Name of the Book - AJAYA, Epic of the Kaurava Clan, Book 1 - Roll of the Dice
Author - Anand Neelakantan (also authored best seller book Asura)
Publisher - Leadstart Publishing
Chapters/Pages - Organised into 27 chapters, a total of 455 pages.
Price in India - Rs 299
Prelude to the Book Review:
The Mahabharata - longest known epic poem written by Vyasa has always fascinated me. I am sure many will agree that we were literally transported to the kingdom of Hastinapur and its times through BR Chopra's television series (1988) based on the epic. The Mahabharata has been narrated by many in different manners highlighting myriad aspects. Many tales of this epic find reasoning and revelation in Bhagavata Purana, a work again attributed to Vyasa. Each narration of this gargantuan epic unfolds hidden tales and perspectives. I picked up this book AJAYA - Roll of the Dice with the same intention, to visit episodes of the epic from an unseen angle - from the viewpoint of Kauravas, more aptly Duryodhana, topically referred to as Suyodhana.
What caught my attention as I opened the book was its immaculate structure. The author's beginning note titled "Why write about Duryodhana" sends a clear message on his intention in writing the book and justifies his efforts. It reminds me of the proverb - The devil is not so black as he is painted.
Few pages are dedicated to explaining characters that feature in the book and there is an impressive genealogy tree diagram relevant to the epic too. Right from the prelude, where Anand explains Bhishma's exploits in Gandhara and unravels the birth of the story's real villain - Shakuni; he plays devil's advocate. And, I must admit, he pulls off this tough job in an elegant fashion without mincing words and sans editing gaffes.
In the opening chapter, animosity between cousins - the Kauravas and the Pandavas is portrayed in a light hearted manner, Suyodhana hates and fears mighty Bhima who always prowls around him. Another cousin he dreads is Yudhishtra who he feels is only more "poisonous" than "pious".
As the story unfolds, Drona, the teacher arrives to make true Kshatriyas out of Pandavas and Kauravas. Suyodhana is depicted as one who lacks interest in teacher's lessons, who often gets reprimanded as son of a blind fool, one who prefers appreciating the love between birds perched on a tree rather than treat them as mere target, one who wishes to fight the rigid varna system and many other perils like hunger, poverty, caste discrimination and untouchability that hog his kingdom. He is projected as one who possesses a strong vision to rebuild the society, base it on merit and talent rather than on caste and dogmatic rules laid out in scriptures, an idea patronized by only few mavericks like Kripa, Carvaka and Balarama.
Ekalavya and Karna come along as victims caught in this societal quagmire, rebuked and shunned to darkness despite possessing immense talent. While the former tastes only failure and loss, the latter proves little luckier to be trained under Parashurama and be crowned the king of Anga by his loyal friend, Suyodhana.
An adage states - only lawyers and painters can turn white to black; through many episodes like the burning of house of lac at Varanavata, creation of Indraprastha and curse of Mayasura, Draupadi's Swayamvara; her subsequent marriage to five brothers and Arjuna's marriage to Subhadhra, the author manages to paint the Pandavas, their mother Kunti and even Krishna "black" with words.
The book ends with the infamous dice game between the cousins where Pandavas lose everything to Kauravas.
Anand has treated this book not just as a piece of fiction but moulded portions of the epic to incorporate many present day problems in society. Lot of research has gone in as seen from concluding sections of the book - notes on Polyandry in Ancient India and Gandhari and Dhritharashta's 100 sons and one daughter. A short glossary and a preview to the sequel of this book - Rise of Kali too follow these articles.
Anand Neelakantan does a decent job as devils' advocate all along. However, why the game of dice rolls on even when Pandavas gamble away their wife, why self righteous Suyodhana and his friend Dharmaveera Karna turn a blind eye to the farce unfolding before them is inexplicable. Does Suyodhana really turn into Duryodhana in the last few pages of the book despite author's best efforts, is he really just a "son of a blind fool" are questions that need rumination.
This book is a definite NO for those who view Pandavas as unquestionable heroes and refuse to introspect Lord Krishna's naughty shenanigans even jokingly. The book might also prove cumbersome for those who do not have a broad idea of the chronological sequence of events in the epic. Otherwise, the book offers a good read and a distinctive perspective.