Book Review of Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane
The current breed of Indian writers is a brave lot. They are not scared of experimenting with the set-in-stone mythologies which have been part of our ‘cultural upbringing’ diet for generations. The Rama of Ramayana and Krishna of the Mahabharata have been humanised, making their follies look more acceptable; Ravana is no longer the blood thirsty brute nor are the Kauravas just power hungry brothers.
Instead of just concentrating on these handful of central characters, a lot of writers have rewritten the mythologies from the view point of the women in these plots. This point of view is refreshingly contradistinct and forces the reader to look at the same oft-heard stories from a totally antithetic and colourful perspective.
I recently finished reading the Lanka’s Princess by Kavita Kane. It’s Surpanakha’s story, told from her frame of reference. Each of her family member is no longer set in the pre-set molds but is described by Meenakshi, or Meenu as she is fondly called. The events in the book unfold and we hear about the same mythological tales from someone who was instrumental in making the events happen. Mythology apart, the book also delves deeper and looks at the status of women in the society. The millennia were different but the circumstances and situations remain very much the same. Women were the pawns; marriages were for political reasons more than for love.
The most striking part of the book is the protagonist, or more suitably the anti-hero(ine). Meenakshi is not the quintessential beauty but it’s her strong personality which is her most alluring characteristic. She has a mind of her own; she’s opiniated, head strong, self-willed and extremely passionate. It’s this passion that leads to her subsequent downfall. She has her own fixed ideas of right and wrong, and refuses to see it any other way other than what suits her. Kavita has successfully created a character one would both love and hate at the same time. Meenakshi was rechristened Surpanakha by her mother Kaikesi, who detested her from the moment she was born, who saw her for what she was – an evil mind with a vitriolic tongue. Surpanakha’s only objective in life was to avenge the murder of her husband, Vidyujiva, even if it meant the annihilation of her family. Her hatred for Ravana far exceeded the love she felt for everyone put together. Her jealousy and hatred for him overshadowed every happy event in her otherwise ignored life. Her single minded dedication, patience (as she waited years for her plans to fructify) and commitment to see the destruction of Ravana and Lanka gives both the chills for the cold hearted execution and awe inspiring respect for the manner she single handledly went about the whole operation. Anyone who crossed her path, or her, was in her cross hairs. This included Rama and Lakshmana for spurning her advances and mutilating her. Even after the decimation of her brothers and destruction of Lanka, she headed to Ayodhya to avenge her humiliation by the Dasarathputras. Here she met her match in Urmila, her wise wife of Lakshmana, who made her see the senselessness of her pursuit of vengeance. Her advice to learn from her pains to better her life opened Surpanakha’s mind to a more giving and embracing attitude which melted away her pain. The book ended in a more or less expected manner where she sees the mistakes she has made and accepts them, without blaming someone like she always did.
The narration was beautiful. Meandering through the stories we know, retaining their essence yet creating a whole new view point. It’s like seeing parts of the Ramayana through a kaleidoscope. Each character was well defined.The rakshasas were not disfigured ogres; Mareech and Subahu were men of knowledge, Taraka was a beautiful learned asura queen. Ravana was a larger than life person. A flamboyant charmer with good looks, a scholar of Vedas, Upanishads, tantravidya, astrology and occult sciences and could play the rudraveena; Kumbha was the huge lumbering giant with an even larger heart, the most sensible and humble of all the siblings; Vibhushan was all brains with no spine, his knowledge restricted to the books and not to life
I enjoyed reading the book. It made the epic look more interesting and dynamic. The dormant characters suddenly were drawn out in flesh and blood and appeared real. It’s in short a woman’s struggle to seek justice for the wrongs done to her, or so she thought. Her suppressed anger, indestructible prejudices and relentless pursuit of justice make up the core of the narration.
Recommend read it at least once for its refreshing perspective.