Chanakya’s Chant is Ashwin Sanghi’s second novel after The Rozabal Line. It revolves around the life of a Pandit who emerges as a modern day Chanakya.
The style is similar to his debut, linking modern events to those that occurred two millennia ago. We have seen this style many times, flipping between two parallel events – only here, the parallel events are from long ago.
A Pandit from Kanpur with financial banking from a merchant and manpower from a Muslim strongman manages to unite the people of the city and assume political power. He makes his disciple becomes the most powerful woman in the country, just as Chanakya enthroned Chandragupta Maurya. As he develops the plot, Sanghi touches upon many issues in modern India – religious friction, corruption and the like. He is clearly inspired by real world events such as the tussle between the Ambani brothers, cash for votes, the fodder scam and the 2G scam(yes, that one too!). There are several instances where the media is cleverly used by devious politicians – #MediaMafia, anyone?
The description of Uttar Pradesh, I cannot comment upon for I have confined myself to Tamil Nadu most of my life. However, the unhygienic conditions and the slum might very well fit into any large town in India. One could draw parallels between the two central characters and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh too. A minor quibble I see is that Sanghi has portrayed the Keralite as talking English with a funny accent. He cannot be further from the truth here – I know many Keralites who have a neutral accent; I haven’t seen a person speak with the accent he writes. There are several quotes that are wrongly attributed to Chanakya, but the Acknowledgements & References section makes this clear.
I do not have a large appetite for historical thrillers, and so I cannot compare this work with many others. It might seem at the outset that Sanghi is developing into a desi Dan Brown, given his penchant for history. I hope we can expect a deviation from this genre in his future work.
There is a lot of gore – and not all of it is blood. There are several descriptions of coitus and mutilations that are not really necessary – just page filling material. There is too much profanity on show too. The book could have been shorter by a fifth, and even then I doubt it’d have been a gripping read. However, it is a pleasing way to pass a lazy Saturday afternoon. It is quite entertaining and the history is not as wrong as in many other in its genre. I was expecting better, especially after The Rozabal Line, but Sanghi has not disappointed either.
Plus: A decent plot, Nice real-life parallels, Enjoyable
Minus: Too much narrative (which sometimes gets boring), Stereotyping
Final Word: Good to read on a Sunday after lunch