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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bali and the Ocean of Milk by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Title: Bali and the Ocean of Milk
Author:  Nilanjan P. Choudhury
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre : Mythological Fiction 
Date:  2011
Price: Rs. 199
Pages: 320

SNAPSHOT: This is the popular story of churning the samudramanthan as we know it. But have you ever wondered what brought the Devas and Asuras together? Who were the participants? What happened after that? This book precisely is a beautiful figment of artists imagination around this event.

We all know from the Hindu mythology, once upon a time the ocean was churned and from it emerged the amrit or elixir of life. An event in history which united the two sides of a coin, Devas and Asuras. The story grabs the reader from the first page, as on one hand Indrah the king of many Gods, the fame crazy, spotlight seeking God feels old and weak. The best medics - The Ashwini Twins try their best with no results. He begins to worry as his condition worsens with time. He confides in Lord Viru (Vishnu) as we know him. 

Then comes  out a grave truth "The Curse of Asura Vritra" who was killed by Indra in sleep. According to this curse all the Gods will eventually grow old like men of earth, either die if lucky or live for thousands of years in that state. Scared by this situation and to find a solution The Council of Gods meet urgently. There Lord Viru proposes that they should churn The Ocean of Milk and extract the Amrita. However as the elixir of life couldn't be created without creating poison along with it (when matter is created anti-matter is also created logic). Also to protect itself from the wrong hands it was kept alongside poison and could be extracted by forces opposite in nature.

On the other hand, someone is bent on killing the mighty emperor of Asura Kingdom,Bali, the son of Vritra who is the modern and progressive emperors of Asuras. Bali though loved by some of his people for his modern thoughts and changes he brings into Asura way of life, like equality for women, not forcing them to shave their heads, including Brahmins in his kingdom at higher posts as priests, scientists etc; he has many against him, the orthodox Mahakali temple priests who want the old Asura way of life.

His scientific council advisor Bhrigu discovers that Surasena, the chief commander of the army is the culprit. This is a secret plan of Indrah to bag the stars, however at too bad a timing. So to correct it he with the Ashwini twins disguise themselves, reach Bali's kingdom Tripura. Being more advanced in sciences they are successful indeed. Bali, as any great emperor would, being happy promised anything that would be asked for. Indrah then cunning as he is shows up his original self and proposes Bali to help him along with the Asura team. Bali's thoughts, his confusion and emotion is captured perfectly by the author here. His wife Avani helps him clear the clouds and go for the unique opportunity that would ever come. Therefore, he agrees. So the team of the Devas and Asuras as we all know churn the oceans. Indra discovers the elixir first and tries to consume it all by himself. In his foolishness he forgets about the venom that is released alongwith which starts killing everyone else. All the Asuras apart from Bali and Gods apart from Indra, Jai and Viru are saved as Jai (Shiva) consumes all the poison. Bali is surprisingly saved by the leader of the Mahakali priests Suketu. Suketu updates Bali that Bhrigu killed Avani post him leaving the kingdom. Bali is shattered but he gathers himself to rule over his kingdom once again only to find his trust to be broken and many secrets to be revealed once again.

Friendships between people who have been sworn enemies since generations, friends turning into mortal enemies, some love and more deceit are the crests and troughs the story goes through. For the complete roller coaster ride and unpredictable surprises read the book.

The Review:
Positives: The characters are very well portrayed and the first half of the story till the ocean churning is amazing. Excellent flow that matches the pace and excitement exactly at the amplitude the reader wants. However the later part is a little slower and looses the initial crisp. The language is good. 

As this book falls into the Mythological fiction category, which is hot now a days owing the best seller "The Immortals of Meluha", I would like to congratulate the author for not giving the language a high degree of unnecessary urban touch that kills the feel of the story and never imports the person into the scene. I loved the book for the way in which it was written. Had the book been crisp throughout, would have put it on the alter with The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. However the author has tremendous scope of going to the heights never explored in Indian fiction and especially the mythological fiction category that more often fails to do justice to the Gods/ legendary figures it aims to address. The author surely is the bright ray of hope in this dark tunnel. 

Negatives:  The last part is not as crisp as the standards the author himself sets in the first part, nevertheless one 
keeps reading as the road has turns where you wont expect them.

The Verdict!!!  A must read. An exemplary book for budding writers in the mythological fiction category!!! 4 stars on 5. Grab a copy now!

I thank the author Nilanjan P.Choudhury for a copy of the book and a chance to review his precious work. 

About Nilanjan P. Choudhury
Nilanjan P. Choudhury is an Indian corporate professional turned writer.
As of September 2012, he has written one book, Bali And The Ocean Of Milk.
Armed with degrees from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur) and the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad), Choudhury spent several years in a corporate setting, until a midlife crisis forced him to rethink his career choices. He subsequently joined an NGO in the field of education. He lives in Bangalore with his wife and daughter.

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