Kanha to Krishna is the debut book of Pranab Mullick who is otherwise practicing as an Advocate in the Supreme Court of India for the last 28 years. The book belongs to the now popular genre of mythological fiction. As the title suggests, this book is about the journey of Kanha the Gop to Krishna the Lord and it is only befitting that I finished reading it around Janmashtami, the day when Kanha was born!
Although the book is about Kanha/ Krishna, it’s not a paean to him and thankfully so. Most of us, in India at least, are quite aware of the mythological stories around Krishna so chronicling them wouldn’t really have made for an innovative book. The book does start with his birth and goes back and forth describing the various events surrounding it- Prince Kansa who deposes his father King Ugrasen to the imprisonment of Vasudev and Devaki to the growing years of Kanha in a cowherd and then landing in the city of Mathura that awaits its deliverance. It is the rich backdrop that however makes all the difference and which contributes to it being a compelling and may I add, an intriguing read.
The reader is introduced to the three Yadava clans—the Andhakas, Vrishnis and the Bhojas whose infighting helps Kansa stay in power. And then there is the triumvirate of Hastinapur, Magadh and Mathura who are forever involved in a power struggle and what it entails. The rich tapestry that is woven in the first few chapters may take a while to register considering the number of characters involved, but trust me it’s well worth your time.
I don’t like to give spoilers so I will not be divulging much on the plot. But as you turn the pages, you cannot help dwell on the insinuations made towards Bheeshma as being manipulative and one who tries to always be in control irrespective who the King is. This is a departure from the popular version where he’s hailed and revered as the noblest one and that makes you want to rethink. The passing reference to the politics in the royal household led by King Shantanu’s widow Satyawati offers you a glimpse of the unfortunate circumstances that Kunti and Gandhari were in. The book also delves in detail about an otherwise ignored character, Jarasandh. An attempt has been made to analyse him which again holds your attention.
Though the book is steeped in mythology there are two things that struck me. The first one being how Kanha (and later Krishna) has been described as human and the incidents around him (leelas as we call them) have been essentially ‘deglamorized’ to make them believable. This is a risk that could have backfired but the author has deftly dealt with it.
The second thing that fascinated me is the way that the political scenario has been described. Chanur, a close aide of Kansa is a character I found intriguing. His plotting has shades of Chanakya’s kutneeti and at a lot of places you might end up drawing parallels with modern politics.
Meanwhile amidst all of this is Kanha who has to fulfill his destiny. A very believable saga follows describing how a humble cowherd does that. The price this greatness exacts on the personal front makes you feel sad for Kanha. Here again you are introduced to two characters- Akrur and Sandipani who play an important and a rather controversial role in Kanha’s journey to become Krishna.
Be it Chanur, Sandipani or Akrur, you are left with a lingering feeling that Kings may seem to have all the power but it’s the King makers who pull the strings. The book’s blurb very appropriately describes it as a unique retelling of Krishna’s story with an intensely realistic and political narrative.
The language is flawless and so is the narrative, which for a grammar Nazi like me is a pleasure and a relief as well. As it joins the ranks in the ever-growing list of mythological fiction, I’d say it has the merit to stand out on its own with the right mix of politics, intrigue, love, treachery and power struggle.