Monday, September 15, 2014

Winds of Hastinapur - A Review

This year brought with itself the love of Mahabharata. I had always been fascinated by the epic and its various stories, eloquently presented through different classical texts in Sanskrit and other Indian languages. It is specifically the numerous stories prior to the war which I adore delving deep into, but the curious little fact is - out of the 18 Parvas in Mahabharata, the story from the beginning of Kuru race till the point Pandavas and Kauravas come to being enemies is told in just the first Parva.

Now, for a story monger like me, that is too less! Each little story, in fact, feels like an independent little book - and then, authors like Sharath Komarraju come along to present just the literary treat I had been yearning for.

Winds of Hastinapur came my way earlier this year - an interesting blue coloured novel, which I had no clue what to expect from. The title assured me that the story in some way is plotted around Mahabharata - but how, I could not be sure. The epic has a scope which runs over generations. Was this book going to be another of those brief retellings, I wondered. Thankfully, it was not just a recapitulation of the events of the Mahabharata, but a well thought out, well researched and well written narrative, focussed within a particular time frame.

Very briefly put, Winds of Hastinapur is the story of the Ganga and Satyavati, the two strong ladies who appear the very beginning of Mahabharata - women who were responsible for thoughts and actions influencing the later generations of Kuru dynasty in a profound manner. There are two distinct narratives to the book, one themed around Ganga - the River Maiden/Lady, and the other around Satyavati (also called Matsyagandha and Kali) - the Fisher Girl.

The story begins in the Meru Hills, where lived the divine beings, drinking divine fluids to enhance their youth and longevity. Ganga has to descend on the Earth as a result of an unfortunate curse. She then meets King Shantanu and gives birth to the longest living character in the Mahabharata - Devavrata, better known as Bhishma. Interestingly, Bhishma himself is born on Earth as the result of a curse incurred by stealing of a cow - he was a Vasu during his life on Mount Meru (taken to be equivalent of Swarga, the dwelling of elemental deities and other celestial beings).

The other part of the book is the story of Satyavati, born of a fish as 'Kali' and ever surrounded by a foul fish smell. It was upon being seduced by Rishi Parashara that she found an antidote to her stink, and hence was able to attract King Shantanu of Hastinapur towards herself. Devavrata takes the vow of celibacy due to the condition Satyavati placed upon her marriage with Shantanu, thus earning the sobriquet of Bhishma (the one with a terrible vow). Rest of the story, well, many of us would know that.

The wonderful thing about this book is its female-centric narrative. Is it a feminist retelling of the tale? I could certainly see it in that prism. Women are portrayed in this book as rather strong characters, with a mind of their own. While Ganga, I saw, as a woman bound in complex set of obligations, Satyavati comes across as a woman with an agenda, ever-ready to manipulate and dictate to allow smooth fruition of her desires. In the popular renditions of the epic, seldom is such limelight granted to female characters except for Draupadi - hailed and condemned simultaneously, sympathised and castigated for the role she played in supposedly causing the DharmaYuddha at Kurukshetra. For etching out such fine female characters, conscious of and playing with their sexuality as well, full marks to the author! The empowered portrayal of the characters also perhaps insinuates towards the author's conviction of the elevated stature of women in the social codes of ancient times.

Compared to these two leading ladies, the other characters lack shape and lustre. A possible exception to this is Devavrata, but he too is not depicted as the invincible, strong, valorous warrior as seen popularly (remeber Mukesh Khanna from B. R. Chopra's television adaptation?), but rather emasculated.  Brilliant, skillful, but emasculated. His description, in fact, left me a little uncomfortable, for Sharath's sketching of the character was in sharp contrast to how I imagined him.

The book reads like a fantasy sometimes, and like a history at others. If you are not a know-it-all of Mahabharata, Winds of Hastinapur can give you many new perspectives to dwell upon. The language is not archaic, hence easy to follow, and the flow of the book is maintained throughout.

I only hope this is the first in a long list of books that Sharath writes on the Mahabharata, revealing story after story, from points of view of lesser understood and explored characters.

Its a 3.5 stars on 5 book for me. A writing job well done!

Book Details -
Author - Sharath Komarraju
Publisher - Harper Collins
Source - Review Copy provided by the author (Sorry for the delay in writing Sharath!)
Genre - Mythological Fiction
Price - Rs. 299
Pages - 320

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Water Memory - Guest Post by Anurag Vats

Do You see those drops falling?
Each drop of water that falls on Your skin has tales to tell.
Each swig of the drink You take; taste, or no taste, has moments.
Water retains memories. 
Hence each time You see rain falling,
Each time You share a drink,
Each time You drink water, sharing that glass,
You share a part of the memory.
You wouldn't realise. 
But it takes a place in Your head.
Memories of Centuries.
Memories of moments.
Memories of the moments past.
Memories of present.
It is absorbing a part of You as we breathe. 
It’s good that You live here, and we've shared a drink. 
Perhaps that's the reason, a part of You lives in me,
And You wouldn’t realise, a part of mine in Yours. 
It is neutral, it is transparent.
Because it is so opaque, with memories that You won’t be able to see.
They say that a kiss can transfer a bit of You in the other.
Who knows why?
Water memories, watermarks and water colours.

