Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

Chanakya is a name familiar to most lovers of history, especially political history. Politician par excellence, his work helped consolidate the kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya, one of India’s greatest emperors ever. Ashwin Sanghi’s new novel is not so much about Chanakya’s life and career (of which our knowledge is admittedly sketchy) as it is about the modern Indian state. Two narratives run in tandem: one the story of a young Brahmin boy who saw his family dishonoured and swore revenge on his corrupt king; the other the story of a wily historian who plays kingmaker in contemporary India. The former is heavily fictionalised while the latter is, of course, entirely so.

The story of Chanakya as a young boy on the run and later a young man intent on revenge by replacing his tormentor with a ruler of his choice provides a fascinating mirror to the present-day saga of Pandit Gangasagar as he spins his complicated and far-reaching web to put the leader of his choice – and making – in the Prime Minister’s chair. How far will Chanakya and Gangasagar go in their single-minded determination? As their plans play out, the lives of the people they involve will never be the same again. One is forced to suspend judgment of morals and ethics however as Sanghi is careful to keep the reader’s vision focused on the larger picture, the greater common good that both Chanakya and Gangasagar claim to work towards.

The narrative tone feels like a tele-serial sometimes, where one point is made several times over, in several ways. Midway through the book it begins to jar as the reader wishes for tighter editing. The language is occasionally disappointing too, as when some men are described as “guarders” of the royal treasure. Despite these niggles, this reasonably priced book provides its fair share of twists and thrills and is an intriguing account of political machinations.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi
Westland, Rs 195, 448 pages