Retelling History: Chanakya's Chant (Book Review)

“There is poison in the fang of the serpent, in the mouth of the fly and in the sting of a scorpion; but the wicked man is saturated with it.”

Spanish American philosopher and author, George Santayana once said, “A country without a memory is a country of madmen." The recent spate of fiction based on Indian mythology by various authors does just that- retell history. Chanakya figures very prominently in our collective memory but Ashwin Sanghi manages to take Chanakya's story to a whole new level.

Time and again we have realized that the past is never dead. It comes back in one form or another and Chanakya's Chant illustrates this in the most vivid way. The shrewdness and ruthlessness that epitomized the then Chanakya is evident in Gangasagar Mishra of today.

Without giving away the details of the story, it suffices to say that just like Chanakya used his intelligence and shrewdness to install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne, Gangasagar Mishra does the same for Chandini Gupta; only this time the throne is the Prime Minister's chair. What happens between the start of the plan and the destination (and beyond) is what the book is all about.

The highly intelligent Chankakya was one of the most cunning strategists that the world has ever seen. Given his cold and calculating mind, he managed to take revenge of his father's murder, take on Alexander and install Chandragupta on the throne of the Maurya Empire and still found time to write his brilliant Arthasashtra. Gangasagar essays the role of the modern day Chanakya and displays rare ruthlessness and wit to become the kingmaker.

Just like his last book, The Rozabal Line, Ashwin Sanghi creates a common thread between the two stories that run parallely in the book. The amazing storyteller that he is, Ashwin Sanghi manages to weave a complex story using historical events and extrapolating them to present world that is full of manipulation. Mr. Sanghi knows his history well enough to find parallels and presents a well researched story. The voice is confident and the story is compelling. The editing is top notch with right dosage of drama and action. To top it all, there are tongue-in cheek statements on the reason for the Sepoy Mutiny or the "beauty of accounting" amongst other gems.

Chanaky's Chant makes us realize that no price is too high and no life too precious but at some places I felt that the author took it too far. Ashwin's flight of imagination made him write some portions of the book that seem implausible. How was it possible for Gangasagar to carry on bumping off people left right and center without anyone raising any eyebrows or objection? Were the people, law of the land and democracy totally impotent to handle the situation? But all said and done, this page-turner keeps the reader on hook, coaxing them to reach the last page.

I am not much into books that run into pages upwards of 400 but this is one of the few books that I wanted to go on and on. Chanaky's Chant is an awesome amalgamation of historical reality and contemporary fiction. If nothing else, these kinds of books will tempt the present generation to go and read the original works around Indian mythology. I have always felt that when it comes to Indian mythology, the more we scratch the surface, the more wonderful stories emerge from them.


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