Book Review – “Sacred Games” by Vikram Chandra

I had been wanting to read “Sacred Games” for a while when I heard that the book had been picked up by Netflix to be serialized. The release date was early July so I eagerly picked up the book, wanting to finish it before the show’s release so that I could be one of those irritating people who say, “The book is different.”

Now that I have finished reading this 900-odd page book, I sincerely wish that the serial is different. Don’t get me wrong; this is a very good book, with excellent characterization and gets the tone of the city of Mumbai almost perfect. However, I feel the book needed to be edited better and entire portions could have either been chopped off or greatly compacted. In trying to capture the motives and minds behind the actions, the author delves into too many details, most of which are not central to the plot. This could have easily been a tightly scripted 700 page book and would have been much more taut with tension.

Having put out the negative, let me now say what I really liked about this book. The author captures the city, the people and the language of Mumbai brilliantly. What impressed me the most was how well the characters “spoke”: Sartaj Singh sounds precisely like a Mumbai inspector whose mother escaped the riots of partition in 1947 and whose father was a duty-bound cop, and who is himself trying to lead the least harmful life in times when you cannot escape corruption. Similarly, Gaitonde is a tragic, yet evil character, whose ambitions and self-teaching nature comes across clearly. He sounds very much like a criminal warlord who is misguided and is made a pawn out of. One almost understands why he thinks the world works the way it does.

And then there are other wonderful characters: Sartaj’s mother, Mary, Jojo, Anjali Mathur, Kamble and Parulkar to name a few.

Still, the more I think about the book, the more frustrated I get at the many unnecessary diversions the book takes to tell us the story. I can only wish it was more concise. Hopefully, the TV series will be able to improve upon the book.

Snippets:

  • “Most men want to be led, and there are only a very few who can lead.”
  • “Food was the greatest and most reliable of pleasures, and to sit on Chowpatty and eat it with wife and family, with the sea heaving gently, was as close to contentment as Katekar had ever been.”
  • “Writers are pathetically susceptible to praise. I have worked with politicians, and gangsters, and holy men, and let me tell you, none of these can compete with a writer for mountainous inflations of ego and mouse-like insecurities of soul.”

 

Read more about ‘Sacred Games’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: Sacred Games

Author: Vikram Chandra

First Published: 2006

Number of Pages: 912

Price: (Hardcover) Rs. 650 / (Paperback) Rs. 446 / (Kindle) Rs. 279.30 – Amazon.in

My Rating: 7 out of 10

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

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Book Review – “Annihilation of Caste” by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar’s radical idea to end the evils of casteism

 

I can trace back my interest in reading the works of Dr. Ambedkar to the time when I studied civics in high school. What were the thoughts of the man who was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly which drafted India’s Constitution?

Of the many hats that Dr. Ambedkar wore, none was more prominent than when he spoke up against the evils of casteism. It only takes a mild scan of the news reports today to see the injustices meted out to those who are considered from a “lower caste” (I’m cringing with disgust at having to write this). I can only imagine how much worse it was a century ago, in Dr. Ambedkar’s time, when he had to personally suffer indignation.

Annihilation of Caste is the speech that Dr. Ambedkar was invited to give at a conference in Lahore in 1936. However, the group that had invited him, on receipt of the advance draft of his speech, felt his ideas were too radical and requested he change a portion of the text. Dr. Ambedkar refused and preferred to have the conference cancelled rather than stand down on his principles.

The speech is an insight into the practices of untouchability and violation of civil and human rights that the Scheduled Castes (as they were later called) were subjected to. It tells us of the injustices and tortures that were commonly meted out to a group of people, only because they were considered to be unclean and born into a certain caste.

Dr. Ambedkar follows this up with demolishing one-by-one the various justifications used to defend the caste system. The scholarly breadth of his defence is breathtaking: from historical and social examples ranging from various parts of the modern world, to Greek and Roman empires, to sociology and science. He liberally quotes from the French Revolution and the Irish Home Rule movement, and explains the structure of government in ancient Rome to explain how a caste system is unfair.

He then takes the flame to the religion. Dr. Ambedkar attacks Hinduism and Hindus (Brahmins in particular) who have used the system to their advantage to keep others impoverished socially, martially and economically. The Manusmriti gets special mentions for the divisions that it created in society. Dr. Ambedkar argues that the only way to get rid of this evil is to discard Hinduism in toto and throw out the scriptures that Hindus consider holy, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagawad Gita and others. (I wasn’t using the word ‘radical’ lightly when I wrote the title of this blog post.)

