If 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’ve 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, not a fact. 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 –
Ajaya isn’t Mahabharata from Duryodhan’s POV, but the epic re-imagined, solely to make Duryodhan look like the hero.
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.
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.
But here is the real clincher – after all the accusations, the author proceeded to do exactly what he (wrongly) accused the original epic 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 –
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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