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Historizing Fiction

T.C.A. Achintya

By R. Venketesh
Hachette, India, 2013, pp. 464, Rs. 395.00


Gods, Kings & Slaves is the story of two primary protagonists, both known to history. The first protagonist is Veera Pandyan of Madurai, and the other is a Hindu boy from Gujarat, who becomes Malik Kafur, Alauddin Khilji’s famous general.   What the author does extremely well is to take characters from our history about whom we do not have much information, but are known enough so as to not appear fictional characters to the lay reader. The conquests of Alauddin Khilji, the grandeur of the Pandyan Empire—these are narratives well known to us. The author has taken these narratives, and tried to bring them to life, filling in the gaps in evidence with his own plots and fictional devices. Filling them in so well that it becomes hard to tell where history ends and the fiction begins.   While framing a historical set of events which has always divided people along religious and ethnic lines, he manages to tell the epic story of Alauddin Khilji’s invasion without creating demons of any one side. His story remains compelling, even while he avoids the temptation of placing one side on a higher moral pedestal, a temptation that many storytellers have succumbed to over the past 800 or so years. Venkatesh deserves applause for avoiding pandering to a particular community and not playing favourites with the characters in his story, something few fiction writers can match.   What truly appealed to me is the characterization of Venkatesh’s dramatis personae and their evolution. Both Malik Kafur and Veera Pandyan evolve well through the story, and one is able to relate to their stories as a reader. Both characters share similarities in their life of lost love, rejection, challenge and finally approbation as they are accepted. Yet their characters are not flawless. Each person faces challenges, and like real people, upon finding himself not equal to the task, changes internally. Malik Kafur goes from a eunuch who is highly intelligent, pragmatic and thoroughly likeable to a cold, calculating killer, a general who is quite repulsive. Subtly and quietly, a primary protagonist becomes the main antagonist. And yet this change happens so smoothly that the reader never questions this drastic change in character, and only realizes what is happening after the metamorphosis is nearly complete. All of this despite the fact that the reader will quite likely be looking for and wondering at the absence of ...

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