May 25

Ajaya by Anand Neelakantan | Not just a Book Review – Part 2 (Final)

Ajaya-by-Anand-NeelakantanIf you haven’t read Part 1, check it out here – this follow-up post will make a lot more sense once you have read it.

Okay, now let me pick up where I left off – I don’t hate Duryodhan, I dislike Yudhishtir a lot more. Though just to be clear, I dislike them both. One more than the other.

Sure they have their positives (people don’t come in black and white, everyone has shades of grey), but I can (at times) empathize with Duryodhan’s motives to a certain extent, even if I do not agree with them. He felt life had given him a raw deal, and his actions were guided by this belief. People do crazy things for revenge!

But Yudhishtir is a whole different deal. He decided to bet his younger brothers and then his (their) wife (because clearly he considered them his ‘property’) during a game of dice, that he was clearly losing, and all for what? Some misguided sense of honor! Firstly, you have to be a very advanced level of stupid to decide to play a game of dice with people who have tried to burn you and your whole family in a building made of wax, but then Yudhishtir was never the sharpest crayon in the box. Secondly, and more importantly, what kind of honor was he even defending when he decided to gamble his siblings and his wife, I am never going to understand!

Ajaya – Author’s Note

Now, coming to Ajaya – at the very beginning of the book, in the author’s note – the author explains his reasons for taking up Duryodhan as his protagonist. He mentions how he came across a temple in South India where Duryodhan was the presiding deity, and also narrates a story that he heard from the locals about Duryodhan not discriminating against people based on the prevalent caste system. I cannot confirm or dismiss the authenticity of this story, but for now, let us hold this as the truth.

The author then tries to give another example of Duryodhan’s tolerance of the caste system by reminding the readers of his “un-selfish” actions towards Karna –

“The Kaurava Prince challenges orthodoxy by making Suta a King, and he does so without selfish motives”

This is just plain wrong. You don’t need to have a very high IQ to know that this was a very selfish decision. Duryodhan needed Karna to be able to fight on his side, as he himself, could not match Arjun in a duel. Karna was Duryodhan’s solution for Arjun. Was it a smart move? Yes! Un-selfish? You got to be kidding me!

Ajaya – Introduction to the Cast of Characters

After the author’s note, came the introduction to the cast of characters.

Generally, this section lays down the facts – who is who, how are they related etc. This is supposed to be an unbiased introduction, and guess what I came across here –

Draupadi – The wife shared by all five Pandava brothers. Dhristadyumna is her brother, and Shikandi (a eunuch), an adopted sibling.

It should have stopped here, but no –

She is spirited and does not take insults quietly. Fiercely determined, she is perhaps the real man in the Pandava camp.

This is an opinion. And it tells me this –

The author doesn’t believe that there is merit to his argument, and that he can convince the readers to see his side, through logic, and hence is providing them with colored glasses to begin with.

Such an introduction makes no difference to people who know this epic saga, but I feel this can lead to profound bias for people new to this tale/culture. And that is just not okay.

These are just handpicked examples, but there were other things in the author’s note/introductions to cast ( and many many more in the book itself) that made one thing clear –

This was not what I was looking for.

Anyone can turn events onto their head and muddle the lines between fact and fiction, truth and conjecture, and make anyone, absolutely anyone, look like a knight in shining armor.

The real challenge lies in getting into the readers heads and making them look at the same situation in a different way, which, I must say that the author has successfully done for Shakuni in the very first chapter, but after that it was just a one sided brain-wash. What is interesting is that it is the very thing that the author accused the original Mahabharata of, which brings me to the single most important failing of Ajaya.

The Single Most Important Fail  

As I had mentioned in Part 1 – the one thing that I have always loved about Mahabharata was the shades of grey that every character had, including Krishna (who was supposed to be the re-incarnation of God on earth!).

I could relate to these people, who lived so many many centuries before me. Mostly because, in this tale – bad people had good sides to them, good people did bad things too, but you never really could slot any of them as good or bad. Essentially, they were just people, who were a product of their upbringing and experiences, who had their motivations,  and acted according to their biases and circumstances – sounds like any or all of us, right?

However, the author insists that Mahabharata painted Pandavas white and Kauravas black. That is just not true, and anyone who has any reading comprehension skills (and who has gone through Mahabharata) will vouch for this. If that was really the case, then I (who certainly was on-board with the victorious Pandava camp) would not have disliked Yudhishtir (who eventually became the king of the victorious Pandava side) above everyone else.

I would not have been able to empathize with Dhritrashtra when he felt he was being cheated from his legacy because of him being blind, or understand Duryodhan’s motivation as he  grew up with the same feeling of being wronged. Heck I could even see why Shakuni felt short-changed, and honestly, he had a point (a small one, yes, but he did). I might not have agreed with any of them, but I could certainly see their POV.