The book then includes Mahatma Gandhi’s response to Dr. Ambedkar’s publishing the speech and the contents thereof. Gandhiji makes a few thoughtful arguments, but I did feel that they were missing the main point of the speech. Dr. Ambedkar says as much in his response to Gandhiji’s replies. There are clearly very strong differences of opinion between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, but what is revealing (almost refreshing, given today’s times) to see how both respectfully disagree with each other and attack the topic rather than the person.

I did find myself scratching my head at times when I was reading Babasaheb’s arguments, but all in all, I finished this book a little more aware about the evils that existed and the residue of which can be seen till today. I don’t think Dr. Ambedkar had any delusions that he had found an easy solution, but in trying to explain his opposition, he gives us an idea of what it means to treat all people equally with respect.

Snippets:

  • “He, who will not reason, is a bigot; he, who cannot, is a fool; he, who dares not, is a slave.” – Sir William Drummond
  • “To sum up, let political reformers turn in any direction they like, they will find that in the making of a constitution, they cannot ignore the problem arising out of the prevailing social order.”
  • “Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.”

Books I marked as to-read after reading this book:

Read more about ‘Annihilation of Caste’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: Annihilation of Caste

Author: Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

First Published: 1936

Number of Pages: 415

Price: Paperback – Rs. 300.20 / Kindle – Rs. 363.85 (Amazon.in)

My Rating: 8 out of 10

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

Book Review – “The Way I See It – A Gauri Lankesh Reader”

(Click on the picture to purchase a copy)

Title: The Way I See It – A Gauri Lankesh Reader

Editor: Chandan Gowda

First Published: 2017

Number of Pages: 278

Price: (Paperback) INR 295 (Amazon.in)

My Rating: 5 out of 5

**NOT A POLITICAL REVIEW**

This is an exceptional book that traces the writings of Gauri Lankesh and her evolution as a journalist over almost a quarter of a century, from 1993 to 2017. We witness first hand her change from the ‘elite’ English reporter to the hard hitting Kannada journalist that she eventually became.

Even in her early writings, her strength shines through in an article about a serial murderer who terrorised Bengaluru (then Bangalore). We see the writer exploring the story from different angles, pursuing even the criminal’s point of view to try and give the reader a complete picture.

As the years roll along, her writing becomes more personal and purposeful. Take for instance the article where she outlines her efforts to publish the autobiography of a transgender woman whom she considered her sister. Lankesh makes us sympathise with the woman and forces us to ponder at the ill treatment and lack of opportunity the transgender community has to put up with even today. This theme of exploring the 360-degree view of the marginalised and of the people on the opposite side of the table was to become a hallmark of her writing, as I noticed.

Her writing became more political too in the later years. The second half of the book consists of translated articles where she takes political stands and doesn’t mince words while doing so. What I particularly liked was how well she expressed the multiple complexities that shape the political landscape and debate of a particular region. I realised I had had almost no idea about the dynamics of Karnataka politics before I read this book.

And then there are some beautiful non-political articles that just captured the heart. For instance, this is an excerpt from her article on the English language vs. Mother Tongue debate:

One of the English rhymes sung by children studying in the English medium is ‘Rain, rain, go away, come again another day, little Johnny wants to play.’ Kids studying in the Kannada medium sing ‘Huyyo, huyyo, maleraya, baale totakke neerilla’ (which roughly translated to ‘Rain, please pour and pound the earth, there is no water in our banana plantation’). The first rhyme, which is of British origin, reflects the miserable English weather which is of no consequence to us in India. The second, which is entirely local, tells us that ours is an agrarian society, that we depend on rains and that banana is grown here – all of which enhance the knowledge of our children.

For this, and many more such lovely little nuggets, I would encourage you to buy this book and give it a read. Not to mention, the fact that Gauri Lankesh was brutally gunned down in 2017, and this book is a way of keeping her political legacy alive.

Read more about “The Way I See It” on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

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Book Review – “The Guide” by R. K. Narayan

 

And so once again, I return to Malgudi, only this time, it is a very different story than the naughty adventures of Swami and his friends.

The Guide tells us the story of Raju, a skilful liar who uses his guile to become a tourist guide in the little town of Malgudi, and Rosie, a lady who happens to meet him when she visits the town with her husband.

