Thursday, January 23, 2014

Duryodhana is the Hero

Anand Neelakantan's gripping novel, 'Ajaya' (Epic of the Kaurava Clan, Part 1), gives the Kauravas version of the Mahabharata. It is already No. 1 on the best-seller lists

By Shevlin Sebastian

Around ten years ago, author Anand Neelakantan came across a procession which was witnessed by thousands of people. They were waiting to pay homage to the idol at the Malanada Temple in a village in Kerala’s Kollam district. And the deity turned out to be a surprise. “It was none other than Duryodhana, the most reviled villain in Indian mythology,” says Anand.

In fact, according to legend, Duryodhana had come to Kerala in search of the Pandava princes. Feeling thirsty, he asks an old woman for water. Impulsively, she gives the toddy she is carrying. It was only then that the woman realises that Duryodhana is a Kshatriya and could lose his caste by drinking toddy from an Untouchable. When she tells him this, Duryodhana says, “Mother, there is no caste for hunger and thirst. Blessed are you for putting the interests of a thirsty man before your own safety.”

Ever since then Anand had been fascinated with Duryodhana. So it was no surprise that when he became a writer, he decided to write a book about the anti-hero. Called 'Ajaya (Epic of the Kaurava Clan, Part 1)', and published by Platinum Press, it has already soared to No 1 on the Crossword Bestseller List. This is his second book. His first, 'Asura-Tale of the Vanquished', about Ravana, was also a best-seller.

In 'Ajaya', Duryodhana is the hero, while the Pandavas are the villains,” says Anand. On the throne in Hastinapura, is Dhritarashtra, a blind man, who does not have any influence. His foreign-born wife, Gandhari, and her co-sister Kunti are engaged in a protracted cold war to make their sons the next heir to the empire.

Duryodhana, the Crown Prince of Hastinapura, is himself desperate for the throne. But his cousin Yudhisthira, and his brothers along with their mother will do anything to stop Duryodhana from becoming king. They are helped by the orthodox elements of society, which include the conservative Brahmin, Drona, ace politician, Krishna, and Kunti’s chief adviser, the priest Dhaumya.

As the cold war progresses, and as the helpless Patriarch, Bhishma, and his prime minister Vidura looks on, a revolution is brewing in the jungles of India. Takshaka, a Naga leader, wants to overthrow the establishment and bring about a people's revolution. Ekalavya, an untouchable, wants to become the best warrior in the country. “It is a modern take of an ancient story,” says Anand. “I have tried to draw parallels with present-day India.” 

The scenes are vivid and dramatic. You can feel as if you are in the kingdom of Hastinapura, so powerful are the images created in the mind. Anand says that the entire structure of the novel was planned beforehand. “It underwent changes as I wrote, but the blueprint remained the same,” he says.

Anand, who is Manager (Retail Sales) in Indian Oil Corporation, Belgaum, will be writing a second part. It is called the 'Rise of Kali', and will be published in August, 2014.

When asked why he decided to write about the Kauravas, Anand says, “All the stories are about victorious people. There should be someone to write about the vanquished too. From 'Asura' to 'Ajaya' was a natural progression.” 

(The Sunday Standard Magazine, New Delhi, and The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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