Appropriately, I found out about Mr Veera at the river, symbolic of the flow of life and ideas. Waiting to board a special cruise on the Chao Phraya that would take us to historic Thai homes, a Thai lady told me how much she enjoyed listening to Mr Veera’s commentaries on Thai FM on the Mahabharata. She mailed me his contacts and after several weeks of unrelenting follow-up, for he was very busy, I finally got to meet him and hear his extraordinary story.
Now in his mid-50s, Mr Veera is a very well-known media personality. A graduate of Thammasat University, Bangkok, (‘Thammasat’ means ‘Dharma Shastra’), he became a popular TV host of programmes on personal finance and commentator on the economic outlook. He has held several important positions and is celebrated for his frank, outspoken style.
One day in the early 90s, he made his first trip to Cambodia, to Angkor Wat. Walking along the long galleries of bas-reliefs that depict epic scenes like the Churning of the Milk-Ocean and the Kurukshetra War, he fell head-over-heels in love with the Kurukshetra panel.
Not being the sort to let such a strong convulsion of feeling go waste, he began researching the Mahabharata. He collected many editions, made three trips to India to collect more, met Mr P. Lal in Kolkata for further leads and let it all combust in his head. The outcome was heroic. He decided to retell the world’s longest epic in Thai! As we know, this is not a task undertaken by any but the bravest of the brave. We also know that the first thing many Indian bhashas did was to retell Vyasa’s Mahabharata, so this is a deep an long-established Asian affinity that is unrestrained by post-colonial borders.
The timeline Mr Veera set himself was one volume a year and so four years of dedicated writing went into this project. He had no commercial goal in mind, it was something he felt he had to do and so he did. All this took until 2007. Today, the Mahabharata in Thai not only has a popular four-volume print edition but also Mr Veera’s two-hour radio commentary every afternoon, Monday-Friday. He told me that Thai people feel deeply about Bhishma and Karna, besides Arjuna and Sri Krishna. He wouldn’t tell me his favourites, though, “I will then give myself away too much,” he said. I understand. We all do.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture