Fact and fiction make history

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 7 July 2018

Any Indian book dabbling in history and mythology will inevitably have its roots in the epics. And, so it is with The Brahmin, which resumes the tale of Rama and Ravana, with little nuggets from the Greek mythology.

Any Indian book dabbling in history and mythology will inevitably have its roots in the epics. And, so it is with The Brahmin, which resumes the tale of Rama and Ravana, with little nuggets from the Greek mythology. The story, as the title suggests, is that of the brahmin from King Ashoka’s court. In present-day terms, the brahmin would be labelled as ‘man-Friday’ of any political bigwig.

In the book, he is the spymaster tracking crimes, keeping Ashoka, his queen Asandhimitra and the people of Magadh safe. The novel opens to the discovery of Ashoka’s concubine’s dead body, seven days after she was killed. A black cestus (glove made of leather straps worn by Greek fighters) was found a few feet away from the body. The glove contained a red flower, kovidara, which subsequently becomes the killer’s calling card. 

With a Magadh-Kalinga war looming over the horizon, Ashoka gives the brahmin seven days to catch the killer. And, thus begins a cat and a mouse game, with political intrigue, court rivalries, personal associations thickening the plot. 

Since this is a period novel, and Ashoka ruled the country at one point of time, the author had the responsibility to blend fact and fiction seamlessly. Etteth has manged it well. His skill in weaving in various characters with varied motives and histories, serves in keeping the mystery portions in the book taut. 

The author also deserves a special mention when it comes to creating the period thriller. He has surpassed himself when it comes to detailing the costumes the characters wore. If one were to mount a period film on this novel, then at least the costume department would have all the research laid out before them. Also the architecture, the interiors, the secret rooms and connecting passageways, arches, niches stand up before you in complete grandeur. 

The richness in the tale and also in Ashoka’s life is balanced with the presence of austere, plain speaking tribe of warrior Buddhist monks. Yes, there is an inherent contradiction when we mention Buddhism and its warrior monks. But it’s the contradictions, peppered with fact and imaginative fiction, that make history. In that sense, The Brahmin is a fascinating and gripping historical tale.

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