During my childhood, I used to read one of the greatest of Indian epics, the Mahabharata, in Telugu, as a comic-book in black-on-white (Balala Bommala Bharatamu - బాలల బొమ్మల భారతము). I lost count of how many times I read it, never getting satiated.
There were heroes, there were villains, there were heroines, there were Gods and angels; all characters clearly etched, leaving no room for doubt. The Pandavas were the heroes, despite the subterfuges they indulged in, in the name of dharma. The Kauravas were the villains, despite the noble acts they committed. The heroines were chaste, despite being promiscuous, power-hungry, and polyandrous. No questions asked. No answers given.
Right through my life, from childhood until now, I have been hearing people - erudite savants - categorise the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, as the treatise on politics and power, but I have never looked at it from that angle, having accepted the “uncritical conventional renderings of the epic” handed down from generation to generation.
It is in this back ground and mindset that I read the book “Ajaya Book I – Roll of the Dice” by Mr. Anand Neelakantan.
How do I find it? Simply, brilliant.
The language is flowery, as is befitting the epic that it is. The descriptive prose is meticulous with an uncanny eye for detail. The storytelling is masterly, making the book a compelling page-turner. Well, all this is in the realm of the mundane. Is it controversial? Of course it is. The angle from which he looks at the epic makes it so - from the “villain’s” point of view. “Nothing succeeds like success,” is the adage. It was true in Dur(Su)yodhana’s case. It is true today.
However, the greatest achievement of the author is the demythologising of the characters, the significant incidents, and the story itself. I see that a lot of research has gone into the work. The power play, the caste equations, the class prejudices, the political manoeuvres, the interpretation of raja dharma by various players to suit their needs, have all been brilliantly depicted through the narration, giving the reader a glimpse of the goings-on behind the royal curtains. This has unequivocally exhibited why this great epic is still topical.
One issue that is a little jarring (to me) is the frequent references to India as one united nation during the ancient Mahabharata times; the ancient name of Jambu Dweepa or Bharata Khanda or Bharata Varsha might have been more appropriate. This, along with some modern-day expressions and grammatical errors, mentioning which will be inappropriate in the context of the excellence of the work, are the minor faults I could see.
I congratulate Leadstart Publishing for bringing out this excellent work and the author for creating it.
I wish Mr. Anand Neelakantan would, even if temporarily, loan me his magical literary quill.