Book4

A CRISP TALE OF ARYAVARTA’S FIRST KING

The first thing that hits you as you read this book -- The Seal of Surya Review -- is the amount of research put into it. There are bits of trivia, allusions and hints that any lover of history would find rewarding. The author weaves his novel into a world well aware of its position in time, and sets it alongside contemporaries such as King Enmerkar of Uruk -- a known figure of ancient history. The protagonist, Ikshvaku, is a much revered but largely unknown figure in Indian mythology, but the book does not approach these stories as myths. The primary question, it seems, is that if these myths were based on truth, what would the truth have looked like? Mythology tells us that Ikshvaku was the first King of Aryavarta, son of Vaivasvat Manu, and founder of the Suryavansha dynasty. It tells us nothing about his life, his quests and his motivations. The novel fills these gaps with imagination and a due regard for historicity. The novel begins with Ikshvaku as a young boy, proposing to his father Vaivasvat that their divided Suryavanshi clans need a leader to yoke them together and fight against the growing strength of Anarya tribes -- Rakshasas, Gandharvas and Yakshas. The story jumps quickly from here on, and some readers may be put off by its quick transitions. Ikshvaku becomes King in the fourth chapter itself, and halfway through the book the story has moved past more than a decade. Much of this journey is devoted to his search for the seal of Surya, a mysterious relic that once belonged to his ancestors and casts undisputable legitimacy on its owner. But even the seal is found well before the end, and we begin to realise that the novel is essentially Ikshvaku’s biography. It chronicles his endless battles against Yakshas, Rakshasas and even rebels in his own tribe alongside his attempts to be a good son, brother, father and to a much lesser extent, husband. In the final analysis this novel is more about the history of Aryavarta than about any particular character. The author reiterates it by setting Ikshvaku’s story as  being narrated a thousand years later to Sudasa, a young prince ofthe Bharata tribe, by King Bhagiratha of the Suryavanshi. Along this journey he poses some intriguing questions, such as how and when did the Suryavanshi migrate from the Sindhu to the Ganga, and who founded Ayodhya? How did Aryavarta go from being the land of Suryavansha and Somavansha to a nation ruled almost entirely by the Bharatas? Luckily, this novel is only the first of many stories set in this universe, as the author informs us. A question may arise how is ‘Seal of Surya’ different from Amish Tripathi’s much popular Meluha trilogy?

Book3

BUILDING CHORUS FOR BATTLE OF BIHAR

Haskell Springer, the venerable professor of English at University of Kansas in the United States, in an interesting essay on the seafarer diaries wrote that these simple factual diaries were of interest to maritime historians and others for their wealth of detail on shipping, marine life, navigation and weather. Santosh Singh’s offering, Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar is easily comparable to a seafarer’s diary, for as Springer says, in context of the seafarers, “these were men who were searchers as well as sailors, pilgrims rather than passengers – men selfconscious enough to think that their voyages had some significance larger than purely personal or merely commercial.” Given the timing of the release of the book, just ahead of the upcoming assembly polls in the politically sensitive state of Bihar, the commercial spur for the this literary enterprise cannot be ruled out. But then in process of creating a good commercial module, sometimes good literary work too get produced. Santosh Singh is definitely a beneficiary of the interest, both commercial and political, which the forthcoming polls in Bihar have come to generate. But then the author cannot be faulted for the benefit which may accrue to his work, for reading through the pages one can easily see the effort which this quintessential reporter has made in compiling this book, which should be of some interest to the students of politics, history and society. Singh opens the book on a terrific note that narrates how the party which Rahul Gandhi wishes to lead someday lost its moorings in the state. He makes some very interesting and authentic revelations of the events of contemporary history and its protagonists in Bihar politics from Lalit Narayan Mishra to Karpoori Thakur. The narrative travels through 21 chapters, talks about how Nitish Kumar is still the best bet for the CM’s post but also adds how the biggest political FAQ of this election is – why a “progressive” Nitish went with “retrogressive” Lalu Yadav. “Everything is right about Nitish but why did he go with Lalu?” is the common refrain. And this is not part of just an urban and elite debate but also subaltern dialogue, the books seeks to establish. Book Review RULED OR MISRULED: THE STORY AND DESTINY OF BIHAR Author: Santosh Singh Publisher: Bloomsbury India Price: `499 DISCUSSANT_72_73.qxd 2/13/1950 7:25 PM Page 72 The politics in Bihar is about contradictions.

Book5

TALE OF THE TALLEST

He was often called "a right man in a wrong party", but the label, though snappy, couldn't have been more wrong. AtalBihari Vajpayee never repudiated his political past or moorings and instead tried to make his party as broadbased and inclusive as possible in line with his country's diversity. In politics, apart from his impressive, impassioned oratory and stellar parliamentary career, he was always known for never bearing a grudge, being respectful but never being overawed by even titanic figures, and considerate and conciliatory towards his opponents. As one story goes, Manmohan Singh, then finance minister, was roundly upbraided in the Lok Sabha by Vajpayee on some issue and was so upset that he went to Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao to submit his resignation. A canny Narasimha Rao defused the situation by calling up Vajpayee to request he talk to Manmohan Singh and mollify him, which the Bharatiya Janata Party leader was only glad to do. That was Vajpayee's enduring and endearing characteristic, as this much-needed biography of one of the tallest and well-regarded leaders of free India brings out. Vajpayee, who began his political career when Jawaharlal Nehru still strode large, had plenty of respect for the prime minister but was never afraid to confront him in parliament, and tales of Nehru praising Vajpayee to visiting foreign dignitaries are well-known. One incident that may not be that known is recounted in this short but incisive narrative by journalist-cum-author Kingshuk Nag. In the 1962 general elections, the Congress decided to ensure Vajpayee's defeat in Uttar Pradesh's Balrampur constituency and even roped a noted Bollywood personality (no one glamorous but rather the cerebral Balraj Sahni) to campaign for its charismatic candidate, Subhadra Joshi. Nehru however refused all entreaties to campaign there, to avoid taking on Vajpayee directly, whose interest in foreign affairs he admired. (She won, by the way) Vajpayee had dubbed Indira Gandhi Durga in 1971 and admired her courage but was strident in his opposition towards her drift towards authoritarianism which culminated in the Emergency. It is a telling point that she had consulted him before "Operation Bluestar" - though she didn't end up following his advice not to go ahead. And he was both personally and politically brave - as this book reveals, he was one of the few politicians to confront anti-Sikh rioters in November 1984. On November 1, Vajpayee, who came out after hearing a commotion outside his official residence, dissuaded a mob from attacking a Sikh-owned taxi stand, and stood there till they dispersed. As prime minister, he tried thrice to make peace with Pakistan, and succeeded, to some extent. He also took some visionary steps for resolving the vexed issue of Kashmir, which he had first hand experience of, as Nag notes, right from the start of his political career when he was aide to Jana Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee. But as this brings out, Vajpayee's biggest legacy will be his pragmatism, especially not to abandon successful or necessary policies of past governments, ability to withstand pressure from extreme factions of his party and skill in forging political consensus, and ushering in a new paradigm of coalition politics - and see the first such government complete its term. This biography, which on the whole presents a balanced view (sympathetic at times but never gushingly adulatory), deals with both Vajpayee's personal and political life.