When Sharath Kommarraju, author of “Murder in Amaravati” [Read my review here] approached me to read his latest book “The Winds of Hastinapur” and write a review for the same, I almost jumped out of my chair. This was one book which I was looking to read for quite a while now for two reasons – one, my inherent interest in Indian mythology and more specifically the great epic that the Mahabharata is, and two, if you read my review of Murder in Amaravati, you will realize that I liked Sharath’s narrative style so much that I had decided to read the other books authored by him.
‘My hair is white and thin, now. In a few moons, the Goddess will claim me, and I do not have a fresh young virgin by my side to absorb my knowledge and take my place once I am gone. The Mysteries of Ganga and her Sight will vanish with me, and the Great River will become nothing more than a body of lifeless water … It is my intention, therefore, to tell you the story as it happened, as I saw it happen.’
The Mahabharata is the story of women, even though men have focused far too much on the Great Battle. It is women who have set events in motion, guided the action and measured the men. The Winds of Hastinapur begins at the point that Ganga was cursed and sent to Earth. She lives among the mortals and bears Shantanu, the King of Hastinapur, seven children, all of whom she kills. With the eighth, she leaves. That boy, who returns to Earth, will prove to be the key to the future of Hastinapur. The story, as told through the lives of his mother Ganga and stepmother Satyavati, is violent, fraught with conflict and touched with magic.
A lady of the river who has no virgin daughter to carry on her legacy, Celestials who partake of a mysterious lake they guard with their very lives, sages overcome by lust, a randy fisher-princess – these and other characters lend a startling new dimension to a familiar tale. Sharath Komarraju does not so much retell the epic as rewrite it.
First up, if you read the words in italics in the above blurb, you will realize that this is nothing like what we have ever read of about Ganga in the great epic. Neither did BR Chopra in his legendary TV series (which for most of us still remains our visual yardstick for this great epic) nor have any of the other numerous books written about this story take this approach to this enigmatic character who in many ways signals the start of this wonderful epic.
Sharath however takes us down (or should I say ‘up’) into a journey into the clouds, on to the top of Mount Meru and her misty climes and tells us the story of the Lady of the River. For obvious reasons of not giving away any spoilers here, I am not revealing more of that story here, but suffice to say that Sharath has woven a magical tapestry with this part of the book.
The first half of the book completely rewrites all that we have known and heard about humans, demigods and gods themselves. Concepts such as immortality, the inherent balance within nature and the universe, ‘greater benefit of the greater good’, and quite a few other extremely powerful concepts have been woven into the story of Ganga, the time spent by her on earth as Shantanu’s queen and the first few years of her son, Devavrata’s life.
The action then moves down to earth, to Hastina, where Satyavati goes on from being a humble fisherman-chief’s daughter to the queen and the king-mother of the kingdom. How she manages to achieve this, some of the sacrifices that Devavrata has to make, his terrible and legendary vows, Satyavati’s subsequent reign as queen, her sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya, their tragic lives, these make up for the proceedings of the second half.
To be honest, the second half did not surprise me as much as the first half did with its imaginative retelling of Ganga’s story. But what worked really well for me in Satyavati’s story was the fact that Sharath has taken great pains to ensure that the narrative comes out from her viewpoint and hers alone. He has not taken the conventional route of ‘walking down the middle’ and played it safe by presenting a neutral viewpoint. He has literally gotten under the skin of the character and tracked her graph from being an ambitious fisherwoman to a worldly-wise grandmother of Dhritarashtra with Pandu and Vidura on their way to being born.
What I really loved about the book was the fact that it presented yet another dimension, yet another credible alternative narrative to this great epic which I can never get tired of reading in its various hues and colors. And I use the word ‘credible’ as a deliberate choice as Sharath has chosen a difficult point of view (on in his case ‘points of view’) to walk us through this great epic, that of the women characters.
Given the plethora of options that will open up to him going forward in the form of Kunti, Gandhari, Draupadi, Duhshala, Hidimba, Subhadra, Uttara and so on, I wonder which of these will take precedence over the others and make their voices heard through subsequent installments of the series. All I can say is that I will surely read all of them and put up their reviews here, whether Sharath asks me to or not.
Disclaimer: Sharath Kommaraju, the author of this book approached a group of people requesting them to read and review this book. Although the book was sent to me for free, the views and opinions expressed here are my own and have in no way been influenced by him in any form or fashion.
|Name||The winds of Hastinapur|
|Publisher||Harper Collins India|