How this relationship changes their lives, not just once but twice, forms the rest of the story. You might feel that I’m handing out spoilers by the dozen here, but let me assure you that the book is more than just about the plot.

First published in India in 1958, ‘The Guide’ is also a social commentary, a feeling that I get might be a continuing strain in Narayan’s books.

Also, right throughout, one keeps on reminiscing the songs from the hit Bollywood adaptation of the book, starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rahman.

If you were to ask me about the broad themes of this book, I would say ‘hubris’ and ‘irony’. The fact that R. K. Narayan manages to express these subtly and with the use of simple words is a hat-tip to his skill with words.

Read more about “The Guide” on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: The Guide

Author: R. K. Narayan

First Published: 1958

Number of Pages: 247

Price: (Paperback) INR 100 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 4 out of 5

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Book Review – “Swami and Friends” by R. K. Narayan

 

What a wonderful little gem this book is. Set in 1930’s south-India, the book tells us about the adventures of 10-year old Swaminathan and his group of friends. The book transports us back in time on two levels: one is to a semi-rural setting almost a century ago; and two, to the simpler times of one’s childhood.

Not only is life simple in the little town of Malgudi, but there is also the additional charm of the little things which look big and complex to a 10 year old. And yet, the magic of the book lies in the fact that it doesn’t seem dated at all.

It would be wrong to assume this is just a book about a little boy’s school adventures. Even if that were all that this book described, it would still make you smile at the naughtiness and curious thoughts that rush about the minds of a little schoolboy. This book, however, also appeals to us because it gives us a glimpse of the slow rumblings at the start of the Indian independence movement as felt in a little town. There are pages in the book when I winced at the action, but that is attributable to how well those scenes were written.

The bigger picture, however, will always be about Swami and the world of imagination that he builds in his head. It is amazing how well Narayan captures the demons that shout warnings in the ears of a little child, magnifying all his troubles to an almost insurmountable challenge. But then, where there are challenges, there are friends. And Swami has a faithful group of friends (some of whom are top notch rascals) whose mischiefs will endear them to you.

Read this book to remind yourself of the simpler times that you once knew so well.

P. S. For all you cricket lovers out there, look out for when Swami and his friends ambitiously form the MCC, the Malgudi Cricket Club.

Read more about “Swami and Friends” on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: Swami and Friends

Author: R. K. Narayan

First Published: 1935

Number of Pages: 212

Price: (Paperback) Rs. 108 (Amazon.in)

My rating: 4 out of 5

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

Book Review – “The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories” edited by Ruskin Bond

Book: The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories

Edited by: Ruskin Bond

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication Year: 1994

Number of pages: 184

Price: Rs. 200 (Amazon.in) / Rs. 175 (Flipkart) / Rs. 166.25 (Kindle)

My rating: 3/5

I picked this book up at the bookstore near my house in Calcutta, a couple of days before I left for the Cherra Marathon. I read a few of these stories in Shillong, a couple of them on my way back on the flight (I see the irony here), and then finished the book back here in Calcutta.

And once again, the reason why it took me so long to finish this book is because, like it happened with Murakami’s “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman“,  the stories, at least in the first half of the book, didn’t impress me much.

The book is split into two halves: stories from before and after India’s independence. And although I’d expected the stories in the first half to fascinate me more, this is where disappointment lay. In place of stories which I expected to make me travel back in time, to a place where railway stations were little hubs of activity and filled with interesting stories, I was peddled with stories with weak plots which rather felt like I was sipping tepid and tasteless chai at a railway station.

The only story worth mentioning from the first half is the excerpt from Jules Verne’s Around the World In Eighty Days. The story is able to capture some of the romance of early railroad travel made especially challenging in Indian conditions. In it is a description of the opulent city of Bombay, forests to be crossed and unexpected interruptions as Phileas Fogg and Passepartout make their way across the Indian sub-continent.

The rest of the stories in the first half, even though a couple of them are by Kipling, can be skipped over. They did little to catch my attention and much to test my patience.

What impressed me really, was the second half of the book. With stories from writers such as Khushwant Singh, Satyajit Ray and Ruskin Bond himself, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. And I wasn’t.

