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On my way back to college campus during 4th of July of the year, my train was half an hour late, so I decided to browse through the books at a stall; and it was then that I came across the first book which intrigued me. “The Difficulty Of Being Good: On The Subtle Art Of Dharma” filled me with a strong sense of curiosity, as if the book was written only for me: to diminish the doubts I’ve gathered throughout the summer, living through the struggles between morality and desires.
I immediately pulled out my phone, opened Amazon.in and ordered the book. It was so soothing for my eyes to see the book after a long wait. I jumped right away on to the prelude, prioritising it over everything else for the first few days
In the following paragraphs, I’ll be giving a gist of the book. I’ll try to keep the review as much spoiler free as possible without losing the points to convince you to pick this up as your next read.
The book, written by Gurcharan Das, revolves around the great Indian epic Mahabharata and its lessons for ordinary men to live a life following dharma (not in the religious context). For an uninterrupted and involving experience, the writer begins the book with a summary of the epic; from the time of birth of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, the two children of the Bharata clan, to the five Pandavas leaving for heaven. The summary is capable of motivating one to read the epic (or at least see the numerous TV shows based on it) before reading the book. Fortunately, I had read Mahabharata once and watched two TV portrayals of the same.
What is here is found elsewhere.
What is not here is nowhere!
Beginning with a short introduction to all the characters; the first chapter shows the author’s struggle in his fifties; a quest for finding the purpose of his life and to soothe his inner conscience of the reason for prevailing adharma in the world. The “Prelude” is very relatable to everyone and puts on paper the doubts, the struggles and the thoughts we experience every day but never feel the importance of sitting down and thinking about them. It shows the issues caused by connotations of dharma and the fact that how neatly woven it is with religions in everyone’s mind. In all the following chapters but last two, the author brings one character from the epic under the limelight and projects his entire life in words; questioning his deeds, actions, and emotions from time to time, and relating them to our own daily moral truffles.
Envy is brought to the front at first, and Duryodhana is the character to be brought forth for judgement; trust me on this that he was not the bad guy in the dharma yudh. My views regarding him have turned 180 degrees upside down after finishing the book. that he was not the bad guy in the dharma yudh. My views regarding him have turned 180 degrees upside down after finishing the book. The analysis of his character makes it more relatable to all of us; the only mistake of his was that he was more human than any other character of the great story.
The author is to be applauded for placing the various emotions talked about throughout the book in the right order; he has not given closure to any of them and hence it’s much more engaging: even after days of finishing a chapter, somehow it would erupt while reading the next one and, I would get lost in my thoughts. At first, it felt strange to have “courage” follow “envy”, but it all fell into place once I noticed this process.
Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?
Next in line, was the materialisation of a modern, fierce, confident and courageous woman in the form of Draupadi. The events of her life and her responses (not reactions!) to them, froze the timeline of the “just-war” long before it started to seem inevitable. Her desires, and unwillingness to leave what was theirs sets the chariot of Bharata clan onto the road of massive mutual destructions. Yet, she should not be blamed as she was just “being human” and this is what the book conveys for all the characters.
Even the supreme of all, the god, Krishna is not left at the good side and has been scrutinised for his foul acts in the epic, and the events that helped Pandavas win the bloody war. The eldest Pandava, Yudhishthira, and Arjun have separate chapters which sail the reader through their struggles, refusals, denials and unwilling acceptances. It is in the dilemmas of the characters that pour _dharma out in a subtle form and put the reader in their place and asks him/her, “What would have you done?”.
I act because I must!
In the chapters, the book takes our notion about each of the emotions, talks about it and by the end of the sections, it provides us with a new perception of looking at the same emotion. Strangely enough, it makes one learn to empathise with the bearer of any emotion: envy, fear, jealousy etc. That is the beauty of philosophy; it makes one more acceptable towards other beings, their perceptions, and their emotions.
Be intent on the act, not on its fruits.
I would certainly like to reveal that the title of the book is a misguiding since, towards the end, the author gives one lesson on how one should be good; and it’s not the conventional way of following ahimsa and satya, but an unconventional modern manner of instilling flexible moral values in life. It emphasises repeatedly on the “subtle” nature of goodness and hence the responsibility of moulding, framing and following always rests with the person rather than the outside world.
In a nutshell, if you have ever “desired” to gain the lessons from the epic but have found it boring or too long, this is the book to take up as your next read. The book is in no manner a “religious” text and nor does it take the epic as one; it certainly is a modern approach to following dharma and living life a little more peacefully.
A good exercise to do before reading the book is to take note of five emotions you hate in the person closest to you. Try to reason out those points, and then keep it safe somewhere. After finishing the book, again do the same exercise and match your findings; you’d notice an improvement in the analysis.
That is the way it is.