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Review: The Sun and Two Seas by Vikramajit Ram

The Sun and Two Seas is a detailed history lesson on early medieval India interwoven with a story line that holds the reader until the last word

books Updated: May 22, 2017 12:02 IST
Pradhuman Sodha
Pradhuman Sodha
Hindustan Times
Kalinga,Konark,The Sun and Two Seas
Mid-13th century carvings on the facade of the Sun temple at Konark, Odisha. The Sun and Two Seas is set in the same era.(LightRocket via Getty Images)

Never judge a book by its cover, but in the case of The Sun and Two Seas this might be misplaced. If you find yourself purchasing the book for the sheer beauty of its cover illustration you would have made a wise decision. The writing and the story within these covers is of epic proportions and leaves you wanting a sequel, a prequel or a spin-off!

This magical tale woven around historical events during the construction of Kalinga’s Konark sun temple in the mid-13th century, is Vikramajit Ram’s fourth book. The writer’s earlier works are on such subjects as sculpture in Indian architecture and on the ancient temples of central India. To say that his previous works have prepared him for this wholly engrossing historical fiction would be accurate.

The Sun and Two Seas is a detailed history lesson on early medieval India interlaced with a story line about intriguing characters that holds the reader until the last printed word.

The sage Sovereign lady of Cadambagiri starts off the book with the “Great Fire of 1237”. Her balanced actions throughout the rest of the story seem to be in repentance of this single act of rage. It is from these ashes that the writer conjures a story that stretches between Hind and Aphrike (Africa).

Narasimha I, the sovereign of Kalinga from 1238-64, wishes to leave a marvellous architectural landmark for posterity and overcomes mountainous obstacles to fulfil his lifelong dream. Another character, the cousin of the Consort of Kalinga, cousin-by-marriage to Narasimha I, is mostly recognised by the reader through his attire and his romantic wit. The author skillfully keeps him and many other characters nameless to the end.

The beauteous young man is perhaps the most endearing character. This is his coming-of-age story in many ways. Suffice to say that any further talk about him in this review will spoil the reader’s fun. This is how the summary on the book flap describes him: “The Consort’s young cousin drifts aimlessly through the palace, playing the flute and flirting with handsome soldiers.”

Author Vikramajit Ram ( Speaking Tiger )

The colourful residents of Hall of Enchantments, the chubby, bejewelled, scheming head Courtesan and her girls, add glamour and intrigue to the story and several characters cross paths at her court.

Vikramajit Ram’s characters converse in a delectably vivid way: the Courtesan’s indulgent dialogues bring in comic relief, the Consort’s cousin charms with his passionate declarations and child-like curiosity, and then there’s the sincerity of Narasimha himself.

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) readers will find this book interesting for the comprehensive image it gives of sexuality in ancient India. Closets do not exist and homosexual or bisexuals are not considered perverse. Just a little too adventurous. However, patriarchy is very much alive and kicking.

The plot thickens as assassins follow their quarry from city to city, a jealous princess plots to usurp power from her sister, and a voyage across the Indian Ocean to exchange royal gifts goes quite off-track. If that is not enough, the great king, overcome by failure, is faced with yet another hiccup that threatens to stop the construction of the Sun temple.

Read more: Gazing at a dying god

At first, readers might believe this is a revenge tale but the real turn in the action occurs when the lovers in the story are separated. Their love story will take you by surprise and warm your heart. It will then crush it, quite like your very first love did, in a sudden and cold manner.

Despite weaving a fine tangle of plots and characters, the story progresses neatly. By the end, it is hard to settle upon one character as the protagonist for all the characters are temptingly meaty. But if one had to choose a protagonist, it would be the story. The best kind of books manage that.

Pradhuman Sodha is an independent journalist.

First Published: May 19, 2017 18:10 IST