Friday, January 31, 2014

Book review: Ajaya - Epic of the Kaurava clan Book1

Ajaya
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.


4 comments:

  1. That was a sincere review! Having just finished this book, I can relate to all that is said here very well. Cheers!

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  2. Thank you.

    I read your review on the same book at http://pagesfromserendipity.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/ajaya-roll-of-the-dice-by-anand-neelakantan-book-review/ and must say it is quite an appealing review :)

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  4. Excellent review. Evokes to go for original story. keep writing/reviewing.

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