Goodreads blurb: We make love and leave. That is our motto. Live by it, Menaka or you shall suffer untold, unnecessary grief.
Born during the churning of the ocean, Menaka is the most beautiful of all the apsaras in the world, with quick intelligence and innate talent. However, she craves for the one thing she can never have – family. Elsewhere, after severe austerities, a man, now blessed with the name Vishwamitra, challenges the gods and dares to create another heaven. Fearing his growing powers, Indra, the king of gods, decides to put a stop to his ambitions by making Menaka seduce him.
What will happen when Menaka and Vishwamitra meet each other? Will Menaka finally find what she really wished for? Or will she again be forced to surrender to her destiny? Find out in this fascinating portrait of one of the most enduring mythological figures.
Most of us know Menaka and Vishwamitra’s story only at a superficial level and I am sure all of you would agree when I say that the most we can come up would be the one line where we say that Menaka was sent down by Indra to seduce and disturb Vishwamitra’s penance when he had ambitions to become a Brahmarishi. I confess that this was pretty much the extent that I knew of this story before I read this book. Blame popular media, blame my lack of insight into reading this particular story despite my interest in Indian mythology, blame whatever, but the fact remains that this one liner was what I knew about Menaka all these days. But this book changed all that and much more for me as far as this character in particular and apsaras in general are concerned.
As is the norm with all her books author Kavita Kane takes a slither of a story, a fairly unknown character, a lady perennially in the shadows, an actress in the wings, in Menaka and brings her to the centre stage and makes her the heroine of her story. And honestly, she does make for a good heroine as well, no two ways about that. Beautiful, smart, talented, warm, caring, elegant, intuitive, the list of positive attributes about her keeps going on and on. And as is the case with people who are blessed with such good things, the story of her life doesn’t quite mirror them. Being stuck in Indra’s court as an apsaras would be a fate that you wouldn’t wish upon even your worst enemy (at least as far as this book is concerned). And to be honest I found Indra’s depiction a little disturbing and distressing, more so given that this is the second book in recent times where his character has been written in a similar vein. I am guessing he is the favorite ‘bashing boy’ of all authors of Indian mytho-fiction books.
Coming to Vishwamitra whose story this book narrates as much as it does Menaka’s, I knew a little more about the man courtesy an old eponymous Doordarshan serial and his appearance in the Ramayana when Rama is a teenager. That being said I didn’t quite know his antecedents and his rivalry with Rishi Vasishta which spurs on the action in this book. Suffice to say he comes across as a man one could admire quite easily despite his obvious flaws. It isn’t quite hard to see why Menaka does what she does during the course of this story.
Although the genre chosen by the author for Menaka’s Choice would probably ‘officially’ be classified as mytho-fiction, I would probably be more inclined to put it squarely into the ‘romance’ or even ‘chick-lit’ genre (and I don’t use either of these words in a derogatory sense). My reasons for saying so would be the fact that at the heart of it, this book is the story of love, betrayal, redemption and so on and it just so happens that the action happens in a mythological setting. With Menaka and Vishwamitra, you have two protagonists who readers would ardently root for and you have an antagonist in the form of Indra who readers would love to hate.
In a nutshell, as was the case with her earlier books, this one too is a must-read for anybody who loves a good yarn with a strong woman as the main protagonist.
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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.