At present, the market is flooded with Hindu Mythological books as author Kavita Kane says that people feel connected and relives their childhood days where they have grown up listening to these stories. Authors are presenting the same old stories in different frames in order to stand out in the crowd. While authors like Kavita Kane chooses lesser known characters for her books, authors like Amish Tripathi creates a fusion of myth and imagination in his books. Among all the mythological writers, I feel Anand Neelakantan has went one step ahead. He has this knack to write stories from vanquished and negative characters point of view. Presenting Mahabharata from the Duryodhana’s point of view is one such endeavor by Anand.
Rise of Kali is the second part of the book of the Ajaya series written by Anand Neelakantan telling the story of Kaurava clan. The first being Roll of the Dice in which Anand has portrait Pandavas and Kauravas in completely different light. While Pandavas are shown more in negative line who strongly abides by caste rules and look down upon the lower caste people. Kauravas lead by Duryodhana, on the other hand, masters the cause of downtrodden and is shown as a young individual full of life, humor and empathy. But in the last book of the series Rise of Kali marks the transformation of Suyodhana to Duryodhana. Perhaps this was the effect of Kaliyuga.
Suyodhana is indifferent to his wife, has no respect to the dignity of women. In fact he goes on to defend of what he did to Draupadi. Suddenly he becomes power hungry. He has completely lost his conscience. His daughter’s respect was sacrificed for political gain. Though few of his qualities remains the same. Like his love and loyalty towards his friends and his stand against caste system. But somehow the way in which Anand’s Duryodhana garnered my liking in the first book, my feelings weren’t the same in the second book. The author lost the grip on his main character. He was portrayed more as a grey shaded and completely lost sympathy. Otherwise, in general, if readers fall in love with any character who dies in the end it leaves behind a void. Well nothing same for Duryodhana.
In the first book, Anand has depicted Duryodhana’s character in a positive line. He was the hero. But what kind of hero he is who insults a woman and defends his actions. He loves his daughter but doesn’t reacts even minutely when she was assaulted. Better was Eklavya. I feel in the second part, author was adamant to transform Suyodhana into Duryodhana.
The major USP of Roll of Dice was its compelling and riveting narrative. It was out of box and Mahabharata was for the first time written from the the view of downtrodden, vanquished and was given new dimension by bringing the caste angle in the story. That gave narrative a very fresh look and something new to read. Also from caste perspective the story line appeared to be logical and Pandavas in fact were appearing to be heartless and power hungry brothers. But same was not true for Rise of Kali. It was mere retelling of what we have seen in television.
Duroyodhana was the least interesting character to read in Rise of Kali. Instead the story of Karna, Ashwathama and Eklavya were more engaging. In fact I kept thinking the author will pop up some surprise through the character of Eklavya. He was many a times illusioned as Lord Shiva but alas nothing as such happen. In fact his death left a void and I kept thinking he will come back.
Another character which was mysterious was Krishna. His character seems to be like pendulum swinging between divinity and mortality. I never managed to make out anything from his character or rather might be author himself was confuse about it. No conclusion could be derived whether he was a mortal or an avatar because he showed off like an avatar but his actions were that of a mundane.
What was the author sure about was Dharma and Adharma. In fact Anand had raised a question mark on the divinity of Gita. How can wiping out the entire clan in the name of Dharma could be justified? And how can killing some one in the name of Dharma in dishonest manner could be justified. Pandavas killed almost all the warriors on the Kauravas side by braking rules of the war. Really this has given enough food for thought and also once again has raised a debate between dharma and adharma.
Anand, throughout the book kept his focus only on caste system through Suyodhana. What about woman. Woman in the book are depicted as oppressed or hysterical or just mentally subdued or shown as power hungry. Moreover if a woman is physically abused than it is the fault of woman for the way she talks, wears and carry herself. What kind of argument is this. Really gave me a very bad taste while reading.
The Verdict: The first part of Ajaya was gripping. Its narrative never heard or read before. Anand has raised the standards so high that he himself fail to meet in the prequel. It was a long wait to read Rise of Kali but was not up to the expectations. It started great but ended up horrifying retelling.