‘The Emissary’ by Aniruddha Bahal
New Delhi: If Greek conqueror Alexander the Great was to visit India nearly 2,500 years after his first incursion into the country, he would find it beset with "similar issues", says Aniruddha Bahal, whose novel, ‘The Emissary’, was launched here.
"If Alexander visited India to take stock of the last 10 years of history, he would find that the nation is spending its resources on the same things that cannot be contained -- wars, flood and disease -- problems that he had to overcome to conquer the plains of Punjab and the frontier provinces," says veteran journalist and novelist Bahal.
Bahal`s novel, launched in the capital Wednesday, is a historical fiction set in Macedonia and Olympia in ancient Greece during the time of Alexander the Great. It is narrated through the voice of Seluecus, the son of Nicanor, who learns to cope with treachery at a young age.
Seleucus`s father Nicanor, an ace chariot racer, is run over by his own horses commandeered by rival charioteer Argus at a practice session. A distraught Seleucus vows to avenge his father`s death and soon masters the art of deceit. His journey from a renegade citizen to a powerful public figure is testimony to his skills.
The book recaptures the lost anecdotes of history like the Olympic chariot races and Alexander`s epic encounters with rivals in contemporary language.
For Indians, the book is easy to identify because of the historical bond that the country shares with Alexander, one of the earliest Greek invaders to make inroads into the country, the writer said.
"Wars apart, Alexander and his men bequeathed three important gifts to India. He brought the Greek school of thought -- philosophical movements that are still relevant, astrology, astronomy and medicine to the country -- triggering new intellectual waves," Bahal told reporters.
Bahal says he did not plan the book - it happened naturally.
"The book sparked off after a conversation with VS Naipaul about the dominant events of Greek history," Bahal said.
"It was a brutal period. They did not make much of human life. Alexander spent considerable time in Afghanistan fighting wars. Not much has changed. The tribal regions are still beset with conflicts that you cannot subdue."
"Alexander and his army had to bend the Indus river, enter Pakistan in the midst of floods -- like the country battled recently -- and subjugate a region that was as unruly then as it is now," Bahal said.
Logistics was another problem that sapped Alexander`s resources during big wars, the writer said.
History cites that the fickle Indian weather and logistics forced Alexander`s army back to Greece after the war off Jhelum.
Although Alexander won the battle against the northern warlord Porus in the Jhelum war, his army braved the Indian monsoon, the fury of the river, 200 enemy elephants and epidemics. The hardships broke the morale of the army and when his men came to the next river, they refused to face the elephants and the monsoon again.
Similar logistical chaos prevailed when Alexander faced the Persian army on the banks of the Granicus river, though he routed the Persians, Bahal said.
Did Alexander the Great fail to hold on to India?
"Why should he fail. The Greek warrior had no ambition to remain in India. He left Seleucus behind to rule the land. Natural circumstances betrayed him," Bahal said.
Bahal, who is fond of American crime thrillers, is currently writing a sequel to "The Emissary".