A Tale of the Fallen by Anand Neelkantan
(The book was released on 1st Dec 2013 )
I picked up the book and took out page 1 titled Author’s Note –
‘Many years ago, I witnessed a spectacle many of my readers would not even have heard about, let alone seen. It was a day of grand celebration. Even the hot tropical sun shining above could not diminish the pervading festive spirit. There were more than 100,000 people assembled to watch the procession and pay homage to the presiding deity of the temple. The devotees belonged to all castes and creeds and fervour they displayed was bewitching to watch. Strangely enough, the majestic festival was in honour of a man I had always believed to have few admirers, if any. The deity at the Malanada Temple in Poruvazhy village, Kerela, is none other than the most reviled villain of Indian mythology – Duryodhana. ‘
I dunno why but I had a smile on my face and a kind of relief and my memory went down to my Class 3 tution teacher. She used to teach all the kids of the house(ours was a joint family) about the Indian epics. When she asked us what we had any questions from Mahabharata… I confusingly asked ‘Why was Duryodhana being called a villain? Cause I don’t find anything bad about him. Wasn’t it the fault of Yudhistra that Draupadi was gambled and shamed in front of the whole court?’
And I was scolded for questioning the acts of Dharmaputra!
History is always written from the winner’s perspective. Here is where Anand Neelakantan stands out with his brave attempt in trying to touch Indian mytical and epic stories with a totally different angle and touches the cord of people like me who have a twisted brain and questions the good being all good and bad being all bad – It cant be all black and white! It’s a human psychology to avoid questions which are difficult to answer but on the contrary, that is exactly what Neelakantan tries to do.
I fell in love with his writing when I got my hands on his very first book – Asura : Tale of the Vanquished. And even though I had bought this book in kindle… I loved it so much that I got a book for my collection to keep. It’s a gem!
For the ones who have read the Indian Epic , Mahabharata for us begins at the story of King Shantanu and his life with Ganga. But, this story starts with Bhishma conquering the kingdom of Gandhar and kidnapping their exquisitely beautiful princess for his nephew, Dhritarashtra, Prince of Hastinapur. The writer has spared you of all the history and that is justified because this incident is where the first seed of Hastinapur’s downfall was sown. This incident made Shakuni , the small boy of barely 5 years, who hid under the bed and witnessed his kingdom being vanquished, burn with vengeance! Unlikely for a warrior, Bhishma allowed Gandhari to take her little brother to Hastinapur along with her.
Moving on to the book Ajaya as a whole , it is a retelling of the Epic by the fallen. Though the main focus stays on Duryodhana, but Eklavya, Ashwatthama, Karna, Balaram, Parashurama, Takshaka, play an equally impactful characters and I loved them to the core. He has taken in a lot of characters from the epic, blended them carefully and weaved the story in such a way that you are enthralled with an awesome read. However, if you are not familiar with the original version of Mahabharata, you may lose track… so you may have to follow very closely.
This writer tries to break the shackles of usual story telling into something non-contemporary and it is totally upto the reader to accept it or not. This book unlike the original mythological tale is logical and scientific without the characters being divine and having magical powers. Which is another point which will be appreciated by the readers. Right from calling Duryodhana as Suyodhana and Dusshasana as Sushasana , to giving the unsung heroes a voice. The defeated are not tagged as villains and ridiculed as losers… the winners are not heroes. All his characters are potrayed as normal human beings being somewhat at the same level.
The author does not only write the story from a different perspective but also questions the absurd but socially accepted norms – not everything can be justified by saying that it was God’s wish. The writer’s conviction is very much in place and he has researched very well , that can be sensed through out his book. The detailing is brilliant and the narration is exciting!
For a person like me who loves reading epics and mythologies and ponder upon them in a different perspective… this book was a treat! Mahabharata being the biggest epic of Hindu mythology, Anand Neelakantan has taken a huge risk of his writing not going down with many people but I am glad it was so widely received and become a best-seller.
You come across some great leassons and insights on life. An interesting and engrossing read. I highly recommend this book to all book lovers!
A 5/5 from myside!