Around 10 years ago, author Anand Neelakantan came across a procession that was witnessed by thousands of people. They were waiting to pay homage to the idol at the Malanada Temple in a village in Kerala’s Kollam district. And the deity turned out to be a surprise. “It was none other than Duryodhana, the most reviled villain in Indian mythology,” says Anand.
According to legend, Duryodhana had come to Kerala in search of the Pandava princes. Feeling thirsty, he asked an old woman for water. Impulsively, she gave the toddy she is carrying. Only then did she realise that Duryodhana was a Kshatriya who could lose his caste by drinking toddy from an Untouchable. When she told him this, Duryodhana said, “Mother, there is no caste for hunger and thirst. Blessed are you for putting the interests of a thirsty man before your own safety.”
For a decade, Anand had been fascinated with Duryodhana. So, it was no surprise that when he became a writer, he decided to write a book about the anti-hero. Called Ajaya (Epic of the Kaurava Clan, Part 1), and published by Platinum Press, it has already soared to No. 1 on the Crossword Bestseller List. This is his second book after Asura-Tale of the Vanquished, about Ravana and also a best-seller.
“In Ajaya, Duryodhana is the hero, while the Pandavas are the villains,” says Anand. On the throne in Hastinapura, is Dhritarashtra, a blind man, who lacks any clout. His foreign-born wife, Gandhari, and her co-sister Kunti are engaged in a protracted cold war to make their sons the next heir to the empire.
Duryodhana, the crown prince of Hastinapura, too is desperate for the throne. But his cousin Yudhisthira, and his brothers along with their mother will do anything to stop him from becoming king. They are helped by the orthodox elements of society, which include the conservative Brahmin, Drona, ace politician Krishna, and Kunti’s chief adviser, the priest Dhaumya.
As the cold war continues, and as the helpless patriarch, Bhishma, and his prime minister Vidura looks on, a revolution brews in the jungles. Takshaka, a Naga leader, wants to overthrow the establishment and bring about a people’s revolution. Ekalavya, an untouchable, wants to become the best warrior in the country. “It is a modern take of an ancient story,” says Anand.
The scenes are vivid and dramatic. You can feel as if you are in Hastinapura, so powerful are the images. Anand says the entire structure of the novel was planned beforehand. “It underwent changes as I wrote, but the blueprint remained the same.”
Asked why he decided to write about the Kauravas, Anand says, “All the stories are about victorious people. There should be someone to write about the vanquished too. From Asura to Ajaya was a natural progression.”
The Belgaum-based Indian Oil Corporation manager will write a second part (Rise of Kali), to be published in August.