Ajaya: Roll of the Dice (Epic of the Kaurava clan, #1)

Most of us already know about Mahabharata. Being an Indian, one can assume that we know the plots of Ramayana, Bhagvad Gita and Mahabharata by birth. Speaking about Mahabharata, the epic consists of more than 100,000 verses or shlokas. The shlokas are in the form of stories and sub-stories that in turn, form the crux of the plot. Now, most of us have read Mahabharata from the point of view of the victors, The Pandavas. We have read about the righteousness of Yudhisthira, the strength of Bhima, the hawkeyed warrior Arjuna, the beauty of Nakul, the intelligence of Sahadev and the hardships of Kunti and Draupadi. We have also read about the cruelty of The Kauravas, especially Duryodhana and Dusashana. However, what happens if you realize that what you have been reading until the date is just a one-sided story? They say the victor garners the attention, the praises and the accolades while the loser has to become accustomed to brickbats, shame, mockery and vilification. History has always magnified the good traits and brushed off the negative traits of the victorious side. On the other hand, historians would not shy even a minuscule opportunity to amplify the bad traits and virtually nullify the good traits of the losers. Favouritism, caste-based bias and gender-based bias have been as old as humanity. The story of Mahabharata remains more focussed on who was right and who was wrong rather than what was right and what was wrong. Thankfully, Anand Neelakantan breaks routine, run-of-the-mill storytelling. He presents a rather unconventional and refreshing take on Mahabharata from Suyodhana’s point of you.

Plot: Ajaya is about Suyodhana. Not many people must have known that Suyodhana was the actual name of Duryodhana, the Crown Prince of Hastinapura, the son of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari. The story starts with Bhishma destroying Gandhar, killing its King Subala and tugging away Gandhari and her five-year-old brother Shakuni along with him to Hastinapura. He gets her married to his blind nephew Dhritarashtra much to the ire of Shakuni, who holds a grudge for the rest of his life. Simultaneously, Dhritirashtra’s half-brother Pandu marries Kunti and Madri and abdicates the throne of Hastinapura due to a curse upon him which disallows him copulate, consummate (or have sex) with his wives. Failing to do so, he would be dead, which happens soon. He asks his wives to perform niyoga (precisely, have sex) with other men or celestial beings to beget children. On the other hand, Gandhari, blessed with a boon of nurturing 100 sons, is heavily pregnant for two years. Kunti gives birth to Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna while Madri gives birth to twins Nakul and Sahadev. Gandhari gives birth to Suyodhana, Sushashana and 98 other sons along with a daughter named Sushala.

The Pandavas with Kunti, previously staying as hermits in jungle return to Hastinapura fighting for what they think is rightfully theirs. The kingdom of Hastinapura. Shakuni slowly, slyly and steadily poisons the mind of Suyodhana against the Pandavas and keeps on instigating him at regular intervals to finish off his rival cousins. Suyodhana, the Crown Prince is noble by heart, he treats everyone with equal respect whether Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas or Shudras.

As the story carries forward, the plot thickens with the entry of Guru Dronacharya with his son Ashwatthama, the Suta born Karna, the Nishada boy Eklavya, the beggar Jara at regular intervals. Suyodhana displays some outstanding characteristics that make him a worthy crown prince, much to the chagrin of Kunti and the pro-Pandava camp. Their supporters are mainly Dronacharya, a group of priests led by Dhaumya and the clever, maverick Yadava prince Krishna. Suyodhana earns the love, respect and support of rebellious natured people (in the eyes of Kunti and co.) like Carveka, Kripacharya, Balarama and anybody who hates the taboo of casteism. He along with his like-minded friends believe in merit rather than birth. While the Kaurava and Pandava princes are fighting their cold wars, Shakuni and a Naga leader Takshaka are designing a bigger conspiracy i.e. destruction of India, especially Hastinapura.

Many episodes and incidents of Mahabharata appear in this book from a different context. Incidents like poisoning of Bhima, the conspiracy of Varnavrat, the coronation of Karna as the King of Anga, the svayamwar of Draupadi, his relationship with Balarama’s sister Subhadra, his marriage with Bhanumati, his insult at Indraprastha and last but not the least, The Roll Of Dice invokes surprise, astonishment and a tinge of guilt in readers.

My Take: On completion of this book, I wonder, “How quickly we judge anybody merely because of the information we come across!” Who would have realised the benevolent side of Suyodhana, the trickery nature of Shakuni and Krishna? Who would have realised the fickle-mindedness of the so-called heroes like Dronacharya, Pandavas and other characters? This book hits you hard or rather; say it makes you question your morals, integrity and every piece of information known to you before reading this book. This book projects Suyodhana (I disagree to call him Duryodhana, as of now) in a manner, which no negative character portrays. Suyodhana is the common man’s favoured Crown Prince. Suyodhana is the misunderstood character of Mahabharata, a good man vilified for the greater good cause of humanity.

Book 1 – The Role of Dice creates the eagerness in the reader to look forward to the next book. A wonderful read and most importantly this book presents Mahabharata from a different perspective and make you judge between what is right and what is wrong rather than who is right and who is wrong.

Peace, Poetry and Power

Bhavin Shah