Monday, August 08, 2011

Book review : Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

I received this book from Blogadda , as part of their Book Reviews Program.

The time span of the book, spans centuries. And what comes home to the reader, on turning the last page, is the undeniable feeling, that really nothing has changed when it comes to those who purport to be our rulers,and those who prop them up.

Chanakya , who lived between 350 B.C. and 75 B. C, was someone we cursorily read about in history books in school. Typically, more attention was lavished on the kings, than those who made them so.

This book manages to open the eyes. It is like watching two movies at the same time, and marvelling at the way history appeared to be repeating.

Chanakya, also known as Vishnugupta, son of Chanak, has seen his father killed at the court of the Magadh king. He escapes to the University at Takshila in the west, and by sheer brilliant learning and strategising, becomes a guru, mentor and advisor to ChandraGupta Maurya, who must rule all the kingdoms in "Bharat" one day.

Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, many many centuries later, is positioned as today's Chanakya, the "moving" hand behind the power at the top in contemporary India.

The book is written in a style that alternates between the two time bands. It is clear that events replicate themselves in some manner of speaking, with similar stuff happening in the two corresponding ages.

Chanakya, works singlemindedly towards installing ChandraGupta Maurya, using everything at his command: money, deception, the then current societal standards, women, weapons, threats, all without appearing prominent himself.

The modern day Gangaprasad Mishra, is hell bent on installing the, intriguingly named 'Chand'ani Gupta as the Prime Minister of India, and the story meanders through her journey as she transits through various levels of power; local, state, and national.

The author has managed to weave in many aspects like changing loyalties , always a function of promises of power; the belief that those educated in the "brawn" aspect fall short of those also educated in the "brain" aspect; the play of religions ; vignettes similar to recent events like hijacking of planes, and leaders being shot and injured in public meetings, even shades of a fodder scam .

Throughout the narrative, which is fairly fast paced, a person who has been reading the papers for the last 50 years, cannot help smile at some scenarios, which resemble rumors which were around in one's teenage years. There is also the England connection. And time and again one stops to think if something similar has happened in the recent past , politically, in India, and could this be an "inside" story.

It could be the passage of centuries, and the consequent dilution in the percentage of impressionable society that we have today, but one cannot deny that Chanakya's solutions appear to have more "class" overall , than those of Gangaprasad Mishra . Chanakya , certainly is more widely learned in all subjects vis-a-vis Mishraji, who, if I were to be honest, comes across as a goonda. Maybe that's what politicians are, who knows .

Chanakya's use of the Vishakanyas, the poisoning of the wells at night in Patliputra, and the antidote being poured in the morning, Chanakya's knowledge of medicinal plants, his ability to sustain disciples over long periods of time, boggles the mind.

What is a bit unbelievable , is the treatment accorded to two kings competing for the Kingdom Of Magadh, now occupied by Chandragupta. According to the story, they are cunningly welcomed in a grand manner, and are convinced to fight a duel, to decide who will rule. A bit improbable if you ask me. Difficult to believe that , say, King Paurus, would submit to this.

But then, this is a work of fiction, embellished by history, and embroidered by the threads of political happenings of the last 50 years.

This is a book of 400 odd pages. Took me some time to finish it. The book is certainly not the type that you cannot put down once you start reading; but having put it down, you are once again enthused to take it up, when free. You dont ignore it. I felt that sometimes the modus operandi followed by both Chanakya and Mishraji was repetitive.

Over all, an enjoyable read. And the download of the Chant is enjoyable.

I just have one question. Why is everything happening more or less in the Indo Gangetic plain ? Was nothing South of the Vindhyas of any consequence ? In power ? In politics ? In diplomacy ? Is that a reflection of what is happening today?

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda. Participate now to get free books!


  1. I always am in awe of this man , what he did and how he went about .. master of politcis wish we had politicias like him now .. our country would be a better place to live in ..

    I am still waiting for my first book to arrive from blagadda :)


  2. That nothing really has changed is a feeling you do get when going back and reading history. I will read this book one of these days. I am fascinated by 'history' a subject hated by most and one which I thoroughly enjoyed during college days :)
    I echo those question towards the end of your post. I guess everyone thought so (still do) and that is one of the reasons the richest temple of the South remained unknown to invaders and also to the country as such :) Perhaps Sanghi will write research and write another novel about the south of Vindhyas too :)

  3. Have always admired Chanakya and still remember that great TV series Chankya Neeti on DD .Now i am curious to know more about Mishra ,does his political strategist character comes out as strong as Chankya? The book is also going to be filmed i heard though not sure about it.
    Thanks for the nice review .

  4. I love historical novels. Is this one published in English? It sounds fascinating.

    In our country the power behind the throne are a bunch of billionaires like the infamous Koch brothers. They hide behind the scenes
    and let the visible politicians do the dirty work. Their money has corrupted our system of government.

  5. Bikram Hope you received your copy in time !

    Shail I hope Sanghi writes that book too !

    Kavita I think you should read the book. The movie will mess it up. Probably have a item song of the Vishakanyas, with Chanakya .....

    Darlene Yes Darlene, this one is published in English. (The author studied at Yale). Check on Amazon or The latter ships. As for the politicians and moneyed chaps, hide ours , substitute yours and vice versa; no one will know the difference....:-)