Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: 395 INR
“Badri, chief miner of the Kuru empire and a soldier with a dark past, has given up the glamorous life of a Kshatriya and lives like an ordinary citizen, hiding in the intricate mesh of tunnels he has created for the protection of the royals. But when Prince Duryodhan hatches yet another conspiracy to kill the Pandavs, this time by burning them in Purochan’s palace of Lak at Varanavat, it is only Badri who can save them. On this mission, he has to deal with treacherous cannibals, rebel leader Janaki and mercenary Durjan. He also needs to rekindle love with soldier-soulmate Urvashi and fight his biggest enemy Vishnu. At the same time he must conquer the demons within. Will he succeed in saving the Pandavs – and himself?”
Set in the mythological world of the Mahabharata, Gautam Chikermane’s ‘Tunnel of Varanavat’ is a fantasy thriller that provides an original and detailed view on one crucial aspect of the epic – the escape of the Pandavs from the Palace of Lac at Varanavat.
Narrated through the perspective of the fictional Badri, a Kshatriya soldier with a dark past in the kingdom of Hastinapur who believes that his Dharm is to fight for his kingdom and its rulers till the very end of his time. After leaving his former post as a soldier due to an unexplained incident, Badri, who is now the head of Mining in the Kingdom ruled by the blind king Dhritarashtr, is summoned for an assignment that may as well turn out to be his last: he is relied upon to help the Pandavs escape the death that awaits them in the palace of Varanavat built by the Hastinapur governor and formidable soldier Purochan. This conspiracy plotted against the Pandavs by their Kaurav cousin, the bitter Duryodhan and his evil mastermind of a mother, Shakuni, is revealed to Badri by Vidur, the Prime Minister of Hastinapur and also the Pandavs uncle, who also informs Badri that it is only his expertise as a miner and skills as a soldier that can rescue the Pandavs and spare their lives. He is thus sent to Varanavat under the ruse of meeting his Guru Kedar at his Ashram, where he is also reunited with Urvashi, his former long-time lover and soulmate, and it is from here that the plot unfolds.
With a story as intricately written as the tunnels it discusses, the Tunnel of Varanavat is an interesting take on the country’s greatest epic. It is descriptively written and is brimming with an imagination that manages to make itself plausible as well. It highlights an exceedingly progressive aspect of mythological happenings as it perfectly fuses the fictional parts with the detailed facts of the Mahabharata; an interesting feat that lends it a sense of authencity and originality. It uses eloquent language, a wide range of colourful characters including cannibals, rishis and rebel tribes, and a tense atmosphere to enhance the reader’s experience of it.
However, despite all its visionary talents, the book lacks a settling sense of closure. A vast portion of it is spent in creating a build up to the ending, and yet when one actually arrives at the finish point, the ending does not strike itself as spectacular or unpredictably thrilling in any way. It also often discusses Badri’s past and talks about a crucial incident which made him leave behind his lover and life as a soldier to take over the mining operations at Hastinapur, and yet this incident is not clearly revealed, while facts of his past are also spoken about in a confusing and haphazard manner.
All in all, the book is an excellently written mythological thriller and despite it lacking a sense of excitement and exhilaration towards the end, it successfully manages to rewrite the Mahabharata with it’s accurate details, grandiloquence and meaningfulness and draws upon the eternal balance between the forces of good and evil and about how both can exist in a person and shape their character, an essential element of the great epic. It is an intriguing read for any fan of The Mahabharata, racy thrillers, war or love!