At the heart of this story, hidden in plain sight, is the power of a mythological prayer to Shakti – the female power of the universe. The prayer is what Chanakya needs to rid himself of the curse placed on him by his heartbroken childhood sweetheart when she realises that she was more a pawn to him than someone he cared about.
Ashwin Sanghi has married the stories of 2 kingmakers – one is the famous (notorious) Chanakya – minister to one of the greatest kings in Indian history, Chandragupta Maurya. The other is a kingmaker in the not so distant future – Gangasagar Mishra who manages through a lot of crooked dealings to raise a young girl from the slums to the office of the Prime Minister.
Chanakya (also called Kautilya and Vishnugupta) is the son of a well-loved and respected Brahmin in 340 BC in __ kingdom. When his father is murdered at the word of the king, the son Chanakya vows revenge.
Brilliant, wily, calculating and sans morals, he becomes a powerful man, a political strategist who manages to unite a fractured country under Emperor Chandragupta Maurya.
Chanakya’s avatar in the current day (actually set a few years in the future) is Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, a man who has no notion of scruples or morals and who becomes a puppetmaster – installing his protegees in seats of power. His ultimate achievement would be to ensconce in the seat of the Prime Minister a young woman whom he nurtured out of the slums of Mumbai.
Does Gangasagar manage to unite India? What does a united India really mean? And will Chanakya′s chant work to lift the curse?
This is a fast-paced story filled with political intrigue, military maneuvering, sexual appetites and lots more. The parallels drawn between Chanakya in the past and Gangasagar in the present/future are very smartly done and there is a lot of fodder for thought in this story.
I enjoyed the story in the past a lot more than the current day one. One of the reasons is my love of history and mythology. This work of fiction has woven in some mythological aspects with the fictionalized historical account of Chanakya. Chanakya is an impressive character and his intelligence and strategy are intriguing.
The switching back and forth also worked very well – and we see the similarities in the plots and rise and development of the 2 characters. In a Sydney Sheldon like style, Sanghi reports developments in the different threads of the plot in short sections – all leading up to the big event – the outcome that Chanakya and Gangasagar have foreseen and worked towards.
While I loved the premise and enjoyed reading about Vishakanyas, sages, curses and the like, I was not entirely satisfied with the book.
One reason is that I never fully felt or understood why Chanakya wanted to see a united Bharat. His reason for revenge I got, but beyond that, I was not convinced. None of the characters are fully developed and this is true also in the current day storyline.
Another aspect that got a little tedious was the explanation that Chanakya and Gangasagar give for each action and plot. Initially this device worked very well, but halfway through got very repetitive. It seemed like the people around these two puppeteers were utter simpletons, which can’t have been the case. Chandragupta, the Emperor of Bharat, one of the greatest emperors is always puzzled and needs long explanations to understand even simple plots. Just once, I wanted to see that the pupil had actually learned something from his guru. It feels like the idea of the puppet-master has been taken a little too far.
A big drawback was the lack of a map of ancient India – we read about Gandhar and Kaikey, Magadha and other kingdoms, but I have no idea where these were. Without a visual representation, the movement of the armies, size of kingdoms, which kingdom borders the other are all too abstract and hard to follow.
And the jokes made about Menon’s accent were totally unnecessary and rather bigoted.
The objection on the political choices of the characters is one of high expectations. The author has used present day political scenario and made a comment on the way politics works in the country – through bribing, blackmailing, arm twisting and outright murder. This is all true – sadly. Since the story was set a little into the future (18th Prime Minister) it would have been refreshing to see a somewhat morally upright kingmaker and politicians – an Utopian concept, I know, perhaps even unrealistic, but one can hope.
Definitely check out if Indian history and mythology is of interest. Be warned that this is a fictionalized account of Chanakya and that the story does get rather repetitive half way into the book. None of the characters really leap out, staying rather one-dimensional.
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