Monday, 15 September 2014

AJAYA – Roll of the Dice by Anand Neelakantan: Book Review

I congratulate the author for his brave endeavor. What he has envisaged beyond the story of Mahabharata through the same story deserves this country’s applause!

The first part of AJAYA – Roll of the Dice by Anand Neelakantan is a must-read for all epic lovers. If you are a Mahabharata genius, you are sure to enjoy the familiar plot in a different perspective. It is as if the same story is directed with different screenplays by different directors. On the contrary, if you are a Mahabharata illiterate, as I was before touching the book, you are sure to get enlightened on the country’s greatest tale. It might not be the best pick to learn the truth of history, but for sure a great choice to take a walk through the myriads of characters and their most significant sagas that every Indian should know.

Certainly, full of life and Simplicity!

For years, the mysterious, complex and confusing relationships amongst the characters of this epic literally left me disinterested in it. Though at some corner of my being, I bore the guilt of not having done a duty in my life.  To confess, I, in fact, was never clear before how the Pandavas were related to the Kauravas. And today the pride and relief I hold after placing the book down is actually a big load undone. What the animated television serials could not do, lifeless black and white words have achieved! Did I say lifeless? Sin on me! With every line, the long-dead history of India shall come rolling alive scene after scene, within your forehead! Beyond human minds, the celestial nature has been captured remarkably too. One cannot go unnoticed of the mood of the atmosphere around every scene. As I write this, it reminds me of one of the strikingly impressive lines: “The sky was pregnant with clouds”.

The conversations are simple to hear; the clarity between what’s being thought, what’s being uttered and what’s being narrated is fantastically achieved. And one of average vocabulary doesn’t have to refer a dictionary throughout.

Structural Elegance
The author has cleverly assumed that there could be people like me who have run away from Mahabharata throughout their lives. Thoughtfully, he has begun the book by introducing the characters and to add, a family tree of the related lineages. For the first few chapters, I had to re-turn the introductory pages but with the flow of the book, each character became a live person in my life. As you know, it is a complex tale of assorted short stories here and there. However, the author has appropriately placed the incidents chronologically. There is no space for confusion unlike the television version where you miss an episode; you actually miss a few years in every character’s life. Also, the book begins with the abduction of the Gandhari Princess by Bhisma which is as well quite appropriate to the book’s intent instead of Lord Krishna’s birth as in other accounts.

What to Expect?

Hearing that AJAYA is the other side of the story, I assumed the author would narrate the plot through the eyes of the other men subtly such that the readers can come to their own conclusion about what could have possibly happened. However, it was alarming to read from page one how the entire book has been written openly in favour of the Kauravas and his allies whereas the Pandavas have been shunned to such a level that the ‘B……’ word has been used on them so casually in most of Duryodhana’s lines. For a nation that has been raised up hearing the virtues of the Pandavas, the first few pages will come as a blow on every mind. Thunder hit my head to realize Lord Krishna was the villain after all! 

Yet, after the initial shock, if the reader would continue with an open mind, the author’s point shall gain rapport with the reader’s mind. 

Coming to the Point…

What the Pandavas and Lord Krishna called as Dharma was that one must follow what his birth caste casted upon them. May a Brahmin learn the Vedas and a Kshatriya learn archery! By this way society shall be put to order. Untouchables shall know their places and keep away from whatever is pious. Adharma peeps in when exceptions arise. A shudra wanting to learn archery! And the consequences are terrible.
On the other hand, Duryodhana detests the caste system and trusts in the ability of an individual. What’s wrong in elevating Karna, a skillful archer to Kingship? Are all Brahmins truly noble? Is it just for the untouchables to live in poverty their entire life? Can Dharma feed the hunger? Thus the familiar plot unfolds from his view day by day, year after year witnessing the atrocities done on the name of Dharma. All other characters have been dissected justly as well. 

Readers’ Take Away

To accept or not the standpoint of the author is totally up to the reader. As I said, it requires a wide open mind to get into the shoes of Duryodhana which, I would say, the author has skillfully done. More than acceptance, what precisely the book intends is an understanding of how everyone, regardless of their nature and principles, is struggling with their own battles in life. As how Amish Tripathi made us ponder on what exactly is evil in his Shiva trilogy series, our author brings in another important question to our society, ‘What exactly is dharma?’. What is good to one may turn unpleasant to another. Personally I believe this is a question that needs significant contemplation by an individual rather than discussions and searching in ancient texts. This argument is indeed the need-of-the-hour for our country and for humanity as a whole. And the author has well-begun this spark in his book!

To celebrate his success, I would refer Duryodhana as Suyodhana henceforth (his original name by which he is referred through all the pages). Not because I abide by all of the author’s points but by the benefit-of-doubt logic.

The Core of AJAYA

If you think it is in the plot of Mahabharata, you will be surprised to be proved wrong. At a deeper level, you will realize that the author has touched two challenging curses of this country – the caste system and poverty!
At some point in the book, you would want to eradicate all the Brahmins out of India! Such is the fierce with which it is written. I know of my Brahmin friends who do not mind touching meat or befriending people of other castes. However, when it comes to marriage, they shudder at the thought of other castes solely because not to hurt their predecessors’ orthodoxies. Yet, today there are other kind of Brahmins as well who are boldly breaking these insanities.

Poverty – Does it give hope for betterment which the caste system has given? Definitely Not! The author has dived deep into the hunger in slums with open noses and merciless eyes. I do not know if the character of Jara is an imaginary one or not. But I dare say, at the end of the book, you would not want anyone in this world to have lived like that except in the latter part, for the true happiness that he finds with life. Today, when I prepare food for my son, I pray no other young stomach goes hungry in any part of the world. That is again a celebration for the author’s success!

Awaiting AJAYA Part II – Rise of Kali

Part I ends with the thrilling scene where Draupadi is ordered to be dragged to the sabha on that fateful day of the game play. The short notes at the end speak on polyandry which is wide prevalent in the Mahabharata. Also, a beautiful allegory of the characters in a spiritual sense is presented (Close to Paramahansa Yogananda’s God Talks with Arjuna). Awaiting Part II – AJAYA – Rise of Kali!

 Reviewed for Leadstart Publishing

Title: AJAYA – Roll of the Dice
Author: Anand Neelakantan

This review was originally posted at my personal blog Pages from Serendipity on  January 31, 2014

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