In post-colonial India of the 1970s, Mumbai, in overcrowded and antiquated local trains each day thousands of middle-class commuters, dabbawalas, women, and schoolchildren traveled to their disparate destinations. Some played cards, others prayed to their God/ Goddesses or even to Jesus and Allah, while kids like me looked at the torn and reposted posters of Bollywood movies like Deewar, Sholay, Muqqadar ka Sikandar, through which, my imagination was captivated by the images of unshaven and angry young man-Amitabh Bachchan and dreamy-eyed Rekha. In the background, there were Bollywood tunes.
I had no idea that the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a “competition for global dominance.” One day, I was looking at an aunty who looked like an angry goddess Kali, but she was engrossed in reading a novel called Tinker Tailor…and something about the Soldier Spy… It was an imposing book in its size- a sort of cliff note type of Mahabharata… I had no idea what it was about. She looked at me and told me that it was a Mahabharata of the West. LOL! Then came my sojourn in the Soviet Union where the Cold War transformed into a reality of Soviet bomb shelter drills, Russian kindness, and other less relevant matters like long lines for sugar and toilet paper.
Today, as I woke up in a rain-soaked California, like a Rip Van Winkle to the news of the passing of the British creator of that novel, John le Carré, whose books have been part of UC Berkeley Library’s popular fiction holdings since the 1970s. In today’s Byzantine American politics, I find my solace in his imaginary creation.
The author of “West’s Mahabharata” is dead, but he lives on in our memories of the Cold War!