It has always been a fascinating experience to explore the various layers and nuances of ‘The Mahabharata” the greatest epic known to mankind. But it’s never enough as is proved by this book.
Anand Neelkantan takes a very old story and tells it from a perspective which not many have tried before. Ajaya like Asura is the story of the vanquished. And what a story it is….
Anand changes the approach dramatically. Characters who just get a mention in the popular version of the Mahabharata become the protagonists and we see the story unfold from their point of view. The narrative is brilliant. (But the first person style he used in Asura was more effective). The prelude is chilling. What fascinates the reader is his ability to find a contemporary correlation. A purist may find this book blasphemous but then again with the Mahabharata… that’s natural. Under the author’s pen Duryodhana comes to life as Suyodhana, a prince who will stop at nothing to claim his birthright and act according to his conscience. He is indeed the centerpiece of this elaborate canvas.
The caste system is debated mercilessly through the characters. The foreign hand and a foreign queen quickly give rise to speculations in the mind of the author as to whom is the author alluding to. The visual imagery comes to life as the Grandsire Bheeshma goes about administering a Hastinapur torn by caste conflicts. Economic backwardness and failure of the state to protect the rights of the weak are the factors which give rise to terrorism says Bhishma to Vidura…. Communism anyone?. A cold war is going on between Kunti and Gandhari as to who will become the crown prince of Hastinapura.
The Pandavas of questionable fatherhood and the Kaurava princes grow from being to children to adults, scheming and plotting all the way. In a far away land the kingdom of the Yadavas is being reformed by Balarama much against the wishes of his younger brother Krishna who wants the old systems to continue.
Far South, Parashurama’s clan has established a Brahmin kingdom where orthodox Brahminism and unparalleled casteism reign. The southern confederacy wants to influence Hastinapur’s ideology through rumors and infiltrating it with spies. Parashurama’s friend, Drona, an orthodox Brahmin is the Guru of the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
The character of Kripa comes to life in Ajaya. His refusal to submit to Brahministic rituals has made him an outcaste.
The banter between the four friends; Suyodhana, Sushasana, Karna and Ashwathama; is something which most of us would identify with. The sexual jealousy of Arjuna due to Yudhishtra getting the first right over Draupadi is apparent. In an unforgettable instance Gandhari says, “She told Draupadi to marry all the five to keep them united? Thank heavens my sons don’t need that to keep them united.”
Ekalavya and Karna, both victims of casteism find different ways to achieve their goals. Jara a beggar and his blind dog Dharma are witnesses to these events. Their story is a brutal indictment of society.
To reveal more, would be criminal. Ajay Book1: Roll of the dice is rich and juicy. Bite into it. Then wait for Book 2: The rise of Kali due in 2014.