Ajaya by Anand Neelakantan is positioned as the story of Mahabharatha from the point of view of the Kauravas.
The story’s context begins with the destruction of Gandhar and the marriage of Gandhari with the blind Dhritarashtra. Prince Shakuni, who is a young boy at that time is brought to “India” with Gandhari. He nurses thoughts of revenge from that tender age, and the rest of the story narrates how he single handedly creates the misunderstanding between the Pandavas and Kauravas. Duryodhan who is referred to as Suyodhan comes across (is portrayed) as a champion of the poor – a lovable and a kind hearted person.
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- Ekalavya’s storyline is interesting as are the characters created out of the other references in Mahabharatha —
- The Golden Mongoose originally visits during the Ashwameda Yagna after the war is over (who appears in this book as a burnt and deformed Jara.)
- Jara – the hunter who kills Krishna (who appears in the book as the friend of Ekalavya but is later disfigured into the Golden Mongoose)
- Dharma, the dog, who finally follows Yudhishtra during the Swargarohan (who appears in the book as Jara’s pet).
- Kaliya, the snake (who is depicted here as a Naga man who is banished into the forest by Krishna).
- I liked the definition of the caste system where the goal of each caste was to find God within ourselves, through various ways – Brahmin through Knowledge, Kshatriya through action, Vaishya through creating wealth and Shudra through love by serving society.
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- Was caste system prevalent in the country at that time? Yes, absolutely. That was the reason why Vidhura, Karna, Ekalavya and even Krishna were never given the respect they should have been given. Having said this, to base the entire book only on caste system takes away the richness that is Mahabharatha. The author seems to be using caste as a prop. Pandavas and Kunti are shown as people who are strong supporters of the caste system and that is their Dharma. If Kunti was so caught up with the caste factor, why has the author glossed over Bhima marrying a forest dweller.
- Tries too hard to look at the positives of the Kauravas, that it seems like a string of excuses. Another tool used for doing this is to paint the Pandavas black. Yudhishtra is shown as being nice in front of the elders, but hurts others when he is alone with them; Bhima as a bully and an idiot, Arjun as insecure and competitive, but confused about what Dharma is, Nakul and Sahadev as persons who have nothing else to do but discuss wine and women; Krishna as a manipulator who wants to be seen as a God. The event that took the cake was “Kaliya” a Naga man who was supposed to be defeated and the story of the 1000 hooded serpent propagated.
- Let us now look at Duryodhana, the hero of the story. He is portrayed as a person who is sympathetic to the cause of others, who is against caste discrimination, who views merit as the reason for growth and who is not afraid to speak his mind (which he does on occasions). Apart from this, the fire that is Duryodhana is missing. He is a fairly boring, insipid character. Where is the complexity of the character? He is a character full of passion – you can love him or hate him but you can never be indifferent to him. He loves his mother, hates his mother, respects women, orders Draupadi to be disrobed, generous to a fault and mean-minded too – I can go on about the contradiction that is Suyodhan. Also the name Duryodhana is not necessarily “Bad or evil” warrior. It could also mean “The one who is unconquerable”. When teased by the others, he could have retorted with this meaning, rather than feeling miserable about it. That would have been an intelligent refutation from the hero. Rather than that he continues to feel sorry for himself and angry with the others. And he is the hero because he does not believe in the caste system.
- The repeated reference to Shakuni as a foreigner gets on one’s nerves and so does the caste system (here I go again!)
Summary: To create white, you don’t have to paint the other side black. Duryodhana and the Kauravas were grey as were the Pandavas. If the idea of the story is to help people see the other side of the story, it fails miserably because it is so unbalanced.
Ajaya – No Jaya!!!!