In their retellings of India’s ancient past, these writers fall somewhere between shallow revisionism and ponderous pontification: Open
Ashok K Banker, a well recognised writer of mythological fiction, has already earned a great deal of both critical and commercial acclaim for his retelling of the Ramayana. Ten Kings, his latest, extends his range somewhat; while the story is still based on textual history (a shloka found in the Rig Veda), it tells of an ancient battle that was possibly responsible for the founding of the city of Harappa. In that sense, this novel breaks new ground; most modern writers of mythological fiction tend to restrict themselves to the clearly established ‘literary history’ of India rather than venture out into the less documented archaeological arena. In Banker’s novel, a vastly outnumbered King Sudas and his 6,000 ‘Trtsus’ face off against an alliance of 10 kings and their 60,000 soldiers, to determine the fate of the ‘Panch-ab’, the land of five rivers—and this, in 3,400 BCE. Complicating this battle is the fact that both sides are led by sages of immense eminence; Sudas is guided by the sage Vashishta, while Anu, the leader of the ‘ten kings’, is advised by Vishwamitra. Banker, known for being a stickler for accuracy, takes pains to point out in the author’s note that while his research is based on the Rig Veda, ‘it’s impossible to tell whether this Vishwamitra and his counterpart Vashishta, Sudas’s guru, were the same brahmarishis whose legendary feud appears in other puranic works’. This is both Banker’s strength and weakness; when it works, the historical accuracy he infuses his writing with adds a great deal to the flavour of his novels, but it can occasionally make the prose dry and cumbersome.