Karna’s Alter Ego

  • Title –  Karna’s Alter EgoKarna's Alter Ego
  • Author – Surendra Nath
  • Publisher – Dream House Publication
  • Genre – Fiction
  • Pages – 232
  • Price – INR 175
  • ISBN – 978-93-84180-11-9

Synopsis – Karna, the ill-fated hero of Mahabharata. Many feel he deserved to win. If only luck had favored him…

5000 years later, we have a man named Vasu, who is much like Karna – illegitimate birth, very talented but denied all credits in life, rejected in love, misses a medal in the Asian games, gets caught for telling an innocent lie, overlooked for promotion. He begins to identify himself with Karna, and interestingly Karna appears to him after every debacle to assuage and encourage him.

It seems Vasu is Karna’s alter ego.

Review – The book piqued my interest with its catchy title. I have been in awe with Karna’s character in Mahabharta owing to the way he had been at the receiving end of many failures and deceptions. Having read Surendra Nath’s earlier work, Fire in the Rain, I was curious to see his take on a mythological/ philosophical theme after churning out a thriller.

The book has an interesting cover with a fading face that comes across as burning in a fireball. It hinted to me connection of the protagonist with Karna the son of Sun god (as per Hindu mythology). One cannot miss the conch shell on the cover and the many times it has been mentioned in the book. However, its significance comes to fore only in the climax of the story.

The book attempts at correlating Vasu Sena’s ( the protagonist) life with that of Karna’s. The story starts when Vasu is a twelve-year-old and learns about his illegitimate birth. While he is lost in the cloud of confusion and pain, Karna makes his first appearance before him.

Karna’s appearances before Vasu in the hours of distress come across as a figment of Vasu’s imagination and don’t disturb the momentum of the book until the point when Vasu’s wife is shown to see and hear Karna at an hour of crisis. That compounds the bewilderment, as to how should the reader swallow this fact of Karna’s appearances in Vasu’s life?

The book is divided into chapters with titles that spill more information of the content than I would have liked as a reader. Having read about Karna at length in the Mahabharata, connecting the dots in this very predictable plot comes at a disturbingly early point in every chapter. On more than one occasion, the analogy come across as forced, peppered with too many coincidences to support a successful outcome.*

“When you raise yourself high enough, every situation appears significant and every setback trivial.”

I wish to applaud the author at the sensitivity with which the chapter on Karma and Moksha has been dealt. It answers many queries we all have had at some point or the other on Karma, how the almighty appears to leave us on our own at times of distress or what happens to those who evade the law and manage to lead a happy life despite having committed many sins and many more.

” Grow, not merely physically, but also in your mindset, and prepare for greater challenges that lie ahead.”

I wish to congratulate the author in attempting a work of fiction that quite successfully connects two individuals across the millennia. I quite enjoyed reading the many revelations about the events part of Karna’s life, along with the short narrative of the events mentioned in the book (presented at the end).

The book fails for me in putting Vasu in an advantageous position in every episode. The advocacy of the patriarchal set up at many points in the book are very disturbing. For instance, Vasu’s wife is shown to stay away from her husband for almost a decade to look after her in-laws living in a different city. While Vasu is never seeing missing her and labeling the sacrifices made by her as a sign that she is a ‘good’ girl. The cost of Vasu’s wife’s sacrifices is the fact they remain a child-less couple. I felt the chapter on adoption has been written in a pretty insensitive fashion.

I failed to accept the way the protagonist has been shown to be a jack of all trades, sensitive to the difficulties of the world but keeping a blind eye to his responsibilities towards his wife and family. Glorification of the fact that since Vasu could financially support his family, he had the liberty to do as he pleased is a major turn off.

Besides the ideologies, the many grammatical mistakes that point towards a need for better editing, make this book with a simple narrative and predictable plot an arduous read.

Sharing the outcome of the episode, right at the beginning, ruins the suspense for the reader. This had been a major shortcoming in ‘Fire in the Rain’ and unfortunately is seen even in the climax of this book.

I am trying my best to limit the quoted examples to avoid spoilers.

About the Author – Surendra Nath tries his hand at writing fiction off and on, but most of his short stories have remained unpublished, though a few have found their way into books and magazines. ‘Karna’s Alter Ego’ is his first attempt at writing a full length novel. Earlier he wrote a novella that sank without a trace.

For a living, at 58, he runs after children in KiiT International School, and the strength needed for all this chasing, he draws from his previous experience in the defence forces. He also publishes a children’s magazine – ‘Kloud 9’. He is the architect of a Children’s Lit Fest, that is into its third year now in 2015.

Rating – 2/5

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