Book Review

I was browsing for something to read in my Father-in-Law’s bookshelf – he has an extensive library with lots of popular fiction – and I picked up the book Chanakya’s Chant. If anyone remembers, I pledged to read and review 20 books by Indian authors this year and I figured this is a good time to start. This book was an utter waste of a precious week’s worth of reading snatched during Chotu’s naps. However, a review must be objective. So here it goes…

chanakya's chantOverview:

The book has two tracks. One track details Chanakya’s schemes 2500 years ago to unite Bharat under Chandragupta Maurya. The other traces the life and career of Gangasagar Mishra who dedicates his life to uniting the country (supposedly) under his protege – a girl from the slum school where he is a teacher. Gangasagar is, of course, supposed to be a reincarnation of Chanakya himself.

So the narrative proceeds with one chapter detailing Chanakya’s moves and the next presenting the modern-day equivalent. We know what happened with Chanakya and so, we know what happens with Gangasagar as well. Not too many surprises regarding the outcome of the tale. It’s the individual incidents that will determine how much the book captures your interest.

Pros:

It’s a novel theme (pardon the pun) and it’s a great thought experiment. The author seems to have done his research and has added quite a few fine details of life in Chanakya’s time. The characters are well defined and not too many. All in all, it has its moments.

Cons:

Chanakya sounds like a glib, American, ad-libbed version of himself. Some of the quotes are so inappropriate that they’re funnier than the author intended them to be. Why would Chanakya, for instance, ever say, “The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese”. Bird? Worm? Cheese? Mousetraps with cheese in India 2500 years ago? The book is full of such quips and they grated on this reviewer’s nerves just a few pages in.

The writing is too casual. It doesn’t read like a serious work of fiction but rather as the first draft of a novel. The tone may ruin the experience for some. Things also start to get predictable after a while. Sure, you don’t know the exact schemes Gangasagar is going to hatch but you do know how things are going to end up and you might just get impatient after a while.

Chanakya and Gangasagar seem a little too much like those they’re trying to displace. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it would have been good to set them apart in some way. Otherwise, it just reinforces the stereotype that all politicians are the same. If one wants us to believe that uniting the country under a competent ruler is a goal worthy of playing dirty then one must also show us that the said ruler is indeed good for the country.

Bottomline:

Read it if you have plenty of time to spare, or are looking for something by an Indian author, or are looking for something light to read on a journey. Do not bother with it if reading time is a luxury. Save it for later. Or never. There are plenty of political thrillers actually worth the investment.


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2 thoughts on “Book Review”

  1. I love when this technique of narrating across timelines is well executed (Amitav Ghosh’s, ‘Calcutta Chromosome’ comes immediately to mind). But more than once, I’ve found this annoying – I’m thinking now of Vikas Swarup’s ‘Q&A’. That was torture.

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