What are waters?
They are eternal. I swear.
Imagine, water goes up and precipitates, for millennia.
Ancient water.
Water sipped an unison, they speak.
Water fallen on the paper. 
Water kissed from the cheeks.
Water absorbed from the other's body.
Watery eyes.
Ever imagined saline water that runs in tears and in oceans.
We are almost water.
So is most of the Earth.
Uncountable memories.
Countable instances.
Memories make Us, most of Us.
Memories lead to love, to procreation and it doesn't end there.
Memories conjure water too and water conjures memories.
Drop by drop.
They fall like drops of You and i.
Drops of us. 
Dropped through Us.
On Us. 
In Us.

About The Poet
Anurag Vats is among the many young, promising poets I met over the past year, who leaves the listeners of his poetry exhilarated and incredulous with his deft, bordering on fantastical use of language. Anurag, besides creative expression, has the blessing of a mesmerising baritone, and even if my description of his poetic brilliance is going a bit over the top, it is still all justified, you can trust me! The above poem, if just one example, and you can find more, here -

Image Credits (For the dewy-leafy picture) - Vivek Nambiar (another awesome friend I made over the many gatherings I attend and organize. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Little Something On Me

There is a tag going on around at Instagram, where people are asked to state 20 random facts about themselves. I remember a time when such tags were routine in the world of blogs. However, I feel, with the coming up on multiple social networking fora, where the content you write is instantly and easily share-able and tag-able, blogs have sort of gotten relegated to a secondary expression position - laborious, slightly inconvenient.

Anyway, so I wanted to do the same tag here; for old time's sake. Also, for archiving purposes. Here we go.

Lodhi Gardens

  1. I am in love with the world of written words - I want to own it, play in it, learn with it, carve it, destroy it, reconstruct it and flow with it. 
  2. Ammi - Letters To A Democratic Mother by Saeed Akhtar Mirza is the book which has influenced me most in life. Following it at a close second spot is a book called The Assassin's Song by M. G. Vassanji. 
    Saeed Akhtar Mirza
  3. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is the poet who tugs at the cords of my heart most strongly, though I will admit to not being able to comprehend his language completely. 
  4. I have always been a people's person, but that manner of existence has begun disenchanting me lately. 
  5. I am crazily in love with Silver Jewellery - buy me some and be assured I will instantly fall in love with you. I am also slowly opening up to the idea of gold and bling. Dang is my favourite place to pick up gold-funky-accessories from. 
  6. I discovered Mythology, specifically Mahabharata as a huge ocean with depth as yet waiting discovery, earlier this year. I hence started a club called Maha Varta with a bunch of mythology enthusiasts which has opened my eyes to much which would have otherwise been left elusive. 
  7. I desire to be married to books and nature, with a cottage all to myself, high up in the hills. 
  8. I have been blessed with a friend who remains with me to grant me unconditional love and support even when I am a witch. Such friends, companions, lovers are rare. They are a blessing most of us fail to understand. 
  9. This blog has been dearer to me than most journals I have written in moments of intimacy with myself. Each time I see the ticker at the right hand side move, I do a mental jig. 
  10. My day job is that of a Content Strategist; but then, so are my night jobs, one  of which is that of the Poetry Editor at a forum called Positivally Cynical (intentionally spelt that way). Here, my boss is someone way younger than me, but this fine young man hides within him an ambitious entrepreneur I love seeing come of age.
  11. I love experimenting with new flavours of tea. You want to take me out for a date? Sunset and tea, or monsoon and tea work wonders!
  12. I was a coffee addict at one time. The incident which changed that was when I collapsed due to drinking 12 cups of coffee in a span of 8 hours. Don't ever try that at home!
  13. I am in love with my voice.
  14. If I were to venture out this moment for a holiday, I would pick between - Udaipur, Jaipur and Sattal. 
  15. I go to the fanciest of restaurants to savour the fanciest of dishes from the most exotic corners of the world, but my favourite hangout remains Janpath McDonalds', with their breakfast menu served to me on rain-fed or foggy mornings.
  16. I want to keep exploring arts - all forms of it - throughout life. Right now, playback is the weird ambition I have been day-dreaming after. 
  17. I think faith is a tough concept to hang onto and that we all need our Krishna in life - living, breathing, wise entities who have something very humanly admirable about them. My Krishna exists in combination of real and imagined entities. 
  18. I love getting clicked. 
  19. I met poetry last year. It made me happy, but then caused immeasurable pain. I am trying to meet it again now, through a concept called Poets' Collective. I have no clue where it will go - but I do know that I will not try too hard again in life. 
  20. I am trying to lose weight these days. Extra volume doesn't bother me. Alarmingly low levels of stamina do. 
Bonus - I am obsessed with the idea of becoming the flow, whatever that means. 

I would love it if the following people to repeat the exercise on their respective blogs - Achint Mathur, Manan Kulshreshtha, Neha Menon, Navin Dutta, Sudhanshu Shekhar Tiwari, Neelkamal Pandey, Yogesh Pandey, Aakriti Mallik, Kunal, Archika Poria, Varun Rustagi and anyone else who happens to drop by here. Leave a link to your blog in the comment section below. I would love to visit and know a little more about you.