Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: CHANAKYA'S CHANT - A cornucopia of politics and history

Authored by Ashwin Sanghi, Chanakya's Chant, a work of historical fiction is actually more than a book. The book, the authors' second one, after The Rozabal Line, remained a hotseller last year and was well received, well publicized as well with a website (, a video trailer and a free downloadable vedic chant mp3 file. The book, in about 430 pages, sails alternately between 340 BC, times of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya and the present day political scenario in Uttar Pradesh, India. 

Cold and calculated means to achieve political agenda - larger interests of unifying Bharat under the force of a mighty ruler like Chandragupta Maurya were employed by Kautilya or Vishnugupta, best known as Chanakya. An immaculately planned script in this kingmaker's mind translated into the most brilliantly strategized capture of power over Magadha and with it the advent of a very valorous and prominent Mauryan dynasty, thus saving the country from invasive throes of Alexander the Great and draconian Macedonian forces. All sorts of means - cruel, cunning, deceitful, lecherous and lascivious were deployed to avenge ones' loss, do the needful that the country and its people rightly deserved. 

The book emphasizes the fact that history exults in repeating itself and that is when the focus shifts to present day scenario in India where a simple Brahmin, a history teacher from Uttar Pradesh - Pandit Gangasagar Mishra elevates a simple girl from Kanpur slums - Chandni Gupta to reins of power - the prime minister of the nation. There is one chapter about the past, the scenario about 2300 years ago and the next chapter seamlessly shifts to present Bharat, much more diverse and divisive by class, caste, language, gender and religion. The techniques and tactics employed to get to the pinnacle are roughly the same and this parallel is drawn out fantastically by the author. 

Plot - its pros and cons

Book chapters describe the political moves of past and present in an alternating fashion 

A map in the beginning of the book marking empires of 340 BC times

Pros: Chapters revealing the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Magadha and rule of ancient India are highly intriguing. There are many witty conversations between the teacher - Chanakya at Takshila University and his students - Chandragupta, Sinharan, Sharangrao and Mehir. These conversations abound with ingenious quips/punchlines that reveal a lot on history, human psychology and politics. The author has dedicated a section for some of these quotes, their sources at the end of the book. History personally interests me and I found this section on past highly interesting. 

The book offers an easy read with no complex language thrown in. 

The fiction part dealing with the present political scenario bears nothing new, therefore is banal - magical numbers to attain majority in state or central assembly, playing minority card for vote bank, electoral rigging, venomous nexus between businessmen and political honchos - they are all there. While reading through the chapters that deal with present one cannot refrain from thinking that a thousand NDTV news episodes content were squeezed into them. Scenes from movies like Rajneeti, Apaharan, Gangajal and may be many more of forgotten names also trickle in. Despite all this, there are certain portions that toss you in surprise. 

The prologue gives a nice opening to this well written work and the epilogue ends well answering if the erstwhile Chanakya's chant rendered success, many years later. 

The author deserves immense credit for extensively researching the topic and writing this piece of political and historical fiction. He maintains interest and draws parallel between past and present quite well. To me, he is far better and more adept a kingmaker than both Chanakya and Gangasagar Mishra. 

Cons:  The hackneyed portions dealing with present day politics, the huge array of characters of past and present, remembering their names and connections, what they did and did not do may get taxing at times and make the reading a little cumbersome. You might have to stay up and erect and quit your slouching position on account of this. The book draws its entire life and blood from history and politics - so for folks not interested in how kingdoms and kings rose and fell, what stirred rebellions and revolts, what apart from people's votes brought parties to power, this book is a definite no-no. 

My recommendations 
I enjoyed reading the book, not a racy read, nevertheless delightful. There are moments where one is bewildered by the multitude of political strategies and tactics used. I am not sure if I will re read it as a whole, but I would love to turn its pages some time and revisit some interesting dialogues and quotes, particularly from section dealing with Chanakya and Magadha times.  

1 comment:

Rahul said...

The novel is very dark, not for everyone. Story runs parallel in two era's, one in Ancient India and the other in Modern day India. The author connects Chankya and Gangasar very well. An interesting read nonetheless !