(Historical Fiction/Thriller by “Ashwin Sanghi” – INR 195/-)
Many moons ago, when the class tenth examinations in an average Indian school still looked like the monster of granny’s nighttime stories, History was the local goon. The dread-inspiring giant of a syllabus comprised among others the grandeur of the Mughals, the militia of the mighty Ashoka and without fail – the ruler with the grey cells – emperor of Magadha, Chandragupta Maurya. With the Board examinations now ‘optional’ and kids going to school with bloodsucking vampires, the fear of History has hugely faded out. What has not faded out is the theory of historicism. In “Chanakya’s Chant”, author and entrepreneur Ashwin Sanghi unfurls before us a labyrinthine world designed and brought to life not by the maker in the clouds above but by a modern-day Vishnugupta, better known to the non-historian as the crafty Chanakya.
Set to a time ‘about 2300 years ago’, when India – Bharat – looked very different from what it does today, the tale takes us to the land of Magadha, ruled by the corrupt Dhanananda. In his reeking reign of torture chambers and alcohol-houses, which slaughtered anyone who dared to raise his voice against the injustice, Chanakya’s learned father is sent to the top of a tree. Only the head, that is. The rage then born in the little Brahmin remains with him as he grows up into a Takshila graduate – incidentally one of the first major universities of ancient India – and eventually, the intelligent plotter who helps bring together a country fragmented under Alexander the Great’s rule. Thousands of years later, in an India that only appears ‘developing’ but is actually being eaten away from its very core, functions Gangasagar Mishra. Blessed by an omnipotent chant – a mystery integral to Chanakya and essentially the reader – Mishra is a conniving politician, well-equipped with schemes and machinations to forward his ends and those of his precious female-find-from-the-slums in the Indian Central Government scenario.
Set in a largely political backdrop, Sanghi’s narrative walks us down a deserted Pataliputra lane and feasts us to the banquet of an Indo-China external affairs meet all in the matter of a few pages. The interleaving is smooth; the visuals are stark – right in your face are the horrors of the dungeon rife with snakes and scorpions. So is the brutality of killing as a means to restore law and order. The characterization is water-tight and exceptionally well researched. Yes, the more flippant of readers may feel unnerved with the troupe of characters christened strangely. But there is enough ‘masala’ so to say, to engage most minds. The secret behind winning an ‘opinion poll’, an astrologer and his predictions all coming true, the ministers the last elections elected to the house getting away with ‘no comments’ on most issues – Sanghi touches chords where they ring best. Read best too.
Given the thickness of the book – more than 400 pages – and the notorious history-politics marriage, this may not seem inviting to all the strollers gazing at book covers. But in a read that is engrossing from start to finish, clustering it with ‘those boring’ books on History can be a mistake. Sanghi does resort to instant Glucose at places – some scenes of gore (though well written), a closet homosexual, some people that err, seem like some others. But well, we no longer live in a cloistered world. In sync with how the book unravels the mystery of the chant and thus, the mystery of Chanakya’s cult Arthashatra, it also promises, more basically, a complete and enjoyable read.
Chankya’s Chant is very strongly recommended. And just in case you were wondering, the chant is available for download. 🙂