The following is a brief review of each of the stories that appear in the Stories After Independence section:

Loyalty by Jim Corbett – One of the two disappointments in this second half, Loyalty is an autobiographical narration by Corbett about his challenges from the time when he was employed in the Indian Railways. The only aspect of this story that caught my eye was how much responsibility a twenty-one year old was entrusted with back then. My rating: 2/5

Mano Majra Station by Khushwant Singh – An extract from Singh’s Train To Pakistan. The tale, which begins amusingly, is a story set in the Punjab during the time of Partition. It captures the character of a village caught up in forces beyond its reckoning, as the story comes to a chilling end. My rating: 4/5

The Woman on Platform 8 by Ruskin Bond – A vintage Ruskin Bond story. A schoolboy, travelling alone, is waiting at a station for his train. A woman befriends him and offers him a meal. But are things really what they seem or is she a crook? My rating: 4/5

The Intimate Demon by Manoj Das – A beautifully worded little story about a father and daughter’s railway journey. My rating: 4/5

A Stranded Railroad Car by Intizar Husain – A group of men in a village gather round for their evening hookah and narrate tales of this new fangled beast called the railroad car. My rating: 3/5

Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment by Satyajit Ray – The master story-teller that he is, Ray whips up the suspense pretty early in the story and the surprise ending will certainly make you smile. My rating: 4/5

Balbir Arora goes Metric by Bill Aitken – The second and final weak story in the second half. Too long-winded. Might be of some interest to a railway geek. My rating: 3/5

Railway Reverie by R. K. Laxman – An extract from Laxman’s book The Messenger. An ill-chosen extract perhaps, because it was surprisingly short and had a very abrupt ending. My rating: 3/5

The Cherry Choo-Choo by Victor Banerjee – A heartwarming little tale which made me laugh at a number of places. My rating: 4/5

99 UP by Manojit Mitra – “This is the kind of story about railways that I wanted to read,” I told myself when I finished 99 UP. The story captures how a little town on the outskirts of Calcutta gets caught up in a frenzy when a movie star is expected to drop by for a film’s release. The story describes the various people of the village and how the visit captures each one’s imagination. My rating: 5/5

Lingering thoughts:

  • It is a sad sign of the times that in a book of Indian railway stories, I kept reading POW, which was supposed to stand for Palace on Wheels, as Prisoners of War. Sigh.
  • “The blue-eyed, brown-haired and pale-skinned Anglo-Indian engine driver who had rolled the ‘Choo-Choo’ into town, was whisked away by hordes of admirers, laced with rice wine that had fermented for weeks in diurnal anticipation of the arrival of the train and, in the morning, was discovered dead in the local brothel where, introduced as an Apollo from Calcutta, he succumbed to an endless striving to uphold his standard.”
  • “‘An old buddy?’ ‘No,’ murmured Bridges with a slight smile, ‘Half-devil and half-child, but by the living God that made him, he was a better man than I. A funny story; a wonderful memory.'”
  • Two books added to my to-read list from here: Around The World In Eighty days by Jules Verne and 20 Stories by Satyajit Ray.
  • Must read more stuff by Manojit Mitra.
  • I think I’m done with short stories for now. Need to read a novel which will sustain my interest over a longer period of time.

Image courtesy: www.flipkart.com

Read more about ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Amazon.inFlipkart or for your Kindle.

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

Book Review – “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven” edited by Sudha Murthy

Book: Something Happened On The Way To Heaven

Edited by: Sudha Murthy

Publisher: Penguin Books India

Publication Year: 2014

Number of Pages (Kindle): 224

Price: Rs. 200 (Flipkart) / Rs. 175 (Amazon) / Rs.  157.70 (Kindle)

My rating: 2/5

A book that I bought and persisted with since one of the twenty real-life short stories here features a friend of mine. Although she had warned me that the publishers had dumbed down the language in the book, I was taken aback with what I read. Some of the tales are really naive too, which doesn’t help either.

Avoid.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

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Book Review – “The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Book: The Lowland

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Publisher: Random House India

Publication Year: 2013

Number of Pages (Kindle): 352

Price: Rs. 329 (Flipkart) / Rs. 240 (Amazon) / Rs. 190 (Kindle)

My rating: 5/5

“I think I’ll be gutted and emotionally drained by the time I’m finished with this book,” I messaged my friend who had insisted that I read The Lowland immediately. I gather that she’d recently read it herself and wished to discuss it with someone while the memories of the book were still fresh in her mind. “Yeah. You’ll take a few days to get over it,” she replied.

It’s been a few days since I finished reading the book. I’m still not over it.

