Ajaya – Review

Book: Ajaya
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Year: 2013
Bookhad Rating: ❤❤❤♡♡

The Mahabharata is the story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The Pandavas are a set of 5 brothers; Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. The Kauravas are 100 brothers from which the epic talks about Duryodhana predominantly. The extremely sad part is that it is originally written in Sanskrit. All that we have ever read are translations from the original language.

When translating a work the author’s prejudice, or a point of view, comes into the picture. One can’t help but be a little skeptical. But when the apparent prejudice is repeated throughout the course of history then the real story is lost. I not only speak of The Mahabharata but about any epic, war, story or folk tale.

Duryodhana was the son of Dhritarashtra, a blind King. It was a hindrance to rule without the power of sight, so he nominated his younger brother Pandu to rule on his behalf. Now, Pandu was a nominated king, the younger brother, of the King. He sired 5 sons called the Pandavas. The war was fought, in a nutshell, over the right to rule. Technically, Duryodhan was the rightful heir. No doubts about it.  There is a delightful bite into the origin of the Pandavas as Pandu was impotent and, hence, the Pandavas origin is said to be of some Godly lineage. There are tertiary characters that play roles that change the route the war would take.

There are stories running parallel to the grand epic which have catastrophic effects on the outcome.


To write a review of the epic, honestly, is something I can never try. All I’m doing now is writing a review of Anand Neelakantan’s book which is nothing but a part of the grand epic; an effort of the author towards showcasing to the readers Duryodhan’s better personality. It is his effort to give balance to the all time villainy of his. He has always been the bad man. So much effort has been made to make him an evil entity that his real name is rarely taken. His real name was Suyodhan, which meant one who can wield arms; while Duryodhana, the name given to him by history, means one who can’t wield arms.

Time and again have we been indoctrinated about the Kauravas being the bad guys and the Pandavas being the wronged party. The very first piece of literature that sowed the seeds of another point of view was a play I did in the 10th grade. Mahabharata ki ek saanjh, (An evening of the Mahabharata), was the first time I heard Suyodhan speak his mind when Yudhisthira goes to say his sorry to him as he is lying awaiting death.

We had recently interviewed author Anand Neelkanthan on our blog. You can read the interview here. Little did we know that the book in question would be so brilliantly written. To write about the Mahabharata might sound like a task which has been done so many times that the novelty is lost after one reads a few books. But we were wrong. We had the similar feeling when we read the Palace of Illusions (Read our review  here) and now the feeling came back to haunt us when we read Neelakantan’s Ajaya. While the former had Draupadi (Paanchali) as the protagonist, Ajaya speaks about Suyodhan.

Neelkantan’s Duryodhana paints a picture very different from the one we were used to. We always imagined him to be a scheming and a machinery of hatred which ruined the rich history of Hastinapur and who was hell bent to snatch the throne from the Pandavas to whom it rightfully belonged. Duryodhana was a mean being. He tried to disrobe a cousin’s wife; he tried to kill the 5 brothers alive while they slept; he hated the 5 brothers so much that he exiled them for a period of 13 years.

But when one opens his ears and listens to Suyodhan, we realize what he was against. He wasn’t a scheming man; he was a desperate man. He was against what we call dharma; it means duty. Yudhisthira was supposed to be the most self righteous man in the world, but he still bet his wife in a game of dice. Arjuna, the best warrior, but it didn’t stop him from blinding a dog for game. But, after everything is said and done, it all comes down to a fine line of interpretation and point of view.

Ajaya is a story of Suyodhana and his dilemma. He was the rightful heir to the throne, but he always felt weaker and less capable than the 5 brothers. The Pandavas had the sympathy vote. They had the greatest guru, Drona, on their side because they were true Brahmins. They followed the Dharma and their right and wrong depended upon the caste system. They followed the caste rules with rigidity. Great ones like Drona and Krishna were of the opinion that the caste system is there for a reason. The society functions like a well oiled machinery if the population sticks to it’s caste rules. If a Shudra is born he HAS to follow the rules of employment and cannot dream of being a soldier or a priest. He is meant to clean toilets all his life.

