This is one of the most frequently asked questions.
The Last Kaurava is a work of fiction that deviates markedly from the Mahabharata (the Epic) in many critical ways. So, if the Mahabharata is a true story, The Last Kaurava (TLK) is not. What happens to TLK if the Epic is not true?
The answer must be: It does not make any difference to TLK – TLK is still a work of my imagination. That is why I call it “a novel”.
Let me explicate.
In 2014, I hosted Jean-Claude Carrière (JCC) in Boston where he enacted the Epic in 90 minutes, telling the story in a manner possibly resembling the way it might have been recited 2000 years ago. For those who do not know, JCC is the playwright along with Peter Brook of the 9-hour Mahabharata play that was performed around the world in the late 1980s. M. Carrière was asked if he thought the Mahabharata was real and, if so, when did he think it happened. He replied, and I paraphrase, “What I’ve done is a work of art. I have no special knowledge of whether it happened or not – I try to portray the aesthetic and humanity of the epic.”
M. Carrière’s answer is the best answer that an artist can and should provide.
Having said that, there are other questions that can be asked of a story-teller about a book. These are questions that can be asked of TLK, but the relevance of those answers to the status of the Epic as history is questionable.
TLK presents a story in two eras: the war in 2000 B.C.E. and and writing in 850 B.C.E.. These dates carry implicit restrictions from their historical context – the available technology, the size and behaviours of the population, the uses of the land, in general, in the state of the human world. The “Bronze Age” lasted from around 4000 B.C.E. to about 1200 B.C.E. in most parts of the world. 2000 B.C.E. is in the final centuries of the Bronze Age. Iron was not in widespread use – the few instances of iron use that have been discovered, consist of small sharpened pieces used as arrowheads and embedded in maces. The iron pieces themselves may have been detritus left behind in a furnace used for smelting copper. Horses were still the province of the Shakas (or Scythians as the Greeks called them) from the steppes of Russia; horses were ridden bare-back and the stirrup, bit, and bridle had not yet been invented so it required much training to ride a horse in battle. War chariots pulled by horses only began to appear in the archaeological record four hundred years later, around 1600 B.C.E. Transport was usually by oxen or onagers (the “Asian wild ass”) moving at a top speed of two to three miles per hour, as much as twenty miles a day. Inter-city roads were non-existent. Most trading was by boat and ship – this limited trading of large items to be between coastal cities. Trading over land was conducted by individual peddlers who walked or had a single cart – they stuck to known paths, both to avoid bandits and to provide for themselves and their animals. Long-distance inland trade happened as a sequence of short hops. Writing on papyrus in Egypt and on clay tablets in Mesopotamia and Elam was spreading fast and became established by 1600 B.C.E., but there was a long way to go before writing was ubiquitous.
In South Asia the Sindhu-Saraswati civilisation (SSC) does not appear to have made extensive use of writing – symbols have been found on seals (the famed un-deciphered Indus seals from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa) but the current best belief is that the symbols do not represent a spoken language (the ‘rebus’ principle that a symbol or a group of symbols along with nearby marks will represent an “atomic” sound, i.e., a phoneme, does not apply). But this is still much debated and nothing has been settled,
I have portrayed the SSC as fanatical about standardisation. Some examples:
- The suspected weights discovered in the SSC have also been found in Mesopotamia along with SSC artifacts. These weights are more accurate than similar artifacts believed to be local to Sumer or Elam.
- The SSC cities are laid out along a grid oriented to the major directions.
- The bricks used over the entire range covered by the SSC are sized in a fixed ratio (depth:width:length being in the ratio 1:2:4).
- (This is one I invented) Time was measured by “human chronometers”, who would be called “Sama Vedin” (“one who knows/keeps the time”).
- (Another invention) War was standardized into a game, somewhat along the lines of Europe during the Crusades, but less violently.
Other contemporary cultures seem to have had standards but none so thorough. In my novel, I’ve extended this concern about measurement and applied it to all facets of human behaviour, including memorisation. The SSC carried out complex activities without writing, depending only on memorisation and recitation to track and coordinate activities. As a result when the idea of writing, i.e., using the simple symbols and tokens that traders and merchants had developed in order to monitor trade and inventories, was proposed, it would have been clearly inferior technology and not worth the hassle to switch (a similar thing happened to Digital Equipment Corporation when its dominance in the mini-computer market was challenged by PCs – Digital could not walk away from a “cash cow”, and now, Digital no longer exists).
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