New upcoming historical fiction set in Mauryan INdia. Following is a review by a friend who managed to get an advance copy. The link above has an extract of the book.. The cover-page is very tasteful.
Can dharma survive the cruel world of geo-politics ? Is it possible to be good and righteous in a world where progressively values have no meaning, where alien power systems hold forth on lands far beyond their borders and shape it in their mold through the soft and hard power ? Are these questions new, or not really ? For a India, at crossroads, rapidly moving to take centre stage in a world dominated by values which its culture holds abhorrent, these are live questions. How do we seek for a place in the world where the only currency is brute power. Is it possible to be different and yet hold primacy in a world where matsyanyaya seems to be the only approach to life ? These are questions which Indians are grappling with in our moment of inflection, a topic of many works of cogitation from modern seers, social thinkers, and politicians alike, but we can take heart in the fact that Indias “timeless history” as Namita Gokhale states so eloquently while talking about the Urnabhih offers if not a ready made solution, at least a way, a path, a thought process to live by to get there, and as in the Indian way, how best to talk about such things, if not through a story. Urnabhih ? Is such a story. A Panchtantra for grownups, a slice of something from the genre of the epics, a darn good yarn, and a bloody hard as nails perceptive insight of the world of real politic.
The story which starts, tentatively, a little hesitatingly, apparently unsure of where things are going to go, a very natural beginning for a book which chronicles the adventures of the heroine in a very unsure and rapidly changing world, a dynamic world in which she has opted to live a life of intrigue and shadows, where nothing is what it is, and where the personal values of family, loyalty and attachment, must constantly battle the demands of serving a higher cause than oneself. Soon, the reader is plunged headlong into the rich and beautiful world of Mauyran period, painstakingly painted to a very real picture, the story coming alive and more a moving picture than words in a book as the protagonist plays a key role in historical events of the era, such as seeing through a smooth coronation of Chandragupta Maurya and the consolidation his rule. A book, whose colorful and vividly described cover are indeed a good judge of the pages within, which are a colorful, esthetically depiction of the ancient India come alive, as might be the case when the frescos of Ajanta would move in words, covers a journey of Mirakesi, who has chosen to make her life as a Ganika as she moves to being a hidden hand of the web which Acharya Chanakya is laying along India, a web of silk and steel to bind India into a single political formation, centered around the Charkavartin philosophies of an even older India. Is she the spider of her own web, or just being driven by the web of the preceptor ? A layered narrative where one is never sure what the motivations of the principle players are, as they themselves grapple with the competing pulls and pressures of the different calls, each of which they hold dear.
To add more of the story, would be giving it away, and the book, which in keeping with the theme of many layers, is at once a historical narrative, an espionage thriller and a treatise on balancing geo-politics with individual values, is truly one of the rare books, where the experience of the book through reading it is a bigger reward than the knowledge of the story. So any statement on the book, would need to end with just this recommendation that reading it would be the worthwhile investment of the rare commodity of our times, time.