Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ajaya - Roll of the Dice - Review

The Mahabharata endures as the great epic of India. But while Jaya is the story of the Pandavas, told from the perspective of the victors of Kurukshetra; Ajaya is the narrative of the 'unconquerable' Kauravas, who were decimated to the last man.
At the heart of India's most powerful empire, a revolution is brewing. Bhishma, the noble patriarch of Hastinapura, is struggling to maintain the unity of his empire. On the throne sits Dhritarashtra, the blind King and his foreign born Queen Gandhari. In the shadow of the throne stands Kunti, the Dowager-Queen, burning with ambition to see her firstborn become the ruler, acknowledged by all. And in the wings:
Parashurama, the enigmatic Guru of the powerful Southern Confederate, bides his time to take over and impose his will from mountains to ocean.
Ekalavya, a young Nishada, yearns to break free of caste restrictions and become a warrior.
Karna, son of a humble charioteer, travels to the South to study under the foremost Guru of the day and become the greatest archer in the land.
Balarama, the charismatic leader of the Yadavas, dreams of building the perfect city by the sea and seeing his people prosperous and proud once more.
Takshaka, guerilla leader of the Nagas, foments a revolution by the downtrodden as he lies in wait in the jungles of India, where survival is the only dharma.
Jara, the beggar and his blind dog Dharma, walk the dusty streets of India, witness to people and events far greater than they, as the Pandavas and the Kauravas confront their searing destinies.
Amidst the chaos, Prince Suyodhana, heir of Hastinapura, stands tall, determined to claim his birthright and act according to his conscience. He is the maker of his own destiny or so he believes. While in the corridors of the Hastinapura palace, a foreign Prince plots to destroy India. And the dice falls.

About the Author
Anand Neelakantan was born in a quaint little village called Thripoonithura, on the outskirts of Cochin, Kerala. Located east of mainland Ernakulam, across Vembanad Lake, this village had the distinction of being the seat of the Cochin royal family. However, it was more famous for its 100-odd temples, the various classical artists it produced, and its school of music. He remembers many an evening listening to the faint rhythm of the chendas coming from the temples, and the notes of the flute escaping over the rugged walls of the music school. However, Gulf money and the rapidly expanding city of Cochin, have wiped away all remaining vestiges of that old-world charm. The village has evolved into the usual, unremarkable, suburban hellhole clones of which dot India. Growing up in a village with more temples than was necessary, it was little wonder that mythology fascinated Anand. Ironically, he was drawn to the anti-heroes. His own life went on... Anand became an engineer, joined the Indian Oil Corporation, moved to Bangalore, married Aparna, and welcomed their daughter Ananya, and son, Abhinav. However, the voices of yore refused to be silenced in his mind. He felt impelled to narrate the stories of the vanquished and the damned; and give life to those silent heroes who have been overlooked in the uncritical acceptance of conventional renderings of the epics. This is Anand's second book and follows the outstanding success of his national #1 bestseller, ASURA Tale Of The Vanquished (Platinum Press 2012). AJAYA Book II, Rise Of Kali, is due for release later in 2014. Anand can be reached at:

What do you do when you are gifted with a vivid imagination, a beautiful conceptualization, and a wide knowledge of the epics? Depends. Thankfully, one Anand Neelakantan decides to think out of the box, use the resources wisely, and come up with a brilliant re-interpretation of the Mahabharata. ‘Ajaya’ is the first book in his new series – ‘Epic of the Kaurava Clan.’

There have been several interpretations and re-interpretations of this widely known epic, by Indian as well as foreign authors. How is this book different from the rest then? To this, I say, hold your breath, ladies and gentleman, though the basic premise is the same, what this book presents is a difference in view point. We have adored the Pandavas over the ages, accusing Duryodhana and the Kauravas of treachery and evil. ‘Ajaya’ reverses the flow, projecting Duryodhana, or rather Suyodhana, as the misunderstood kind-hearted Prince, whose good nature and simplicity towards life is taken undue advantage of by his Pandava cousins.

Anand does a good job of laying the foundation of a gripping series with ‘Ajaya’. He introduces the events in a detailed manner, his rich imagery performing its part to accentuate the beauty on the pieces he carves. The description of Hastinapur, with its grandeur, is magnificent, and when the author also highlights the darker side of the kingdom, where Nishada and other low caste people dwell in poverty and hopelessness, your heart certainly sprinkles a few drops of tears.

The caste system of that time has been explained elaborately, and the concept of ‘Dharma’, adopted by the Pandava princes, and Yudhisthira in particular, along with Krishna, will certainly raise questions and doubts in your mind. Were they right in adopting a system that creates a divide among the various classes of people depending on their birth? Shouldn't every person be provided with the same opportunity and rights to fulfill his dreams and duties?

Suyodhana, the eldest Kaurava Prince, wins your heart. You ache in pain when he suffers, mostly at the hands of Bhima, and also when he is insulted by his teacher Guru Dronacharya, who doesn't acknowledge the purity of his mind and the goodness of his intentions and instead rebukes him for lacking the will to fight wars like a true Kshatriya. Suyodhana is also teased cruelly on his father’s blindness.

Several subplots come together to form the bigger picture in this book. Characters like Parashurama (the powerful teacher of the Southern Confederate), Ekalavya (a young Nishada who dreams of becoming the best archer in the country), Karna (the son of a charioteer, whose skills are overlooked only because he is a Suta), Balarama (the Yadava leader who visualizes a city of prosperity and knowledge), Takshaka (the ferocious Naga leader), and Jara the beggar and his blind dog, form key roles in taking the story forward.

I am a fan of mythological stories, and I loved reading this unique version of the Mahabharata. The book starts at Gandhara, with Bhishma telling Gandhari that he would like her to marry Dhritarashtra, and ends with the last roll of the dice from the hands of Shakuni, with the Pandavas losing everything they had, even their wife, Draupadi.

Though most of us already know the basic premise of Mahabharata, it’s the manner in which it has been retold, and the different perspectives provided, that will make you wake up all night and finish reading this book. Truly, ‘Ajaya’ would rate as one of the most creative books that the ardent reader in me has come across all these years.

Title: Ajaya - Roll of the Dice - Epic of the Kaurava Clan - Book I
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Publisher: Leadstart Publishing
Imprint: Platinum Press
Publication Year: 2013
Language: English
Binding: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, Epic
No. of Pages: 456
Price: Rs 299
My Rating: 4/5


  1. Very detailed. Do you happen to know what Tamlik is?

    Take Care

    1. I do not know but I will check on Google :-)