Monday, August 4, 2014
We all know that Chanakya was a genius at manipulating people ruthlessly for power. What fun he (and we) would have if he were reborn and got active in today's politics. Or, for a change, imagine Bengal as a protectorate/colony of China with Governor Wen finding it difficult to control the Maoists. Or, horror of horrors, consider the proposition that there is no evidence to prove the historicity of Rama. These are a few of the hair-raising visions awaiting attention in our bookstores. Among them are three new volumes by Wendy Doniger, the author India promoted by banning On Hinduism. The shelves are alive with the sound of letters, brilliant and daringly original.
Catalogues by publishers are usually humdrum affairs, providing lists of titles and trade details such as size, paper quality and release details. Not the Aleph catalogue. They don't even call it a catalogue; they call it The Book of Aleph 3. It also looks every inch like a book -- a hardbound, immaculately designed, beautifully printed book in the classical mould. Its approach to content is different, too. Of course it gives the usual information: A full list of 50 titles, including paperback editions of titles brought out earlier. But its 192 pages present a phantasmagoria of long and short excerpts interspersed with photographs, blurbs and author profiles. We can savour it like an anthology. To read extensive excerpts from Timeri Murari, Shoven Chowdhury, Romila Thapar et al is to partake of a feast.
Who is more devastatingly inventive -- Murari or Chowdhury? Chanakya Returns is so apt a theme for our upside-down times that it is surprising no one had thought it up before Timeri Murari. But then, no one had thought of Murari's The Taliban Cricket Club either. His newly minted Chanakya is a master of 21st century politics. He has a grouse or two, mainly about an Italian plagiarist called Machiavelli who stole Chanakya's theories and achieved fame. "This is the problem with death", muses Chanakya. "One thousand seven hundred and fifty-two years later your work appears under another man's name, granting him the immortality that is rightly yours".
But the plagiarist never got the opportunity that Chanakya got with his second coming. In his modern avatar, Chanakya began advising Avanti, heir to a family that has ruled the country for long, young and malleable and aware of her favoured position in life. "I began service as a humble clerk though not humble myself. I ensured I was loyal to her alone and to none else. She noticed this loyalty and confined her thoughts and emotions in me". Familiar?
Read about his advice on love. "The heart is not to be trusted as it is brainless. Love is a watery foundation. Like the flip of a coin, love can fall into hate. Power is an aphrodisiac, it is unending hot sex in 1001 positions, it is magical, it is miraculous. Your followers will worship you like an idol that can confer riches and miracles more than any god". No wonder Avanti was persuaded to believe that the love of power was better than the power of love. Familiar? Perish the thought. This is a novel where "any resemblance to any actual persons...is entirely coincidental".
Shoven Chowdhury has a disturbing habit. He covers the most outrageous subversions with the most innocuous titles. Last year he gave us an account of an India devastated by Chinese nuclear bombs -- Bombay obliterated, Bengal turned into a protectorate of China. And what was the title of that novel? The Competent Authority. In a repeat of that trick, he has come out with a new novel called, even more innocuously, Death of a Schoolmaster. Be warned. It is Bengal, the Chinese protectorate, revisited. Things are not very nice. Governor Wen is suffering grievously from a lack of concubines. The New Thug Society is trying to free Bengal from Chinese oppression. But "China ruled Asia now. They were all one big happy family. The Japanese were the sons, the Koreans were the brothers, and the Bengalis were the idiot cousins". Time for a Bengal Sena to organise a bonfire?
Better still, leave it to the banning expert, Dinanath Batra. He must get Romila Thapar banned for saying, in her The Past as Present, that doubting historicity (that is, saying that Rama is a mythical character) is not blasphemy. He must get Wendy Doniger banned again for her new study, Shiva, The Erotic Ascetic. How else can we keep India purified.