With his unique narrative style, evocative of lyrical charm, Vasudevan Nair became a trend-setter in Malayalam fiction right from his early days of creative writing in the '50s. His abiding theme was the crumbling system of Nair joint families, tharavadu, drawn usually from the familiar locale of his native village, Koodallur, Kerala. MT (as he is popularly known) started a new direction in Malayalam fiction by portraying characters from the beaten path of social to psychological, outward to inward. His characters were romantic Outsiders caught in the solitary moments of their encounter with the self. A self that was seldom at ease in a hostile world and often motivated by an impotent rage against the exploitative system or yearning for revenge, the very realisation of which also revealed its futility. The structure of feelings is no way different even in the sources from the Mahabharata.
The second of the Pandava brothers, Bhimasena, is the central figure of the novel and his intense feelings of indignation and anguish are portrayed uniquely. The epic characters in the Mahabharata are brought down to the level of normal mortal beings in familiar and familial settings in the best lyrical and emotive language with a touch of classical significance. Though there have been other novels drawn from the Mahabharata, it is Randamoozham that stands out as the best, as it comes from a storyteller par excellence and has his touch of genius in characterisation, form, structure, craft, and technique of the novel.
The original Malayalam version was published almost a decade ago and the author in his foreword elaborates on the dimensions of greatness and the intensity of the epic. MT spent several years researching the original translations and interpretations of the epic. He did not change "the framework of the story put together by the first Vyasa, Krishnadwaipayana". MT adds: "The basis for the liberties I have taken is his silence on some portions. I have read between his lines and expanded on his pregnant silences." In this silence are a lot of things unsaid, but left to those who could recreate and reinvent the story. And it has to be brought to the contemporary level in tune with the imagination and the fabric of a modern and great literary work. Therefore, writing with the backdrop and source of Mahabharata is no easy task and it has to be original and significant in true sense. The author has been fully aware of this and he concedes that "Vyasa's Mahabharata contains everything—history, geography, biology, and zoology. If one wanted to know about anatomy and the signs of diseases one would find them in the poem. A great and unusual creation, an intense human story".
The results of intense research are manifest: one finds even the minutest details of the system of agriculture, geography, modes of transport, agricultural practices and even the right kind of seeds, food, clothing, architecture, household appliances, weaponry, archery, methods of training in war, wrestling as well as the styles of teaching and student-teacher relationship. For the uninformed reader there is even a glossary and a summary of the original epic.
The story is narrated from the perspective of Bhimasena. He is generally perceived as possessing not much of brains. Dull-witted despite his great physical powers.And is considered bereft of any emotion and sentiment. But Vasudevan Nair has recreated him, bringing him down to the level of a highly responsive and agile character seething with emotion and indignation. He torments himself in mind and spirit and he is the one who almost always brings victory to the Pandavas. Yet, he is never to have the fruits of his success, as his turn is the second, the eldest being the paradigm of virtues, Yudhishtira. The eldest prince's craze for the game of dice and the mute agonies that the other brothers underwent watching him losing to Sakuni, Duryodhana's uncle, are portrayed in the moving manner characteristic of the master story-teller. Vasudevan Nair is at his best while depicting the female characters of Kunti and Draupadi. Kunti, the mother of the Pandava princes, is so farsighted and manipulative that she did not want her sons to quarrel and, as if unknowingly, ordered them to K.V. share the wife Draupadi, whom Arj-una had won in the archery competition. The characterisation of Draupadi is also incisive as the author excels in probing into and understanding the female psyche.
The lyrical charm and idiom, and the nuances of the original book lend themselves with difficulty for translation. There has been some abridgement in portions, and in certain others the narrative is a literal translation with well-structured syntax and idiom, though it could have been bettered by editing. Yet, the translation is satisfactory and brings out the rich flavour of the original.