Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The ingenious masterminds

Chanakya's Chant is not one novel, but two different novels, spanning across alternating timelines, combined into one thrilling roller-coaster ride that you are bound to enjoy throughout.

The first story follows the machinations of the ingenious Brahmin Chanakya, who mentors a young Chandragupta Maurya, right from childhood into finally ascending the throne of Magadh, the most powerful kingdom in ancient India. The latter one deals with Gangasagar Mishra, a Chanakya-like character, who plays kingmaker in modern India.
The book begins on an eerie note as we are introduced to an ailing Gangasagar Mishra, awaiting his imminent death in a hospital ward, while he watches his protege of years, Chandini Gupta, get shot while taking oath as the eighteenth Prime Minister of India on television.

Soon after this we find ourselves plunging headlong into the core of the story - the early life of Gangasagar Mishra, his discovery of Chandini in a slum of Kanpur and his subsequent foray into politics. Alternately the story switches back 2300 years into the past, to the era of Dhanananda's misrule and we're shown a young Chanakya vowing to avenge the death of his father Chanak by bringing about the downfall of the oppressive king of Magadh.

Chanakya's Chant may put you off politics for good (that is, if the unending series of scams and scandals and dumbass politicians of this country haven't done that already). For it repeatedly stresses on the importance of forsaking moral values or ethical considerations, to reach your goal. Both Chanakya and his modern-day avatar, Gangasagar, are depicted as wickedly shrewd, ruthless men, who are hell-bent on achieving success at any cost, allowing nothing to stand in their way.
And by the time you reach the end of the book, you will find yourself despising them with a passion as most of their political strategies and decisions, border more on the criminal side rather than just immoral. But then again you will also begrudgingly marvel at the cunning plans they devise.

Having read Ashwin Sanghi's The Rozabal Line quite a few months back, I was aware of his writing style. But when I took up Chanakya's Chant, all thanks to the grace of the Blogadda book-reviews program, I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
Unlike The Rozabal Line, this book focuses on weaving a tale of political intrigue without meandering into various subplots or a series of seemingly unconnected stories. Here the plot and events are the key driving factors while detailing and characters become secondary. Although this much is evident that a painstaking amount of research has been put into gathering facts about Chanakya's life and the political environment of our country.
The book will bring back memories of history lessons in school when you were taught tales of valor of historical figures like Paurus or Alexander or even Chandragupta Maurya. Although it may also plant the seeds of a nagging suspicion that not all their actions may have been as glorious or awe-inspiring as our history text books suggest.

The narration switches back and forth between the two different eras, ending every arc of each story at a point which just heightens the suspense. And one is compelled to read on to find out what happens next.
The book can't exactly be called un-put-down-able till the end, but it packs in enough punch to make you want to reach the end as quickly as possible nevertheless.

Coming to the negatives, both Chanakya and Gangasagar are portrayed as almost invincible men and their plans are seldom or never thwarted. Not much attention is given to fleshing out the characters of Chandragupta or Chandini. And at the end, you are faced with the bitter realization, that they were perhaps nothing more than mere puppets at the hands of their respective mentors. Cliches, such as pregnancy out of wedlock or sacrificing love in order to realize bigger ambitions, abound. Dialogues are somewhat weak as well and there are hardly any quotes worth remembering. Certain incidents such as the honorable home minister of India, shooting a civilian with his own hands, without batting an eyelid, seemed incredulous to me.
And what's most regrettable of all, none of the characters leave a lasting impression on you.

But even so, Chanakya's Chant, remains a must read political thriller. I give it a 3 1/2 stars out of 5 more 'cause of the fact that it successfully kept me hooked from the beginning to the end.

P.S: Hope the Bollywood adaptation doesn't end up ruining the original flavor of the book.
This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books! 



Prateek said...

WHY 3.5? Book is full of tricks and turns.

Giribala said...

Wow!! Great have dissected the book :-)

Blasphemous Aesthete said...

An interesting review. Perhaps, the methodologies of chanakya might not have been the best, but were surely effective. And well, it's an old saying that everything is fair in love and war.

Perhaps, I'll see if I get my hands on the book and the time to read it. :)

Blasphemous Aesthete

Kunnu said...

Great Review.
Looks like a book to read. :)

May I suggest Cold Steel(i.e if you have not read it yet), the story of How Lakshmi Mittal made his empire and focuses much on Mittal Steel takeover of Arcelor. It has all the elements, from Politics to Drama.

Vamsi said...

I read some great reviews on the Rozabal line. And now this book's story line seems interesting too. I've added this book into my to-read list :)

Snow Leopard said...

Well written review. Agreed the narration is interesting but it is very "filmy"

Alka Gurha said...

There was a time when no one was ready to publish Ashwins first book...but look at him now...will read this one. Sounds interesting.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Now this is what reviews should be like- make one want to read the book! I like your analysis about how the "power behind" is more powerful than the one on the throne! We have ample examples in our Indian political scene!

Kamikaze said...

Lol.....did we read the same book?! Loved your interpretation, yes some of the incidents are predictable and heard of indeed.I was basically interested in learning about Chanakya as our textbooks didn't go to deep in his scheming tactics :)

☆ ayu☆ said...

oohh..i like stories with politics..i might like this one this available on e-book..?

RE: agree! ye eun is so cute! i wish to have a kid like that (in the future) :D

Nethra said...

I'm reading it too and liking it. Haven't completed it yet though.

Selenium said...

It takes all kinds of people make this world. :)

That said... If I find this book at the cafe, I might pick it up. But I hate politics anyways... :-/

So, I wonder if I would like it or not...

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