Our ancient land is full of stories – stories of princes and kings, of rivers and demons, of warriors and sages, of queens and dasis. And none are better known than stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Whatever be your religion, it is unlikely that you have missed out on tales from these epics. Many of us have grown up on Amar Chitra Katha stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and then were glued to the eponymous TV serials on Sunday mornings, when the entire country would come to a halt. There are characters you love, characters you hate and then characters you barely think about.
I have been fascinated with Kavita Kane’s books because she writes about some of these barely-thought-about characters. Women who play significant roles in these epics but somehow, their own stories often get skipped over. Each of her heroines has been imaginatively fleshed out from the bare minimum mentioned in the texts. Her first novel, Karna’s Wife (2013) was a huge bestseller. She followed that up with – Sita’s Sister (2014) , dealing Lakshman’s wife, Urmila, one of the most overlooked characters in the Ramayana. Menaka’s Choice (2015), is about the beautiful apsara and her liaison with Sage Vishwamitra, the man she was sent to destroy. Lanka’s Princess (2016) was her fourth book, based on Ravan’s sister, Surpanakha, the Princess of Lanka who was also its destroyer.
It was exciting to hear that Kavita Kane was to be in Gurugram to promote her latest book, The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty. This book is about Satyavati, the fisher-woman who wanted to be Queen. The woman behind Bheeshma’s terrible vow of lifelong celibacy, which created situations and events that eventually led to the Great War.
On Friday, 24th August, GurgaonMoms, in collaboration with Westland Publishers, created an event ‘Women in the Mahabharata’ at The Quorum Club, Gurugram, where Kaveree Bamzai (Editor-at -large, India Today) chatted with Kavita Kane. The book was also available at a special price for GurgaonMoms… and of course, Kavita was happy to sign our copies.
On reaching the plush venue, attendees spent some time mingling, chatting, partaking of tea, coffee and other refreshments. I was thrilled to get some one-on-one time with Kavita and Kaveree, two women whose work I have much admired. Some ladies were also taken for a tour of the exclusive, members-only urban lifestyle club and introduced to its many facilities.
Then the real fun started. Kavita and Kaveree talked at length about life, Kavita’s books, women in history and today and, of course, men! Kaveree, with her irrepressible energy and the quieter, but infinitely interesting Kavita were a wonderful match. Kaveree had questions and observations that Kavita responded to, snippets she shared, all peppered with audience interjections every now and then. It made for a very lively and enthralling discussion.
The session was then thrown open for audience questions. Several of the women in the audience had read Kavita’s books, the current one as well as her earlier works. Coming from a group of articulate, independent-minded women, the questions and comments were incisive and thought provoking. Kavita patiently answered each of the queries.
I am sharing some nuggets that stayed in my mind long after the discussion was over.
- Kavita has a journalistic background spanning over 20 years. Having grown up, like many of us, on stories from the epics, she remembers asking her grandmother many ‘whys’ about some of the peripheral characters. In some way, her books come from a search for answers to those childhood whys. A prolific writer, she has written 5 books in 5 years. No mean feat!
- Her books, while based on thorough research, are largely fictionalized accounts. What she thinks the women might have been like, what their lives would have been, what made them tick. Kaveree called Kavita a ‘literary detective’ who sifts through mountains of information and hundreds of characters to find the gems she writes about.
- Sometimes she ‘invents’ a woman to better tell the story of the hero. Such was the case in Karna’s Wife. Who better to talk about the innermost demons of a tormented soul like Karna than his spouse? Kavita did not wish to tamper with the well-known and much-written-about Vrushali. Hence, she created Urvi, his second wife… the protagonist of the story.
- Kavita also told us that she was ruthless when it came to editing her books. She edited her first book from 150000 words to 100000 in a matter of 2 weeks. Like any writer will tell you, it’s extremely difficult to let go of a third of what you’ve written. But for Kavita, what matters most is the sanctity of the story and the characters.
- A big difference that Kavita observes between the two epics is that while the Ramayana is all about idealism, the Mahabharata deals with human flaws and emotions. We all have a lot to learn from both, but in very different ways.
- While the men in these stories, warriors and sages, were powerhouses, many of their women were just as powerful, just as ambitious, politically astute, assertive and often ruthless about getting their way. And we thought that could only describe the modern woman!
- Though Kavita’s books hero women, she also makes the men look highly desirable. Be it Karna or Lakshman or Bheeshma. This observation naturally led to much laughter and nods of agreement from the female-only audience!
- Despite many probing questions, Kavita was very hush-hush about her next book. We were all curious to know whom she would write about. And our ladies had suggestions galore about the heroine of future books. Radha, Subhadra, Rukmini, Madri… but Kavita’s lips were sealed. I must say it’s only added to the mystery. I can’t wait to read her next one!
The official photographer for the event was our community member Nandita Khosla Sud
Venue: The Quorum Club, Two Horizon Center,First Floor,DLF5, Golf Course Road,Sector 43,Gurugram