute to some of the heroes whose fearless and valiant exploits in what arguably has to be the greatest war every fought – mythically or otherwise – in the annals of human history, remains muted if not altogether forgotten. As the introduction to the book astonishingly elucidates “about 466 confrontations were recorded with 216 going in favour of the Pandavas and ninety-two in favour of the Kauravas. The quantitative study was a striking contrast to the popular imagination cemented by later retellings. A stunning aspect of this study was that about twenty-five per cent of the victories on both sides were contributed by warriors who aren’t given their due in the popular imagination.” Imagine sacrificing the skirmishes and battles of the Siege of Lille, Battle of the Scheldt, and the Yelnya Offense at the altar of Dunkirk, Stalingrad, and Normandy! Indic Academy, with this collection of stories curated by renowned mythology writer Sai Swaroopa attempts to remediate the above travesty, and it would be an understatement to proclaim that their endeavour has succeeded in great measure.
Whilst it would be defeating the purpose of this review to recount and regale the reader with the relevance and radiance of every protagonist in the book, it would also be equally remiss if a few of the gems are not concisely articulated. The tone and tenor of the collection is set by Ms. Bharathi Venkat, who in “The Fall of The First Son” holds forth on the selfless Iravan. Born to the Pandava Prince Arjuna and a Naga Queen Ulupi, Iravan is an accomplished archer as well as a master illusionist. When the battle between righteousness and chicanery commences, Iravan offers his services and that of the indefatigable Nagas to the Pandavas. Ms. Venkat highlights in exquisite detail the courageous exhibition of skill and strength by Iravan on the battlefield, which unfortunately ended in his demise at the hands of Alambusha, a Rakshasa.
Ranjith Radhakrishnan probably pens the story of the book (in my personal opinion) containing within its confines the portentous ruminations of Shakuni. “Shakuni: The Dice of Death”, captures in an eviscerating fashion the deceit, despondency, and deviousness of the sinister Shakuni. A master at every possible subterfuge and chicanery, Shakuni sets the scene for the apocalyptic war by defeating the Pandavas by treachery in a game of dice and divesting them of their kingdom. Now as the battle rages on, Shakuni is plagued by self-doubt and recriminations. As Mr. Radhakrishnan illustrates in a refreshingly ingenious manner, “The dark deep set Onyx like eyes” of Draupadi haunt and taunt Shakuni in dream and waken state alike. “She had many names: Krishna, the dark-skinned one; Yagnaseni, born of the sacrificial fire; Panchali, the Princess of Panchala. It was her, no doubt. The blazing flames of sulphur that Vidura reminded him of were inscrutable black onyx now. Black as death.”
“The Invincible” by Ms. Roopal Vaish on Jayadratha, the antagonist is so expertly done, that it almost induces a feeling of approbation in the reader for a man, who otherwise, is worthy of the strongest rebuke and detestation. Narrated in the first person, this is one of the best stories in the book. Spurred on by a boon from Lord Shiva that accords the unique privilege to Jayadratha of defeating all the Pandavas – barring Arjuna- in battle on a single day, The King of Sindhu is all primed to play a pivotal role on the 13th day of the Kurukshetra war. The cockiness, arrogance and a perpetual attitude of smirk that irritates friends and foes alike is encapsulated in such an effervescent fashion by Ms. Vaish that the reader keeps going to the story again and again.
Glorious and exemplary deeds of audacity by Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima and Bhagadatta the son of Narakasura, the demon slayed by Krishna, by Mr. Shivakumar G.V and Mr. Deepak M.R respectively make for some riveting reading. The description of duels, be it the formidable Bhagadatta wreaking havoc whilst sitting atop his ferocious and gigantic pachyderm Supratika, or a rampaging Ghatotkacha creating wanton pandemonium amongst the entire Kaurava army by laying waste thousands of redoubtable combatants with a fury hitherto unseen, take the reader to unchartered terrains in so far the breadth of imagination is concerned.
“Unsung Valour” does yeoman service by instilling the valuable trait of curiosity into readers young and old. This treasured attribute will go a long way in not just furthering the quest for knowledge, but also aid and abet in according one of the greatest band of unsung heroes their rightful, honoured and storied place under the Sun. The laudable efforts of Mr. Harikiran Vadlamani, founder of Indic Academy and Advaita Academy, who conceived this project and Mr.Chetan Mahajan of the prestigious Himalayan Writers Retreat, who mentored the talented writers during a five-day online workshop call for special mention and appreciation.
“Unsung Valour” is a succinct, subtle, and saccharine agglomeration of cause, consequence, and courage. Story telling in its simplest and most telling sense!