Krishna, like always is portrayed as an extremely intelligent man. He believed in the caste system but not in the way the common man perceived it. He had his own agenda. For the greater good, was his strong point. He was, after all, the avatar of Vishnu. Neelakantan paints a picture of a negative. Krishna is portrayed as nothing more or less than a politician trying very hard to captivate people with his image. After all, it is, finally, about influencing and creating a mass following. He schemes and gets a righteous man killed (more than once, I should add) and manipulates Bhima to get his work done.

We’ll leave the larger chunk of brilliance for you to find out!

The book ends on a note that tries your patience. The game of dice is in progress and Yudhisthira has just lost his wife (Draupadi) to Suyodhana after he bets her in the game. Draupadi is sitting in the chamber and chatting with Bhanumati (Suyodhana’s wife), knowing nothing of the fate that awaits her.

The author has weaved a very convincing story about Suyodhana and has done it with artistic mastery. His writing skills are not in doubt and neither are his story telling tendencies!


3 thoughts on “Ajaya – Review

Add yours

  1. You make some incorrect statements in your post.

    You are incorrect when you state that Dhritarashtra nominated Pandu to be king instead. It was the elders of the family (Bhishma and the gurus) who annointed Pandu king first. The Kingdom was never Dhritarashtra’s to hand over at that point.

    Therefore it is also incorrect to state that there are no doubts about Su/Duryodhana’s claim to the throne. There are plenty of doubts over it, and the doubts are what make the conundrums in the epic morally ambiguous.

    The author needed to paint falsehoods and ambiguities as facts in order to justify his book. You’re falling hook line and sinker for those deceptions.

    1. Thank you for pointing them out.

      That said, I should point out that I am basing my review on the sources acquired from the internet and the book in question, and the points raised by you have been in the form of, what is it, ambiguity as you say so yourself. I cannot, and dare not, hold myself to be an authority, no matter how remote, on a subject as vast The Mahabharata.

      As for the author painting falsehoods and ambiguities, I cannot say much to that aspect apart from maintaining silence over something that I am not very versed with. But, did you not yourself point these conundrums as “ambiguities”? Hence, a parallel interpretation is bound to be borne, wouldn’t you think?

      Thanks a lot pointing out the issues but we, as reviewers, are only reviewing a book; not a mythology.

  2. It is the moral ambiguities that leave the epic open to parallel interpretations. However there is absolutely no ambiguity over the chronology of events in question. It is not a matter of ambiguity that Pandu was crowned king before Dhritharashtra, and it was a decision left to the elders of the family. This is a matter of record and it would require a highly inventive mind to falsify this in an attempt to justify an alternative narrative. You will not find an authoritative record of the epic that subverts this turn of events, just as you will not find an authoritative record that has Arjuna perishing at the hands of Karna.

    Duryodhana’s conundrum has always been the ambiguity that arose from this incontrovertible fact.

    Duryodhana: “Why should the son of the king not be crowned king?”
    Bhishma: “In that case, Yudhishthira should be crowned king because Pandu was king before your father was.”
    Duryodhana: “But my father was the eldest brother, and thus the legitimate king”
    Bhishma: “In that case, Yudhishthira, the eldest cousin is the legitimate king now”

    See how beautifully it sets up a valid case for both sides, and combined with Duryodhana’s inflexibility, results in the war.

    Now imagine an alternate world where Dhritharashtra is supposed to have become king before Pandu. That simplifies everything and removes the very need for the entire war. In that world there is absolutely no doubt that Duryodhana is the rightful heir. It robs the epic of it’s epicness and makes it a petty tale of kingdom snatching by the Pandavas. How mundane. Is that supposed to be the greatest epic in the world?

    Veda Vyasa was the natural grandfather of the Kauravas. The Pandavas, on account of their supernatural births were not his true grand-children. Why would Veda Vyasa portray his natural grand-children as the villains of the epic if that was not the true case?

    I assumed that the introduction to the book in your post derives from the justification of the author himself for his parallel narrative, in which case it would need to be held to higher standards of the truth. If that is not the stance of the author himself, I must offer my apologies to him. However if it is indeed his claim that it was pretty clear cut that Su/Duryodhana had the sole legitimate claim to the throne, I must disagree for reasons explained in my earlier post, and must therefore view his book as not just a counter-narrative, but a highly fictionalised one based off flakey folk tale versions and possibly a lot of creative license. There exists a market for such works. I just hope those people learn to spot the instances of ‘creative license’ instead of treating them as fact based on the word of the author.

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