Book review: Chanakya’s Chant

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

Rating: 7/10

Final Word: Good to read on a  Sunday after lunch

The Legend of Laxman

Every cricketer is defined by his own unique character. I have been fortunate to have seen in action, the grit of Steve Waugh, the technique of Rahul Dravid, the style of Brian Lara and Saurav Ganguly and the brutality of Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya. But what elevates Laxman to another plane altogether is that he has three of those defining characteristics in abundance. Maybe that is why we do not have any word to exalt him, as we do with Master Blaster or The Wall.

The first time I saw him with interest was in the Eden Gardens test against the Aussies in 1998. He was opening with Sidhu, and scored a 95, in an innings where the top 6 scored fifties, with Azharuddin scoring an imperious century. Remember, this was the time before the emergence of new India: they still played with three spinners at home with Ganguly sharing new ball duty with Srinath.

After that, he remained in the shadows until the glorious 167 at Sydney. Scored at breathtaking pace, this is an innings I love to watch, although India surrendered for less than 250. Then came the mother of all monumental innings – that knock at Eden Gardens that gave birth to the legend of Laxman. Here was a man unperturbed by the situation or bowlers, heralding the arrival of a new fearless India.

His 89 at Port Elizabeth during Sehwag’s debut series was a match saving innings, although it was in the first innings – India folded for 201 and Laxman had a 9th wicket partnership of 80 with Kumble. This was the first of many rescue acts involving batsmen of lesser calibre, who were inspired by the calm and panache of the seemingly soft man at the other end.

He is like a prodigious student at the end of his school life – tough exams such as the JEE bring out the best in him, igniting his brilliant mind into overdrive; and lesser school exams are too boring for him to expend his energy. He rarely makes wild guesses, but relies on his intuition at times. Laxman rarely slogs or hits out, and relies on the good judgement of the tailenders batting with him.

There are times when the Twenty-20 loving Indian public question the inclusion of technically sound and more importantly, stubborn batsmen in place of the dashers. They’ll realise their folly if they think of one man: Laxman.

Wake up to the harsh reality

I’ve been reading, of late, the William Monk series by Anne Perry. The author’s portrayal of Victorian England is at once vivid and brutally real. The plot is also pretty good. The setting and her narrative might influence the reader to think that she’s inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie in equal measure. The protagonist is a police officer in nineteenth century England, who lost his memory after an accident. How he manages to solve one knotty case after another is the premise of the series. If Sherlock Holmes portrayed the rich and powerful of Victorian England, William Monk portrays the commoner, the layman who isn’t given much importance by the law, or rather the lawmakers.

The first book in this series that I read is Dark Assassin, which mom had bought sometime ago. I loved the book, and got most of the other books too. I am reading the second book in the series now, and a character’s words set my mind in motion, just what one needs at the fag end of a working day. Here are the words:

About aspiring actors in a public house: “They have imagination to take them out of the commonplace, to forget the defeats of reality and feed on the triumphs of dreams. They can evoke any mood they want into their faces and make themselves believe it for an hour or two. That takes courage; it takes a rare inner strength.”

This sums up the attitude of the Indian people. We have corruption everywhere, but we do believe that our country will become a beacon of honesty as in olden days. We see poverty reign our slums, streets and villages; but we take solace in Mukesh Ambani’s billion dollar home. We don’t hesitate even a moment while bribing public officials, but we debate about the ethics of politicians who swallow monstrous amounts of money. We complain about mosquitoes and the diseases that they bring, but joyfully spit on the road and pee on the walls. We admire a rhapsodizing politician on the stage, but curse when (s)he fails to turn promises into action. Indeed, we turn a blind eye to reality and live in dreams.

If we can still surmount what is natural and believe what we wish to believe, in spite of the force of evidence, then for a while at least we are masters of our own fate, and we can paint the world we want.

This is exactly what we do, attain bliss in our Utopia, while the real world stares harshly at us. Until we wake up to the reality that is engulfing our lives, we will continue to vote for the same dirty leaders and scandals will be a way of life.