The whole mess was more circumstantial, and Mahabharata was a multi-faceted, complex narrative which encompassed a wide spectrum of human emotions and behavior.

To top it all,  the author proceeded to do exactly what he (wrongly) accused Mahabharata of – he took 2 boxes of paint – one black, one white, and painted everyone that was in support of his argument (which was flawed anyway) white, everyone against – black. And in doing that – he killed the very essence of this wonderful tale.

All in all – I would urge you to put your time to better use, and skip this book. But if you insist on rebellion, you can find this book here

Ajaya (Amazon) Ajaya (Flipkart)

Have you guys come across a book that you just could not finish? After repeatedly trying to get through it? Have you reviewed such a book? I have mixed feelings about reviewing books that I did not/could not finish; I feel compelled to justify my reasons for DNFing it. But I think the very fact that one could not continue reading a book says a lot. Don’t you think so?


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  1. I was waiting for you to publish the complete review, Shantala. You’ve delved into some deep points here, and opened Pandora’s box.

    Yes, lately, inspired by the Western culture, we Hindus have begun painting everything in black and white. Hindus themselves blast our scriptures saying that it’s all about right and wrong. But that isn’t so. It’s about your perspective, mine, and what everyone sees. Everyone has access to a bhaga of truth. God can see all the pieces, hence the term Bhaga-van.

    I won’t discuss whether Yudhisthir was good, or Duryodhan was selfish – that’s subjective. But from your review, it looks like the author has tried to force a contrarian POV down a reader’s throat, rather than presenting it in a balanced form which makes the reader decide for herself.

    Loved how you’ve penned this book review. Keep up the amazing work!

  2. Very interesting review! I would certainly not be picking up this book. I agree with you that a retelling from another perspective adds to the tale but making up stuff does not. I have loved Mahabharat since the time it came on telly as a serial. My most loved character was Krishna — so flawed and wise. Loved your review. And yes l have left many books that l could not finish but have not reviewed Amy such book.
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  3. Thank you for the review. I was on the verge of going for this one. Duryodhan’so POV would have made for interesting reading. He did have justifications, but to paint him white is weird and completely unbelievable. I completely agree when you say that it’s the greys that make a character likeable/believable. What a collosal waste of an idea.
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  4. Lata Sunil says:

    I am aware that there exists a temple for Duryodhan, in fact its near my hometown. Its a fact my grandmother would mock at my grandfather about. It was a family joke. But, never heard people praising him at home. Of course, as the Mahabharata is written by the victors, there are many aspects which are favourable for the Pandavas. Reading MB comes down to the writing style ultimately. I do not like judgemental write-ups like calling someone spirited or a villain. I would like to make my own deductions and I feel that is where the book fails from what I read here. I recently read another book on Bhishma called ‘The Last Kaurava’ in which Bhishma is siding with the Kauravas. But, it is so well-written, all 600 pages of it.

  5. Grt job Shantala. I do not agree with you on few very minor points but i do agree on all things that actually matter. You have reviewed this book with a lot of passion. I loved reading it. ?
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  6. Loved this part 2. Mahabharata is an epic and a story where you rightly said, people did things per their belief and readers took sides per theirs. When an author tries to paint a different picture without staying balanced, it makes no sense. Yes, it’s okay to have an opinion but as an author, there is another responsibility. To present the facts. To take sides in a rational way. Not to twist a tale.
    Well written Shantala!
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  7. Well said Shantala! I had a major argument with my better half while discussing this book, obviously we took sides! Indeed a rather biased view-point has been painted here, its as if the author wants to totally reverse all your perceptions of this timeless epic…why I don’t know! All the same, I can only say that the epic being the classic it is, even despite distortions and contradicting view-points can hold your attention like no other tale can – I doubt whether any other tale can claim this! Maybe its the new-fangled trend of rediscovering our mythology and presenting a new perspective however illogical it may seem!
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  8. I have abandoned many books and, as I grow older, I find I abandon books more and more. If I am not caught up in the book after the first couple of chapters I will skip forward a bit and try again. There are too many books and so little time. As for book reviews – I don’t write them but I like to read good ones. We humans are so diverse in our tastes but good writing (or the lack of it) is universal.

  9. That was exactly why I disliked Yudhisthira… but as you said the characters in Mahabharata has such complex characteristics, and so many layers of personality as well. It would be unjustified to paint it in just black and white.
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  10. Sumeetha says:

    Nice review Shantala. This was the last POV novel that I read about Mahabharata and it truly put me off so much so that I haven’t picked up any mythology retelling after this.

