Tuesday, December 23, 2014

History was never so much intriguing: A review of ‘Frontiers of Karma – The CounterStroke’ by Medha Bhaskaran

The novel, procured more out of curiosity than anything else, hooked me to itself from the very first chapter. I hardly review books. However, I love to share my thoughts on some that leave an impact on me in some way. Medha Bhaskaran’s historical novel on Chatrapati Shivaji – the warrior king is one such. However, my initial interest in the book was due to a couple of reasons unrelated to the novel:
My dad, a retired infantry man, had written a paper on military strategy when he was in service. He had titled it: “The FourStroke Offensive.” He was proud of it and believed that the paper on war – strategy was one of his best. He had shared the highlights with me and his views had somehow stayed with me. So basically, it was the common - sounding title that attracted me to Medha Bhaskaran’s novel, at first. Combined with the fact that it was on Raja Shivaji --the great Indian hero--whose tales of patriotism, valour and sharp – wit always managed to evoke a mix of admiration and awe in me during my childhood. Moreover, Medha and I share the same publisher and I was invited to her book launch event. Meeting the author in – person had been a pleasurable experience. But once I started reading the story, I knew I had to write about it. More so because it would give me a chance to revisit and refresh my understanding of the life and times of the great Maratha King; one of the greatest patriots and legendary figures of India.
Coming to the Novel –
Shivaji’s tremendous rise from a little known and harmless young jagirdar to being perceived as a rebel; a threat to the Mughal Empire and finally emerging as a hero (and a great King) inspiring Marathas and other Hindus in the country with his idea of swaraj, acute sense of justice, bravery and able administration is beautifully depicted in the first part of the Trilogy. I learnt more about the great warrior king from this book than from the history books that I’ve read during my school days. And in the most enjoyable way. Most of us have heard tales of how he outwitted the able but cruel Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and his men. But here is a storybook that shows more: his anguish on not being able to be with his favourite wife on her death bed, his sharp and foresighted approach and excellent skills as a warrior, his devotion to his mother, his compassion for the peasants and weaker section of society, his deep respect for women even if they were mothers or wives of the enemy, his heart – felt concern and love for his soldiers and his total determination to achieve swaraj or freedom for his people.  
The book does not focus on Shivaji alone. It delves deeper and tries to bring out Aurangzeb’s side of the story too. Questions like – Why he acted in the manner the way he did towards his brothers and father? What role his maternal uncle played in his life? How did he use his religion to his advantage? His love for his first wife and his distrust of practically everyone in his service barring a few; all have been well - captured and described. It also expertly serves the reader with accounts of life of the normal people in Seventeenth century India. Especially the women and children and their helpless condition. They were treated as mere “things” that exchanged hands for most ridiculous of reasons. Sometimes gifted to the winning side of a battle in order to please or placate them. In one of the scenes the author has poignantly described the state of slave girls – Afzal Khan, the much – feared general of Adil Shahi, in a rage calls for one of his youngest slave girls only to kill her brutally on a whim. Over the next few days he goes on killing all the seventy – seven of his virgin slave girls in the same manner. Just because he had to leave them behind and did not want anyone else to touch or enjoy  his spoils of war.  
However, the author has excelled in depicting the war scenes. From the planning and preparation to the actual battle scenes; it’s a master stroke. I especially enjoyed the last few chapters which showed how the most - feared general of Adil Shahi, a ruthless Afzal Khan, was led into a trap by the clever planning of Shivaji and his trusted salahkars and other leading men of his army and finally killed.
The other good thing about the novel is that despite it being a difficult subject/genre it’s written in a simple and engaging manner. Of course, there were times when I had to look up the dictionary or internet for a particular ‘urdu’ or ‘farsi’ word or phrase. I also referred to the maps, helpfully provided by the author, to get a clearer understanding of the various regions of seventeenth century India. For this reason I slowed down several times or re – read certain portions; especially while reading the war scenes - including the planning and war – preparedness of both sides. Minutest of attention was paid to describe the topography, weather and kind of arms and ammunitions used in the various battles fought by Shivaji and his army and at times that became confusing. However, despite these little deviations or distractions I was hooked to it till the very end and I look forward to part – II of the trilogy. My best wishes to the author.
 #History #Shivaji #Novel #AuthorMedhaBhaskaran
Title: Frontiers of Karma – The Counterstroke (Trilogy I)
Publisher: Alchemy

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