Asian Writers

June is dedicated to authors with ASIAN of books in this category will be posted all month....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Great Indian Novel,The

Rating - * * *  and 1/2 *

A quirky, controversial and satire filled book, pretty much the same adjectives one whould use for the author - Shashi Tharoor - known for his controversial tweets and wife-related fiasco.

What is the book about

It is neither completely fiction nor is it completely non-fiction. Its a mashup of the mythological and famous Mahabharata story and the Indian Independence freedom movement and the events post the independence. The book uses characters from Mahabharata and draws a parallel of these characters in the freedom struggle. So Bhisma becomes Gandhi, Duryodhan becomes Indra Gandhi, Pandu becomes Netaji and so on and so forth.
The point to observe is that he abstains from using the actual names for obvious reasons - defamation suits that would in all probability be filed against him for the controversial recounting of incidents e..g the fact that Kashmir was handed over to India when the King of Kashmir was in the middle of oral sex and not quite in complete control of his senses!! There are many such incidents that will shock the reader.

The author talks about the major incidents of the freedom struggle - like the Dandi march which in the book is replaced by Mango instead of Salt (!), Netaji's stint with the Japs, the partion, the bangladesh war - what he cannot fit into the story but which forms a crucial part in Mahabharata is portrayed as a dream.

What I liked about the book

The book is very well written in a witty, humorous style which is generously sprinkled with really tough english words [it broke all my illusions that I had a good command of english]. Its a quick way to know the events that paved the way to the indian freedom movement and the activities that followed till the death of Indra Gandhi. But a forewarning - for people like me who know a little bit of the Indian Freedom movement [courtsey history lessons in school and Ben Kingsley's famous Oscar winning movie Gandhi] and a little bit of Mahabharata [courtsey DD - the only television series that was religiously followed by all Indians] - the facts and fiction get muddled up by the end of the book and it would be advisable to clear up all confusion else we would end up with the notion that Gandhiji was killed by a transvestite and other such ridiculous notions.

What I dont Like about the book

Overall the book is an enjoyable read, however the narrative is suddenly broken by poems that often run into pages. No issues with the poems, but they seemed forced, atleast the attempt at rhyming every sentence seems forced and childish. It would have been better if Mr Tharoor had stuck to writing in his usual style.

The other point that I have a mind to pick a bone about is that Mahabharata is distorted. The Pandavas who are "the" crucial characters have been pushed into oblivion and the highlight is on the villain - Duryodhan (aka Indra Gandhi) - though the author tries to walk the middle path to justify Indra Gandhi's dictatorship [he had to after all he was a minister in the party!!]

The last and most disappointing part is the end - it was abrupt - an anticlimax. I remember going - "what the - ?" and actually ensuring to see if I the book had some pages missing. But it was not the case. The end is a big letdown of the book and is what stopped me from giving it a 4 star.


  1. Thanks! I have dropped you an email regarding the book swap that you showed interest in, so do chk that as well.