I have known about Mahabharata ever since I was a child, and my mother thought that inculcating in me a love for the scriptures will mean well for my future. She might have been right; because I regained my fading interest in the first semester of my college when I realized that while Mahabharata was a religious text with a lot to teach, it was also an exquisite story in its own right. I read the sub-stories that appear in the large text, and was bombarded with moral questions, heart-wrenching betrayals, and angry curses. But mostly, I was, in fact, flabbergasted by the lack of my relation to the women in the story. This, I thought to myself, was only fair. After all, it was supposed to be an old story, with nothing to do with the modern times.
With the tale of Kali (roughly translated into dark of skin) and how she came to be the fragrant one, I had only read one story. In this particular story, the shy, young fisherwoman comes across the saint Parashara, who lures her into intercourse, and she cannot refuse because she is overpowered. I never once thought that this could have been different, although I did see a pattern. I saw a sense of powerlessness of the women; mere clay in the hands of the curses laid by the careless tongues of other men and women. Why is this important, suddenly? This is so because I read Winds of Hastinapur (by Sharath Komarraju) several weeks ago.
Firstly, it was an interesting book, to say the least. I finished it in three days. There was barely any unnecessary literary expansion of scenes and plots to the point of being whimsical, and the book comes across as being planned and the result of sincere re-drafting by the author and all others involved. Other than that, Kali’s story was what really brought my attention deeper into the book, even though the part about Ganga is also quite compelling. Kali was no longer a young woman who let fate take charge. Kali is in charge when Parashara is with her, and while the original story tells us that it was Kali’s father who conversed with Devrath and his father, in the book, that is very tactfully changed to Kali herself. She is ferocious and conscious of her rights and ambitions, and does what she needs to, to obtain them. Not just this, she is imperfect, as the rest of the chapters tell us.
It might be a problem to some readers that the male characters (who are supposed to be extraordinary men) are reduced to being humans. This, however, was not such a major issue for me, since I wanted to feel the men of the story to crumble as humans do, something that I found missing in a lot of stories otherwise as well. We are supposed to view the story from the perspective of the women, and as strange as it might be to a lot of readers, it was gratifying for me.
The book is a fresh insight into pieces of Mahabharata that barely had any perspective of the women (at least the way that I came across it the first time). I did feel, however, that the break between Ganga’s perspective and Satyawati’s perspective was too sudden, but not very different. The narration was similar, although Satyawati and Ganga were quite obviously very different women. Other than this flaw, the book is extremely well written, and definitely not a careless heap of nonsense as the book I read preceding this.
I actually find myself waiting for another book by the author, on similar lines, describing the other women in Mahabharata.