Two new books look at great Indian epics in a new light. While Sita emerges as her own hero in one, the other has Draupadi leave heaven for New Delhi.
The Liberation of Sita
by Volga (Translated from Telugu by T Vijay Kumar and C Vijayasree)
Publisher: HarperCollins; Price: Rs 199
In the five interconnected stories that comprise Telugu writer Volga’s Sahitya Akademi Award-winning book, she interprets events in the Ramayana from the perspective of its minor female characters. The book belongs to the genre of feminist revisionist mythmaking, and its wronged women abandon the narratives written for them by men to write their own.
The liberation in the title does not refer to Sita’s freedom from Ravana’s captivity, but rather from her attachment to Rama and the grief it causes her. As Sita searches for closure in these stories – some set during the 14-year exile, some just after her marriage and most post her banishment from Ayodhya – she meets other women who too were punished unjustly and relegated to the margins.
Desire cost Surpanakha her beauty and Renuka (the mother of Parasurama) her head. Ahalya (more famous as the rock Rama turned back into a woman with the touch of his foot) is a rape survivor punished and slut shamed. Sita’s sister Urmila turned into a recluse after her husband left her to follow his brother into exile. Their ordeals make these social rejects self-reliant, giving them the objectivity to question convention. The final story explores the inner life of Rama as he looks back at his choices. Though Volga is compassionate while looking at events from his point of view, there is “no liberation for him”. Rama remains a prisoner of patriarchy.
Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas
By Trisha Das
Publisher: HarperCollins; Price: Rs 350
An eternity in heaven with nothing to do is a hell of its own kind. Bored out of her wits, Draupadi cajoles Krishna to let her visit modern-day Indraprastha for a month along with her friend Amba (aka Shikhandi), mother-in-law Kunti and frenemy Gandhari. Thus begins Das’s novel that takes forward the stories of these ancient women in contemporary time.
Draupadi seeks change from her dull existence, Amba is looking for love, Kunti for her long-lost son Karan (who, we’re told, was so mad at her that he chose to be reincarnated than join his biological family in heaven) and Gandhari simply wants to see the world for once. The idea could have easily floundered in execution, but the book more than lives up to its promising blurb. Das writes with great wit and imagination and the adventures of the feisty bunch once they land in Delhi will make you laugh out loud. The Kuru ladies are bewildered by the “overmodest clothing” of the residents, shocked at their rudeness and amazed at “how big the city has grown”. On day one in Delhi, Draupadi wonders, “Where are all the birds?”
Social criticism is subtly woven into the story as the queens discover how unsafe the city is for women and how different standards still apply to men and women when it comes to sexual freedom. Ms Draupadi Kuru is a fun read that will make you re-assess your city and wonder, “Where are all the birds?”
Follow @DoNotRamble on Twitter
From HT Brunch, October 9, 2016
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch