The novel has 18 "books," just as the Mahabharata has 18 books and the Battle of Kurukshetra lasted for 18 days.
Counterpart to the Mahabharata's "Book of the Beginning." In this section, Ved Vyas ("V.
V."), the narrator, recounts his personal history; the seduction of Satyavati by the Brahmin Parashar and his own birth; the origin of Ganga Datta from the union of Shantanu and the now absent Maharanee (whom he met on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) and who had had seven suspicious miscarriages); the marriage of Shantanu and Satyavati and Ganga Datta's vow of chastity; the birth of Chitrangada and Vichitravirya and the latter's marriage; Ved Vyas's insemination of Ambika and Ambalika; the vow of revenge against Ganga Datta taken by Amba; the birth of Dhritarashtra and Pandu; and the assignment of Ganapathi by Brahm's Apsara Agency to transcribe Ved Vyas's memoir, which V. describes as the "Song of Modern India." Counterpart to the Mahabharata's "Book of the Assembly Hall." The title of this section alludes to Paul Scott's The Jewel in the Crown.
Ved Vyas also compares his memoir to The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian by Nirad Chaudhuri.
The phrase "great Indian novel" is an allusion to the long-standing idea of the "Great American Novel" and is also a pun, roughly translating "Mahabharata" (maha "great"; Bharata "India").
The Mahabharata, which is not a novel but an epic poem, can be understood, according to Tharoor, to represent Hinduism's greatest literary achievement and thus serves as an appropriate paradigm in which to frame a retelling of recent Indian history.
He was more present than anyone I’d even talked to before.