Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 07/29/15 5:09 PM

Book review: Ten Kings by Ashok Banker

Ashok Banker`s Ten Kings (Amaryllis) takes a tale from the Rig Veda, a tale of what has to be one of the most unequal battles ever, breathes nuanced flesh and blood into it, infuses it with the right amount of colour, and presents it as yet another morality tale, of how puny good can sometimes decimate towering evil…with the judicious help of preceptor gurus and the devas, gods, of course.

It`s 3400 BC and Sudas, a tribal chief, finds himself pitched willy-nilly into the abyss when all of ten neighbouring clan chiefs gang up against him for varied reasons …usurping of land, wealth, power… and ask him to become underling to Anu, King of the mighty Anu clan. Chieftan Anu also happens to be Sudas` wife and queen Sudevi`s brother.

Barely six thousand of Sudas` troops ranged against sixty thousand of the ten kings, this is the battle of Dasarajna.

The battle lasts just one day, employs horses, elephants and in the case of Sudas, even his hounds. It rages in the plains beside the Ravi and Beas rivers of what is now Punjab, in the shadow of the Uttunga mountain.

It could have been a massacre, the bloodiest decimation ever.

Instead, the story takes an interesting twist. Guru Vashishta instructs Sudas to fight in a certain way, to fight up to a certain point, and then turn tail. Though not entirely convinced, Sudas follows the guru`s instructions. Meanwhile, Vashishta sets up a lightning rod atop the mountain, and Indra does the rest with torrential thunder, lightening and rains. Incredibly, the mountain splits open, and a mammoth store of water collected underground roars through, drowning the huge enemy forces.

So, at the end of the battle, the score reads Sudas : one, Ten Kings: nil. So yes, it was a massacre, a decimation, only it did not follow the expected pattern.

Such an enjoyable read. Especially for those of us who otherwise are not likely to pick up the Rig Veda. The cover was a bit too lurid for my taste, though.

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Sheila Kumar • July 29, 2015

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