Years ago, I read Kulapathi K M Munshi's krishnavatara, translated into Malayalam, when it was published in pieces in one of the leading weekly. Now, when I had a chance to read the whole series again, in English, I thought it was a good idea to revisit. K M Munshi, one of the pillars of modern Gujarati Literature is known more for his works associated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and his efforts to publish books for the general public at affordable rates.
Story of Krishna is part of our upbringing. Every Indian, would have gone through the stories in various doses and forms. One, he is a colorful character, a bit of kiddishness, lot of naughtiness, a lover boy, a master manipulator and a clear headed task master. He can wear the appropriate mantle as he deem fit. Around the divinity and the supernatural ability, there is a face of an adorable young boy. Despite the burden of being the 'avatar' of the Lord Vishnu, his character and mannerisms often are too grounded and can be related to any common man. Perhaps, that make him the most sought after person from the scriptures. Derived out of the epic Mahabharata, later developed into another mega scripture, Srimad Bhagavata, , probably is the first dedicated literary work on the life of Krishna. However, there were many many legends and versions of the text available through out the centuries around Krishna.
K M Munshi's version of the story do justice to the mostly told and perpetuated version, at least in the initial book. A series of 7 book ( the eight book which was being written was left incomplete, due to his demise in 1971) on Krishna is is written and published between 1962 to 1970 completing lifestory of Krishna. The Magic Flute, first of the series takes up the pre-birth days of Krishna until the death of King and his uncle Kamsa. What was interesting is the way he mixed the legend of Radha into his narrative , without causing any narrative disruption. In the Chapter where he introduced Radha, he spends more than a page of notes, mentioning the controversy surrounding Radha, on how it was not present in Mahabharata and Bhagavata, but remained in the hearts of millions of people.
I believe, it is a self translated book and it do have its own drawbacks. The language, may be intended, is a bit text-bookish and uneven. It improved as we progressed through the book,though. For those who look for it, it can be a very spiritual experience, and those who would like to see the humane side of the God, it has ample scope of interpretation. May be the humanisation of the various characters without deviating from the core is the highlight thus far.
In the introductory chapter, K M Munshi, explains, why he chose to present the story of Krishna.
Wise and valorous, he was, loving and loved, far-seeing and yet living for the moment, gifted with sage-like detachment and yet intensely human; the diplomat, the sage and the man of action with personality as luminous as that of a divinity. The urge therefore, came upon me, time and again, to embark upon a reconstruction of his life and adventures by weaving a romance around him.
This is the first book and another six to go. To me this is more than a 'refresher course'. It is the effort of one of the classical writer of the 20th century that needed attention and a re-look.-----------------------------------------------------
The Magic Flute ( Krishnavatara I ) ( 1962)
K M Munshi
Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan