As a ‘features’ producer in an English News Channel, I always defended my lack of interest in politics by saying that it doesn’t excite me. But really it was my lack of knowledge and ineptitude in understanding the nuances of Indian politics that made it a difficult subject. My other rather naïve viewpoint was that politics is a ‘dirty’ world. Years later, my vocabulary has matured and I can now describe politics in many more ways – selfish, manipulative, deceptive, scheming, scamsters, cheaters, plotters, foes, rivals, kingmakers, king-breakers… But it is this same concoction of words that makes politics such an intoxicating and exciting world! Ask any news junkie and they’d tell you that politics is the biggest chess game ever created!
For a writer to set his novel in the world of politics is but naturally a winning recipe! But if anyone still holds a naïve worldview about the game called politics, there is one book that you can read. Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant tells you exactly why politics is such an exciting world! For someone who seeks to contemporize Chanakya and the politics of his times, it is no mean task. As a child of the 80’s, to me Chanakya’s enigmatic tale of revenge and politics is seeped in nostalgia of the tele-series on Doordarshan. But then, there is as much that a child can grasp! Years later, Ashwin Sanghi’s retelling the tale of that master kingmaker makes me want to read all that is available on Chanakya!
I’m not a History Major, so I obviously don’t have an authority on the historical accuracy in Chanakya’s tale. However, the parts about Alexandar did make me a little sad. Having read Manfredi’s series on Alexander, I almost fell in love with him! Viewing him from the other side of the fence of course is less flaterring. It is Chanakya’s present day avatar, Gangasagar Mishra who holds the key to the story. The constant back and forth narrative works for most part of the novel, as the reader is taken through the original devices mechanised by Chanakya and then the present day adaptations of the same. Linking the interlude of 2300 years is a chant:
‘Adi Shakti, Namo Namah; Sarab Shakti, Namo Namah; Prithum Bhagvati, Namo Namah; Kundalini Mata Shakti; Mata Shakti, Namo Namah’
A potent chant and an ‘ancient Sanskrit mantra extolling the virtues of feminine energy’, this is the legacy that Chanakya hands over to Gangasagar Mishra. And this is wherein lies the crux of the story. While Chanakya driven by revenge and hate for the King of Magadha vows to unite the country under Chandragupta Maurya, his alter-ego chants his muse’s mantra as he embarks into the world of politics. From local politics, moving to the state and eventually holding the power at the centre, Gangasagar is the guru behind his protege Chandni Gupta. And to reach his goal, he wipes clean the path that falls before Chandni. From removing obstacles that Chandni plants in her own life, to people and situations that are doctored to make her the rising star, Gangasagar’s devices do not fail! Close at the end of the novel, the truth behind the origin of the chant is revealed. In the end, with its various contraptions in Gangasagar’s tale, the chant sounds quite like a curse! A mantra that assures victory, but that which takes away much more in its wake. Read Gangasagar’s story closely and you would know why!
The current day portrayal of Indian politics is racy, edgy and there is a lot that is left to the reader’s imagination! Using perhaps every trick in the book, Sanghi’s weaved his tale around several real life incidents. After all, ‘real life’ politics is quite dramatic! In a way, my definition of politics being murky is also vindicated! But like I said before, it is the same thing that makes Chanakya’s Chant an enigmatic read. Take away the dirt from the story and there’s a dead book for you! Prahlad Kakkar after reading the book said, “It’s an awesome book…wonderfully researched…I wish politicians were literate enough to read it!” Mr Kakkar, I beg to differ. Our politicians have a scanty sense of humor! They would get busy taking notes from this book, its better we hide it in our bookshelves and save ourselves some more scams!
Sanghi’s writing is contemporary. An easy read, even the expletives used 2300 years sound very familiar to the ears! That perhaps has to do with the kind of readers the writer’s writing for. And who knows what slangs they used back in the day anyway? I however felt that some parts of the text could do with some strict editing. The sentences in a few places was long and winded, a chopping board would have been useful! There are quite a few intelligent repartees. Sanghi’s honesty in listing them down at the end of the novel is worth a pat.
Chandragupta Maurya driven by Chanakya’s vision unites Bharat under his dynasty. Chandni Gupta under Gangasagar Mishra’s tutelage goes into a third term as Prime Minister. Given the nature of coalition politics in our country today, that sounds like an idyllic situation. We are seeing how difficult it is to survive a second term at the centre…but then, in a novelist’s world anything is possible! Let us just revel in that…
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