Urnabhih by Sumedha V. Ojha
A novel lovechild of WikiLeaks & Umrao Jaan – Mauryan style!
To begin with, four confessions to make.
I have a soft spot for historical fiction, for how it ferrets out a context quite distant in recorded time, but embellishes its characters with ways you can touch them, get them and root for them. Like they are here. It always returns me to a sense of wonder about how little I might know about the past
Two – I didn’t get past a few pages of the mythical-thriller type writing of The Secret of the Nagas. It was much too flat and faux-six-pack for me.
Thirdly, I can’t really recall when I last read a totally desi spy-intrigue, brink-of-anything-can-happen-including-war-book, which evokes more possibilities of bloodshed than actual blood dripping through the pages.
And finally, the full bodied women in Urnabhih are a pleasant surprise because pardon the pun, they are fully embodied in a range of freewheeling roles here, with all their sexual pulls, emotional headstrongness, uncertainties, determinations and vulnerabilities.
An equal music of foreboding and a delicate touch, pulled me into the story the minute I turned over from the map at the beginning of URNABHIH. A beautiful woman wants to kill Chanakya. But turn the page and the cagey air here, expectedly is thick with her never quite knowing any bloody thing. Wait, did I say expectedly or unexpectedly? Make it the latter because neighing in full trot, is a mix of research, atmosphere, a sexiness from the word go, an administrator’s detailing in what is one of the most cinematic of historical thrillers I have read in a long long time. And this one rides the psychological game space.
A restless ganika, the protagonist whose attempts to find out who killed her sister take her deeper into the messy body politic of ancient Pataliputra. (Ganika – a woman whose full historical context and conjobs and subtexts Sumedha V Ojha will expose to you, since the Mauryans used to actually use women as spies) It has a scheming Sarkar and landscapes we can recognise from our own memories or at least history books. It evokes a society in all its finery, bringing the Mauryan age out of museumitis for the lay reader. For example, it left ignoramus me, happily creating mental selfies of how Pushyamitra, the stodgy determined bugger of a lover was bugging and tapping everyone in sight, to keep the flow of info in a kingdom going. I couldn’t always make out when he was doing a Snowden or a NSA but it is a pacy, brutal book which will make the spy lover slurp. It is also a very delicately cast net of affections and loves and betrayals and vengeful plans which will pull in the love storywallahs.The author does sexy nice and wilfully too.
Pick it up and enter the www of a huge chunk of ancient India. Not seen quite like this before. Urnabhih means a spider’s web and this Mauryan tale will surely make the young ones getting bored of their history books and teachers, interested in those quite wild times! (And the author has promised a sequel too.)