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  • Andha Yug: The Age of Darkness by Dharamvir Bharati
  • Sruti Bala
Andha Yug: The Age of Darkness. By Dharamvir Bharati. Translated with a critical introduction by Alok Bhalla. Mānoa: Pacific Journal of International Writing 22, no. 1. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010. 144 pp. Paper, $20.00.

The literary journal Mānoa publishes English translations of important literary texts from Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. Judging by the editorial standards, quality of design, and excellent translation, accompanied by rigorously researched essays, this can be considered to be a collector’s copy. The issue under review features the translation of an important text by Hindi writer Dharamvir Bharati (1926–1997), the canonical verse play Andha Yug: The Age of Darkness, translated by Alok Bhalla, which is a welcome addition to the journal’s scope and can be recommended as compulsory reading for anyone interested in modern Indian playwriting. The play was written in 1953, shortly after the violent partition of the Indian subcontinent and after World War II, and the work retells a part of the epic Mahabharata, attributed to Vyasa and [End Page 334] focusing on the last days of the battle between the warring factions of the two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas. The play’s protagonists are some of the most complex figures of the Mahabharata, who appear as ancillary figures in most renditions of the epic: Gandhari, the mother of the Kaurava princes, who blindfolds herself for life out of a sense of misplaced solidarity with her husband, King Dhritarashtra, who himself was not only born blind but also refuses to see the truth in every sense; Sanjaya, the chariot driver for King Dhritarashtra, who is given extraordinary powers of vision by the author of the epic, Vyasa, in order to describe to the blind king the atrocities of the battle; Yuyutsu, the illegitimate son of Dhritarashtra born to a slave mother, who fights on the opposing side with his Pandava cousins rather than his Kaurava half-siblings, out of a sense of duty, and is punished with contempt upon his return home, precisely because he was not able to turn a blind eye to the wrongdoings of his brothers; and Ashwatthama, son of the teacher of both sets of cousins who wreaks havoc on the Pandavas in the aftermath of the war, who is constantly confronted with half-truths, the contradictions and dilemmas of which drive him to revenge and unending pain. The title Andha Yug: The Age of Darkness could just as well have been translated as The Blind Age, for the profound questions of darkness, blindness, complicity, and ignorance resonate at the core of the play and point out that the lack of vision characterizes not just individuals but entire eras. The play transcends its direct reference to the violence ensuing from the partition of India and Pakistan (as the continent struggled with estimated deaths ranging from three hundred thousand to a million, and perhaps twelve million displaced), and speaks to the futility of war and greed everywhere.

Alok Bhalla’s translation does full justice to the cadence of the Hindi verses; it retains the vernacular quality of Bharati’s retelling of the Sanskrit epic, intensely aware that the epic is in fact never told in some pure form but always retold, adapted, and interpreted in different contexts and times. Compared to earlier, no less intriguing translations of the play, such as the one by feminist theatre director Tripurari Sharma, Bhalla’s version seems to be more accessible to a reader unfamiliar with the Mahabharata, as well as to those who read this as a literary text rather than as a script for performance. It also pays careful attention to the ethical dilemmas and inner contradictions of the characters rather than elaborately describing the gory details of the war alone. The contextual essays by University of Hawai‘i professor and journal editor Frank Stewart are a useful introduction to the Mahabharata and the work of Dharamvir Bharati. Bhalla’s own introduction does what a translator’s introduction should avoid doing: explaining the play to the reader. His unnecessarily heavily footnoted essayistic commentary is distracting and random...


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pp. 334-336
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