The Lowland begins with the tale of two little boys, Subhash and Udayan. They live with their parents in a humble house in the Tollygunge area of Calcutta.  Close to their house is a low lying patch of land where water accumulates during the monsoon.

Subhash is the ‘boring’ of the two brothers. Although both of them are equally gifted at academics, Subhash looks to take the safer and more conventional route in life; he pursues his studies to get himself to Rhode Island in America. Udayan, however, has a different path ahead of him.

This is the late 1960s. The word ‘revolution’ is casually bandied about the streets of Calcutta. Naxalbari is a flashpoint to gather all the students who are disillusioned with the way India is governing herself. Udayan gets caught up in the heady swirl of the Naxalite movement and becomes actively involved in it and soon, tragedy and violence catches up with him.

But by now, another life is inolved. Nay, two lives. Gauri, the girl whom Udayan secretly marries, and Bela, the  daughter who grows up in a distant land, unaware of who her biological father is and painfully aware of her mother’s absence.

The story spans the lives of these main characters and their attempts to make best of the circumstances that the incident on the lowland throws them all into. Subhash tries to unravel what happened to his brother and then attempts to cobble together what he thinks will be as good a life as that of an Indian expat in America could be. Udayan, the risk-taker and doer by nature, mind filled and committed with the ideologies of Mao does what he thinks is right. Gauri, a keen student of philosophy, eloping to marry a charismatic, rogue-like figure, and then left to deal with a life full of remorse and a nagging sense of guilt. And finally Bela, a child without a mother and later a strong, independent woman.

Jhumpa Lahiri makes this book so damn personal! As a resident of this city and one who grew up in the Calcutta of the 80s and 90s, I could really identify with a lot of this book. Both, College Street and Tollygunge come alive. Not that you need to have lived here for this book to resonate within you (the friend who recommended this book to me is from Delhi and has herself never lived here). The very idea that life has various shades of grey rather than the distinct black and white is this book’s universal appeal.

A must read. Especially for the beautiful, if imperfect, end.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘The Lowland’ on Goodreads. Buy it on FlipkartAmazon.in or for your Kindle.

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Book Review – “Playing It My Way” by Sachin Tendulkar

Book: Playing It My Way

Author: Sachin Tendulkar, Boria Majumdar (contributor)

Publisher: Hachette

Publication Year: 2014

Number of Pages: 486

Price: Rs. 602 (Flipkart) / Rs. 519 (Amazon) / Rs. 304 (Kindle)

My rating: 3/5

I must begin by criticising the writing for it was such a big disappointment for a book that I began reading with much excitement. For a legend of the game, and one who I’ve admired since childhood, I often felt that the writing in this book was amateurish and did very little justice to Sachin’s great achievements and his memorable career. I have read Boria Majumdar’s columns in newspapers and even they seem better written in comparison. I wondered why someone of the stature of either a Ramchandra Guha or a Sharda Ugra couldn’t have been brought to the table to write this book. I also wondered how a publishing house like Hachette would’ve allowed such a book to go ahead. Perhaps they were certain that merely Sachin’s name was good enough to sell enough copies and no one would notice the sub par writing. (At one point in my notes while reading the book, I actually wrote “School boy-ish writing. Aargh!!!”)

What does work for this book, however, is the wave of nostalgia that will sweep through you if you’ve followed Indian cricket for the years that Sachin played cricket. I could not only recall scenes that I’d seen unfolding on a television screen but also headlines from newspapers of the Indian team’s exploits as I read about them in this book. Who can forget Sachin’s batting heroics at Sharjah or him taking five wickets in a match against Australia at Kochi and then juggling the ball with glee? How can I ever forget the heartbreak as I saw Sachin getting out to Saqlain Mushtaq in Chennai? A hundred memories like these are what I would like to remember this book for.

Another thing that impressed me in this book is Sachin complimenting and thanking all the people who have helped him throughout his career. From his coaches, to the support staff, his parents, his wife, his manager. Everyone gets a mention.

Something that surprised me, and has been written/talked about a lot, is how Sachin doesn’t talk much about the troubles that the team faced when match-fixing allegations were flying thick and fast. He is basically done with it in three or four sentences where he merely mentions how angry and upset he was. I can understand why he cannot reveal names or more such, but as a man who was in the eye of the storm (so to speak) this tells the Sachin fan very little how much the champion was affected by the scandal.

This inability to express Sachin’s anger and frustrations is also evident when describing the various injuries and resultant breaks and therapy that he had to undergo. Not only does the persistent back injury seem as if it wasn’t a big deal but even the tennis elbow injury is not made to sound threatening enough.

