We say several years when it comes to testing our ability to remember accurately when a particular event had transpired. I too have to submit to the urge to say sweeping several years. Nothing can match my excitement when I held the copy of Ashok and the Nine Unknown in my hands. The book was a gift from the publisher Rupa Books and author Anshul Dupare. I do not mean they presented the book to me. I mean they have gifted the Indian literatures in English something new to cherish, a shining, sweet thing that pulsates with emotions and moves with time. My memory took me back to a time travel journey. It was several years ago that I first heard and read about emperor Ashok.
The word emperor was new to me. The story of this emperor who had conquered most of India and had the power to transform kingdoms into dust taught me that power and victory could behave at a great price.
Anshul Dupare's book opens with Ashok's response to the slaughter at Kalinga, after the Great War. I remember, one of my social studies teachers told me that there are no great wars. War is always dirty and mean. There is no greatness in war. Ashok realizes that his victory is not a victory at all. He had caused thousands of people to be slaughtered.
The book takes us into an exciting chapter in history when Ashok realized the destructive power of knowledge. He entrusts nine chosen members of his court to guard his secret. They are known as the "nine unknown men". They are probably the world's first secret society. For any lover of thrillers and the grey areas of history, this book can offer a feast.
Going back to my first encounter with emperor Ashok, let me tell you that for the first time, I read about Ashok, not in my history book. It was in a comic book known as Amar Chitra Katha, the immortal picture stories.
Amar Chitra Katha was the best of the comic books ever produced in India. They were a visual treat with powerful dialogues and the support of great writing skills. Anshul Dupare offers you nothing less in his novel Ashok and the Nine Unknown. His writing style has a visual quality to it. The reader is able to see and feel through his words.
The cover design of the book follows the lead of present-day Indian books in the English language. The trend is to give serious attention to cover design, which was not the case in the past when nobody cared about how covers were designed. The book has an illustrated cover with a matt finish. This goes in harmony with my standard. I give it full marks. The cover complements the writing of Dupare. The cover illustration is done by Prasun Mazumdar and designed by Mugdha Sadhwani.
Anshul Dupare hails from Nagpur and currently resides in Dallas, USA. Ashok and the Nine Unknown is the first book in a two-part series. Can't wait to read the second part!