  11. Sounds like this author didn’t write the book well at all. I am very nervous about “opinion” books written without much base in facts because, like you said, they can give the wrong data to people new to the book. I hope people who attempt this will do more research on the subject. Great review, Shantala!
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  12. I can’t finish a book that fails to grab my interest by 30-40 pages. I have so many unfinished books on my bookshelf.

    “She is spirited, and does not take insults quietly. Fiercely determined, she was probably the real man in the Pandava camp.” I don’t mind quotation as Pandavas (when it comes to Draupadi) were good for nothing!

    Actually, authors use unique POV to grab the attention of commissioning editors (while submitting their work to publishing houses), and they somehow succeed. He has used Ravana’s POV in Asura.

    One cannot justify Duryodhan’s deeds, but when it comes to Karna, he was not selfish. I don’t think he was a visionary to think that smart (at that point of time when nobody, in general, thought of a war). For Pandavas, they had got their share (the share was not fair though); they flourished tremendously, and then lost…everything. The loss (including his brother and wife) was not entirely Duryodhan’s fault. Was it?

    I really liked this unique review of an unfinished book! 🙂

    • I feel we have to agree to disagree here. 🙂

      Yes, Duryodhan was no visionary, and he may not have anticipated a war of that scale (who would have?). But he still wanted someone like Karna on his side to counter Arjun.

      Having said that, his friendship with Karna later was no farce. That I agree. But making Karna a king – completely selfish motives.

      The gamble – completely Yudhistir’s fault (I have mentioned that, a big part of why I dislike him so much). But was the game of dice fair in the first place? Especially with Shakuni’s ministrations?

      But leaving that aside. They lost the gamble. They took their exile. The terms were to return their property and kingdom after exile. Duryodhan did not honor that. So you see – full circle.

      As far as Draupadi’s description goes – Pandavas were not the most ideal husbands – at all. But I strongly feel that the introduction to the cast is not the place for opinion.

      I don’t know about what an author needs to do to get a commissioning agent’s attention, but I know this – the premise this book was written on is a fail (in my eyes).

      Author accuses Mahabharata of being biased, and then proceeds to do just that (from the other end). What is the author’s point then? Another piece of biased literature?
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  13. I think its becoming quite the rage to (re)write stories based on mythological epics. Many authors have gone that way. I have enjoyed some but stayed away from others. I think I’ll trust your review on this one! Thanks for a comprehensive review!
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  14. Nice review, Shantala. Puranas give us a lot of routes to think. It all comes down to where we stand and how we like to view things, and never about what was right or wrong. You have put your thoughts very well here. It is always a pleasure to read you, dear! 🙂

  15. soumyadip sarbajna says:

    I liked the book. Mahabharata was an epic, well some of it defies common sense. Some take the epic literally.Some as history.its not just some classic epic, it’s a belief system. So It was refreshing to see it in different POV, which makes a litle more sense. It just makes you think and i like that quality about a book.

  16. Hi there. First, an excellent review. Thumbs up. I have not actually read the book, but grew up with the epics and know them in some serious detail.
    I was already annoyed when I first knew about this book, a brain washing fictional retelling glorifying the people with more grey ( no one is completely black or white, like we all know ) , to an already misguided youth who know little of our legacy and mythology.
    Another thing is, I get why you dislike yudhishtra, but in retrospect, he was the lone pillar of goodness (good =\= smart) in the world of grey. As dumb he might have been with his addiction to gambling and a misguided sense of honor, he did not commit any sin and the knowledge and wisdom he had were incomparable. Karna and bheeshma and others were maybe equally wise and virtuous, but the fact they chose the side of adharma and put their duty towards kingdom/family/friends above their duty to humanity/righteousness is what seperates them from people like yudhistira and Rama. I was like this in beginning, disliking him and rama for the things they sometimes did, but it took time to be able to realize the greatness of their characters overlooking the flaws.
    It was because of yudhisthira that they won the war, not krishna or Arjuna or bhima . It was because of him that krishna did what he did, and Arjuna could do what he did. Krishna btw is my absolute favourite too, I don’t want to go into him now, really not necessary xD
    Anyway, its just my opinion, different strokes for different folks 😉
    So yeah, kinda stupid book about a great myth, the author is a talented but really confused guy.
    Thanks for reading my long rant, peace.

    • I see your point of view. And yes, most definitely Yudhistir had a lot of things going for him. But I just couldn’t digest the gambling – of his brothers, and then of his/their wife. I guess it bothered me that he viewed them as his property, no matter what the others said.

      At any rate, you are absolutely right – different strokes for different folks. 🙂 But we do share the mutual adoration of Krishna. 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by. 🙂
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