Chanakya's Chant


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I’ve been fascinated by Chanakya ever since the show was aired on Doordarshan. A saga of revenge, love, betrayal, politics – it is certainly one of the most inspiring stories of an inspiring personality. And when I heard about Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanaky’s Chant, I was eager to pick it up. Thanks to BlogAdda, I was able to read it soon enough.

The novel starts with a bang – Gangasagar Mishra, an old man lying on his hospital bed, is watching TV with bated breath. Chandni Gupta is being sworn in as the Eighteenth Prime Minister of India. As he watches on, Chandni, his protégé, is shot. Watching the scene unfold on television, Mishra starts chanting, “Aadi Shakti, Namo Namah; Sarah Shakti, Namo Namah; Pritham Bhagvati, Namo Namah; Kundalini Mata Shakti; Mata Shakti, Namo Namah.” And thus begins Chanakya’s Chant.

Soon the story elegantly shifts to 340 B.C. and we see a sordid and a dissolute King, Dhanananda, brutally murdering and punishing those who voice against his actions. One of those murdered men is Chanak.

Chanak’s son, now an orphan, vows to avenge his father. Born as Vishnugupta, he now calls himself as Chanakya – the son of Chanak, and hatches an impossible plan to overthrow Dhanananda and install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. And thus begins Chanakya’s story. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Both the stories go in parallel. One is set in the present day, whereas the other takes place in 340 B.C. Gangasagar Mishra is the modern day Chanakya – a ruthless genius, who is hell bent on getting what he wants no matter what. Chandni Gupta, a girl he finds in a slum, is his protégé. And the ultimate goal: to make her the Prime Minister of India.

Although the setting is fantastic, it doesn’t retain the same intensity throughout. One of the proven, powerful techniques to write a fast-moving thriller is to take the story in a parallel fashion, merge them as they near the end and bring it to a shattering climax. Unfortunately, here, the stories never meet. They are treated as different stories altogether. Of course it is led to believe that they are connected in a subtle way, it is nevertheless uninspiring.

The story moves at a rattling speed, there are many bright moments to enjoy, the research done is impressive; but still there are simply too many clichés – sometimes too filmy – that take away the fun.

One of the main drawbacks is loose characterization. None of the characters – including the protagonists – are etched well. You won’t feel a thing when Chanakya’s father is murdered. It is treated as just another routine accident in a dull city. The scene where Chanakya vows to take revenge is slothfully presented. On the contrary, the modern day Chanakya, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, is just the same. One simply can’t empathize with him. Whether it’s Chanakya or Mishra, one cannot care much about their strategies. I wish the author had taken more pain to make the characters come alive.

There is a particular sequence in the novel, where the Central Home Minister shoots a man in the head in front of several policemen and laymen. At some other point in the story, a plane is hijacked by terrorists. Flip a few pages and this is already over. Plane hijacking is not an ordinary issue. A whole novel can be written on it, and yet here, it is treated like a game of hide and seek.

Another negative aspect is that it is riddled with dialogues. No third-person narration, just dialogues. Maybe it is intended to be a dialogue oriented novel, I don’t know. But it didn’t work for me.

Although it has some negative points, it’s still worth reading once. There are a few instances where you simply can’t stop admiring Ashwin Sanghi. The political game is presented flawlessly, the dialogues are witty, the language is wonderful (although he could have done away with unnecessary cuss words – esp. while narrating the story of Chanakya in ancient Bharat), and mainly, as I said earlier, it’s pacy.

In the midst of so many awful novels that are hitting the bookshops these days– novels by authors that have clearly written more books than they have read – Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant certainly stands apart. Give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

My Rating: 2/5

Book: Chanakya’s Chant

Author: Ashwin Sanghi

Publisher: Westland


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