Friday, January 31, 2014

Book review: Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava clan Book1

The play dough of any creative writer in India, The Mahabharata is retold yet again from a villain's perspective in Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava Clan. I was unswayed by the rebellious tone of the author, Anand Neelakantan's previous novel Asura. Hence, I approached this one with trepidation. The first 100 odd pages were gloomy as ever with only crows cawing, rain spattering during night, dust, stench and hunger taking precedence over any other word of imagery and descriptive details. It was a turn off for a person like me who can't take in pointless negativity in a book.

The novel revolves around 3 protagonists- the one at the supreme rung of social heirarchy; the crown prince of Hastinapura Suyodhana, the ill-fated low caste outcast Ekalavya and the casteless urchin Jara who follows Ekalavya everywhere like a dog. The crude inhuman reality of any society is brought about in the description of the lives of poor Ekalavya and Jara. The author has gone over the top to gain sympathy for such people. Since this task is overdone by him, the readers develop an initial disgust to such a writing style.

As the story proceeds, Suyodhana is shown in the light of a non-villain. I wouldn't say hero because he has not been portrayed as a person having revolutionary ideas and the courage to bring about a substantial change. He is a prince who doesn't believe in the rigid chaturvarna caste system that prevailed during his times and values merit and generosity above all other human virtues. While the Pandavas are shown as charlatans who would do anything to uphold the prevalent dharma (social order), Suyodhana is projected as a firm believer in establishing an egalitarian society. The book discourses views on an ideal society with the master strategist Krishna and his followers (Pandavas, Drona, Parashurama) on one side and the idealists such as Kripa, Balarama, Karna, Kauravas and Bhishma on the other side fighting for casteless, merit based societal norms.

The reader can't help but rejoice in the character of Suyodhana for he is everything that we imagine a modern political visionary should be. My heart went out to Suyodhana when a Pandava marries his first love, Subhadra. The atrocities of upper caste individuals(Drona, Kunti and her priest gang) against the politically weak (Suyodhana) individuals and lower caste heroes (Karna and Ekalavya) make one's blood boil. The reader in my mind was doing a full split cheering act when Karna won the coveted 'Dharmaveera' title based on sheer talent and merit. The flight of the nishada boy Ekalavya who is denied basic survival and respect in society makes you wonder whether the time of Mahabharata epic was really habited by God and god-men.

The picturing of low caste livelihood, their shanties and slums, untouchability, unequal opportunities to flourish in life really got me thinking about the fantasies of the epic of Mahabharata. After many millennia of its inception, we still base our moral decisions drawing on the wisdom of Mahabharata. This book drives home the common clich├ęs that history is written by the victors, a hungry man is not a free man and others. I started questioning the deeds of many main characters of Bharata- the deeds which I took on their face value till now. 

Although this book has a dejected and dark beginning, the overall read leaves with a lot of questions in your head, the mark of a good book. Read this compelling book if you want to 

  • fathom the difficulties a commoner like Karna had to face to level upper caste Arjuna in his renowned skills.
  • mull over the intricacies of 'Dharma' that Pandavas so fondly fought for and in the process burnt half the country.
  • be challenged over what is right against what is humanity.
“There’s no path to liberation that doesn’t pass through the shadow.” 
Jay Michaelson

Our epics, fables and folk tales have age old wisdom. It is upto the wise people to not accept received rigid wisdom without questioning its moral fabric.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Interesting blogs that I came across

A friend of mine always keeps telling me that reading should be a social thing for adults as well as children. So keeping with her philosophy I am going to share some of the interesting things I recently came across that are worth mentioning.

The blog wander is a site I stumbled upon while browsing FB (funny thing how FB has been the source of some of my very good reads). Five 20 something girls share their views on life, travelling, love, friendship, self identity and lot of other things that really matter to 20 somethings all around the world. Few of my favourite articles are:

My partner and I have this habit of reading about interesting people from all walks of life and we mostly come across mind blowing people and their head turning lives in TED videos. One such amazing person I know about now is Raghava K K from Bangalore, Karnataka. He is a guy who quit schooling at 16 to become a caricature artist and life made him don many more titles such as cartoonist, painter, reformer, celebrity show manger etc. Here are a few of Raghava's videos that will inspire you beyond wits. 

Not to mention, Raghava has a very interesting life partner too- an accomplished western classical music composer Netra Srikanth. 

New reads,new lessons

Owing to ill health and professional creative writing I had resigned from publishing any article in this blog. It haunted me many nights that I wasn't sharing any of my reviews for the books I read. But it slowly dawned on me that what I missed the most was not sharing the formal book reviews but the stories and learnings I imbibed.

In the past two months I struggled to keep up a living (read job for outsiders) I am madly in love with. I chanced to read quite a few good books:

  • Asura - Anand Neelakantan
  • How I braved Anu aunty and cofounded a million dolalr company- Varun agarwal
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
  • The Ugly Duckling - Hans Christian Anderson
Varun's book was a delight for me, a Bangalorean. Any Indian will love this casual book, more so if one happened to be a Bangalorean. This is a story of yet another engineer who "came out" (:P) of the boring rut many Indians get into - life of a techie. He braves many odds against him and becomes a successful entrepreneur. This book is a peek into the lifestyle, language and attitude of a typical Bangalore guy. I was actually impressed by the courage this guy shows in meting out all naysayers from his life and achieving his dream of doing something on his own. 

Asura was a dark shade of Ramayana for me told in the voice of the antagonist - Ravana. There are few books that are not delightful reads in themselves but which make you end up opening a new window of thought. Asura led me to read many of the famous versus in original Valmiki Ramayana and I can now point out so many outright male chauvinistic views in our age old holy classic. It sickened me in a funny way. 

Jonathan Livingston is the dude. This seagull goes above and beyond the normal societal conventions imposed on a seagull and flies away his journey to glory and inner peace. It's a breezy read of 85 odd pages and a quickie when it comes to inspirational books. I got inspired and went out to watch a movie all alone on a weekend! Ha 

The Ugly Duckling is a oh-so-cute kind of children tale that has messages on identity crisis and finding oneself going through a tumultuous journey. An ugly drake is hatched out of an egg warmed by a duck and for the one single fact that he is an ugly misfit he is rejected by many of the other animals. But he ultimately finds out that he is a beautiful swan and thereafter finds peace in his new found identity after a long struggle of trying to fit in all the wrong places. 

A new update in my reading habit is the use of kindle :D although I am using it through an app in my cell phone, it is a welcome change. 

Happy reading :D