of chandrakanta, imagination & a life lived a little bit more


The name brings back memories. Of a childhood spent huddled in a corner of the house, immersed in a world of tilism, aiyars, sword fights, mysteries, clues, kings, queens and every spectrum of human emotion one could’ve visualised. Memories of friends calling to play cricket and sudden stomach troubles cropping up. Of examinations without any stress, ’cause the mind was too deep in the story to feel any pressure. Memories of a rare scolding by papa because his delicate child was ruining his eye-sight trying to read the 6 point typeface in candlelight. (The light had went out and i was trying to eat ‘rajma-chawal’ at the same time. Otherwise ‘pa’ doesn’t scolds me. Never.)

I’ve been prompted to write this because of a dear blog-friend ‘obi-wan’. Don’t know how to link as yet, so if you want to access his blog, it can be found at: http://jagahdilmein.blogspot.com/ and you’ll also get the ongoing story from there.

A february day etched deep in memories, when i ventured first into the ‘pragati maidan’- delhi’s biggest fair ground for the ‘world book fair’, i was as incredulous as a 12 year old word-freak can be on finding lakhs of books and people around him. That was heaven. If not for the fear of getting lost among the huge fair grounds, i would have left pa’s hand and ran away gleefully to every title on display. Whatever money we were going to spend that day was clearly not enough.
And then at one of the more staid-looking stall i was introduced to ‘Chandrakanta’. There were big, huge, hard bound books in very plain colors. In off-white jackets mostly. Not the most attractive to a child. The good thing was these books were dirt-cheap.

For example, i could get the complete works of ‘Sharat Chandra’ in 6 odd volumes at a mere 400-500 rupees. Complete works. Called ‘samagra’ in Hindi. And not only ‘Sharat babu’, the literal gems of Hindi literature were there for me. In the years to come, I got complete works of ‘Kabir’, ‘Bankim Cnhandra’, ‘Bhartendu Harishchandra’, ‘Vrindavan Lal Verma’ and many others from the same plain-looking stall of the same publisher.
The publisher is ‘Hindi Pracharak Sansthan’ located at Pishachmochan, Varanasi. They’ve done a great service to Hindi & world literature by making these volumes available to the masses. Imagine, complete works of ‘Kabir’, of all the poets? How much research must have gone into that?
And how do they manage to keep the price tag at peanuts-level? Simple. What they do is to typeset the books in minimal space taking format and other publishing tricks to cut down the printing costs. The result of this no frills publishing is thousands saved on books for people like you and me.
I would request you dear ‘obi-wan’, not to get those scanned copies from your net friend. I think purchasing these really cost effective volumes would keep us happy from inside. Hai na?

As for Chandrakanta, it is the story of a young princess with the same name, in love with prince or kunwar ‘Birendra Singh’- the son of a rival king. How they manage to fall in love is less interesting than the games their rivals play and the heroic deeds of their well-wishers. The world at this time is full of kingdoms with big armies and wealth unimagined. Every king worth his salt must have a couple or more of ‘aiyars’. Aiyars are spies, the masters of disguise, super humans fiercely loyal to their ideals. Armed with considerable knowledge of every kind of warfare, potion tricks, language skills and what not- they are the movers & shakers of this really long story. How long?

Huh! Chandrakanta is spread over a number of pages you won’t like to count if in a sensible frame of mind. After chandrakanta, comes the mighty ‘Chandrakanta-santati’- literally meaning Chandrakanta’s children. And it spreads about six times its prequel.

It is the story of ‘Kunwar Indrajeet Singh’ & ‘Kunwar Anand Singh’, children of Chandrakanta & Birendra Singh. How they fall in love, the beginning of all their troubles and how they manage to find their loved ones through all the twists & turns a Bollywood potboiler can imagine is the real thrill. Then the story flows through the plains of your consciousness completely submerging you in its identity and you are never the same again.
What’s more there is a sort of sequel to even Santati titled ‘Bhootnath’ describing the life and majorly misguided efforts of this greatest of ‘aiyars’. My favourite but remains the legendary ‘Tejsingh’- aiyaron ke asli sartaaz. And to tell you something more, ‘Bhootnath’ was completed by ‘Shri Durga Prasad Khatri’ babu ji’s son. And there is a sequel to even that, documenting the life of king ‘Gopal Singh Ji’ brother of ‘Kunwar Indrajeet Singh and ‘Anand Singh’ and the much tortured husband of our dear old ‘Mayarani’. At the end of this sequel, there’s a mention of the story going even further, but i cudn’t get hold of any other book in the series. Perhaps ‘Durga Prasad’ ji couldn’t complete the series.

The author uses interesting tools to keep your interest level going. He talks in a narrative style in chapters titled ‘bayan’- literally meaning narrative. At an important point in the story, he will leave you on the precipe of suspense and continue from some other piece in this huge canvas. Many teasers simultaneously move along keeping you completely hooked and on the edge of your seat. And the incredible thing is every one of your question will be answered in the end. How they managed to weave this wonderful story is well, unimaginable to me.

And how can i forget the ’tilism’? In some ways it is the central character in the story. A tilism is a huge treasure left by ones great forefathers protected by huge, mysterious buildings, tricks, blind alleys and what not. The whole story revolves around these. The good guys help the prince in achieving their goal of breaking the tilism and the bad guys do as much as they can to prevent them from doing so. Of course, in the end, the good wins over bad. And it a big happy feeling in your heart.

I can go on and on and on, i can’t. Simply speaking, you have to read these books. Because if you don’t, you haven’t lived life completely.

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