Ajaya: Roll of the Dice – Anand Neelakantan | Book Review (Epic of the Kaurava Clan # 1)
It is a well-known fact that history is always written from winner’s perspective. We tend to develop a notion about any historic event based upon the story which is told to us. It’s not easy for us to think about the other side of story. It is a psychological fact that human beings try to avoid the questions which are difficult to answer. Anand Neelakantan tries to answer these types of questions in his latest book Ajaya: Roll of the Dice. What if Kauravas were not as bad as they are generally marked in all the Mahabharata retellings? What if Krishna was not a God incarnation and just an imposer? What if the Dharma which Yudhishthira and Pandavas uphold, was itself malicious?
Biggest reason for me to read this book was the author Anand Neelakantan. I became his huge fan after reading his first book Asura: The Tale of Vanquished, which tells the story of Ramayana from Ravana’s perspective and poses lots of tough questions to our beliefs. A lot of retellings of Mahabharata have been written but this is perhaps the first one which tells the story from Kaurava’s perspective. This book shows altogether different side of Duryodhana (who is named as Suyodhana in this book). He was not evil; he was just another prince as Pandavas. He is shown as a kind hearted and compassionate prince who was against the norms of caste system and believed that ability and not birth should decide what a person can or can’t do.
The book starts with Gandhari being captivated by Bheeshma to get her married with the blind prince Dhritrashtra. In the process Gandhar Kingdom is destroyed which leaves Shakuni, the young Gandhar Prince burning with vengeance. Highlight of this book is characterization of Shakuni, Drona, Kripa, Charvaka, Eklavya, Jarasandha, Shishupala, Balrama and most importantly Krishna. Drona is the teacher of princes who favoured Pandavas over Kauravas. Kripa is a Brahmin who doesn’t believe in caste system and Carvaka is an atheist. Jarasandha and Shishupala have been shown as kind and noble kings as opposed to other versions in which they are shown as villains. Krishna is a charming prince who thinks of himself as God incarnation and feels it’s his moral duty to behold the Dharma. You will find some shades of grey in his character which is contrary to popular version of Mahabharata
Book raises a lot of questions regarding the society at that time and twists of laws and accepted behaviours by so called upholders of Dharma for their own benefit. How do you justify Krishna forcing Draupadi insulting Karna in the swayamvar so that Arjuna can win even though Karna hit the target? In that time a woman was allowed to marry 4 men but if she marries more than 4 men, she was considered to be a prostitute. Yet, Kunti forced Draupadi to marry all five of her sons so that they stay united. Didn’t Kunti trust her sons or her upbringing that a mere entry of a woman in household can separate them? How can you hand over the whole nation to a bunch of males who can’t control their lust for the wife of their own brother? Touching a lower caste human was Adharma but forcing a newly wedded girl to share the bed of five brothers was considered Dharma? And more over just after Arjuna’s marriage with Draupadi, who was forced to spend first year with Yudhishthir, Krishna executes his plan of getting Arujuna married with his sister Subhadra. Another interesting angle shown in the book is love story of Suyodhana and Subhadra, a marriage which was sanctioned by both Dhritrashtra and Balrama and which did not take place because Subhadra eloped with Arjuna on provocation by Krishna. All these questions cannot be answered by any logical explanation if Pandavas were upholders of Dharma and Kauravas were the evil incarnations.
The book ends with the epic game of dice played between Yudhisthira and Suyodhana which was controlled by Shakuni with his magical dice. Everyone remembers the scene in which Draupdi is disrobed but how we simply ignore the fact that it was Yudhishthira who puts his own wife as a materialistic thing on gamble. This shows the mentality of society towards Woman during that period. Suyodhana even offered to end the game in middle and return everything which Yudhisthira lost but he didn’t agree. One particular point which I am not able to accept is how can Yudhishthira claim his wife Draupadi and put her on gamble after losing himself in a previous chance? The first part ends on a note where Draupdai is being called in the Sabha after Yudhishthira lost her in the game of dice. So Ajaya: Roll of the Dice is an apt title for the book. The story concludes in second part Rise of Kali which is set to be published in later part of year 2014.
I fell in love with the book while reading it. It’s not only about writing the story from an opposite perspective but about questioning the absurd but socially accepted norms. We do need to accept that the time in which Mahabharata story took place is much different from current time but not everything can be answered by telling that it was God’s wish. This book is a food for thought and makes you question your own beliefs. It forces you to think from a perspective which is drastically different from your own. Hats off to Mr Neelakantan for coming up with the other side of story which is not only as good as his first book Asura but in some ways trumps his previous one too.