The book does become engrossing as he nears his retirement day. He is able to express in vivid detail the emotions he felt as he saw the noise around him reached deafening levels. It feels as if he were at peace with his decision of retiring and that is one thing a Sachin fan can feel happy about.

Overall, this book remains a disappointment. Sub par writing, anecdotes which don’t give you an insight into the inner world of players, funny anecdotes that fall flat, conveniently sidestepping the troubling times that Indian cricket saw in the last decade and a half are a big thumbs down for me.

Perhaps Saurav Ganguly’s (auto)biography, if and when that is written, will give us a better insight into arguably the greatest era in Indian cricket. Hopefully, that book will be like Saurav’s commentary: never holding back a punch.

Image courtesy: www.goodreads.com

Read more about ‘Playing It My Way’ on Goodreads. Buy it on Flipkart, Amazon.in or for your Kindle.

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Book Review – “Arjun: Without a Doubt” by Dr. Sweety Shinde

Book: Arjun: Without a Doubt

Author: Dr. Sweety Shinde

Publisher: Leadstart Publishing Pvt. Ltd.

Publication year: 2015

Number of pages: 306

Price: Rs. 156 (Flipkart) / Rs. 195 (Amazon) / Rs. 171.95 (Kindle)

My rating: 4/5

“Arjun: Without A Doubt” picks up the Mahabharat tale with Draupadi wondering who exactly this Arjun is. Of course, she has heard of Pandu’s illustrious son, the man who defeated her father, Drupad, in battle as gurudakshina for his guru, Dronacharya. But she has never set her sights on him. And her father tells her Arjun is the most deserving husband for her. Even Krishn is all praise for him. She wonders if Arjun, and his family, have survived the burning palace and whether he will be able to win her hand at the swayamvar her father is organising.

Thus, once more, begins this grand old tale. The reason I love reading the Mahabharat is because, like a true literary classic, it seems to change every time I read it. My perception of most characters in this epic have undergone a sea change from how I perceived them initially. Almost every intelligent author brings a new perspective to this epic and challenges me to think of questions about various events that take place in the Mahabharat.

“Arjun: Without A Doubt” is one such book. Simply put, I loved it. On more than one occasion, I found myself pausing to think “Hey, this is a fresh way of looking at these events.”

The book is written from the points of view of Arjun and Draupadi, each of them taking up the narration in alternate chapters. Arjun is pretty much what we expect him to be: a champion warrior. His dedication to his craft is commendable. We get a glimpse of the hardships he had to undertake to achieve what he did. We realise that it wasn’t always a walk in the park for him.

And yet, he is more than just a soldier who is very good at lifting up a bow and shooting arrows. He dearly loves Draupadi and is heartbroken every time he has to leave her behind. He also has his moments of doubts about the nature of his duty towards his family, especially towards his eldest brother Yudhisthir. As war approaches, we can see these doubts surfacing, which eventually leads Krishna to answer his queries about why the war must be fought. Arjun’s shockingly rude and direct dialogue with Kunti when she mourns Karna’s death shows how much he has changed from when we met him at the beginning: indeed, Arjun is without any doubts now.

But it is for Draupadi’s voice for which you should read this book. From the moment when Kunti says that Draupadi must be shared by the five Pandava brothers is when we start seeing injustice served to her. And what makes this even more insulting is that Draupadi comes across right away as a strong, independent woman. What stopped her, I asked myself, from walking away from the Pandavas right then and there?

Then we have the famous dice game where Yudhisthir “loses” everything, including his brothers and his wife. Were they his to “lose” in the first place? And why didn’t any of the brothers step up and fight for Draupadi when Dushasana was attempting to forcibly undress her, Kshatriya rules be damned?! It is a testimonial to the author that she makes us feel this ashamed and enraged.

And yet, there are a couple of glitches. The construction of paragraphs is at times confusing: I lost track at a couple of places and had to retrace my steps in order to clarify whose speech it is that I was reading.

Yet, this is a minor flaw in a book which is effective in it’s larger purpose of drawing our attention to various aspects of the Mahabharat. I would love to write further and point out more such instances, but then, this review would be filled with spoilers and longer than what it already is. 🙂

In conclusion, if you’re a Mahabharat fan, I would highly recommend you read this book.

(Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of “Arjun: Without A Doubt” to review.)

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