By Padmavati Prabhu
What prompted you to retell the Mahabharata from a feminine perspective?
It has always seemed to me that the Mahabharata is tale of men and masculine themes: heroism, valour, property, war, etc. When I began to think about retelling the picture, I had to find an angle that had not been explored before. After all, we don’t need another rehashing of the same story with a rudimentary change in viewpoint. So I decided that I will tell the story of the war from the points of view of all the women characters. While this has been done before with single point of view – like that of Draupadi and Kunti – it has not been done as an ensemble, the way I’m doing it.
The Winds of Hastinapur is Book One of the Hastinapur series. More will follow.
So can we expect Winds of Hastinapur to be a unique mythology read as compared to the other contemporary books on mythology? Why?
I hope that ‘Winds’ will stand out from the rest of the mythological stories out there purely because of its feminine treatment. Most books on mythology that are currently in the market, with very few exceptions, deal with masculine themes. There aren’t many stories driven by maternal instinct, love, tenderness, emotion, and other such driving factors we generally associate with women. Because the main characters in my story are all women, the treatment also needed to be softer. In that alone it will be unique, because we’re not used to reading the Mahabharata in this way.
How did the idea of shifting the paradigm of this famous mythological work come to you, and how did you do your research.
First, the shift of paradigm occurred as a consequence of considering the practical realities of finding an unexplored niche in the market. Second, there is great value, I think, in shaping stories that we know through the eyes of people that we don’t generally hear from a lot – the Gangas, the Satyavatis, the Gandharis and the Ambas. We’ve heard ad nauseam about the more popular heroes and heroines and I thought it would be nice – both as a personal journey and a professional choice – to see how these lesser known characters will turn out.
How has the Mahabharata influenced our social outlook towards women and, now, how will your book change this?
I don’t think the Mahabharata has influenced out social outlook towards women much. The biggest lessons that we take from the epic – such as The Gita, are concepts of dharma, destiny, etc – are gender neutral. In terms of social reality and comment, I don’t think the Mahabharata has much to tell us, except give us a picture of how society was in those times. In that sense there is a lot literary truth to the book, whereas someone looking for literal truths may end up being either disappointed or disillusioned.
Whether my book will change our social view of women or not, I must say that is not my intention at all. My job is to tell a good story, give the reader a glimpse into the joys and sorrows of my characters. The reader is then free to assume whatever truth he wants out of it.
Would you call yourself a feminist?
Though the word ‘feminism’ means ‘gender equality’, in practice, modern feminism has displayed worrying signs of being women oriented and having turned a blind eye towards men’s issues, which also deserve their space in an equal environment. Today, feminism has become a movement, and everyone who disagrees with a self-proclaimed feminist is either a misogynist or is ignorant. The value of debate has diminished.
In such an environment, I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a feminist. I believe in equality of all human beings, no matter how we decide to classify ourselves into groups. (Gender, language, class, caste and religion are the five main classifications seen in Indian society.)
In the context of the book, it is not a feminist retelling of the epic. It is a feminine retelling of it.
A lot of new bold angles to Hindu mythology are making their appearance on bookshelves – Ajaya – Epic of the Kaurava Clan; Asura the tale of the Vanquished, etc. What is your take on this? Are we as Indians finally opening our eye to parallel facts that have all the time been present in our mythology but have been overshadowed by populist ideologies?
I think it’s just pure economics: we discovered that there is a demand for mythology, and storytellers are catering to it. Invariably they will over feed the demand, and the trend will ebb; until the next trend comes along. Finding bold angles to familiar tales is not as hard as – say – writing a tale yourself. No matter how bold your angle is, you’re still re-telling someone else’s story.
Your previous two books were thrillers and now, your latest, The Winds of Hastinapur, is a mythological fiction. Comment.
I made an early decision not to be constrained to a single genre. My fourth book, which is due to come out in October 2014, called The Puppeteers of Palem, is a horror. There will be a thriller coming out sometime soon, not to mention a work of literary fiction and one of non-fiction. I’m currently working on a Mughal historical. I write on varied topics on my blog as well. I think it just comes from being interested in too many things to be able to stick consistently to one.
So there’s no pattern there. I write whatever I feel like writing at that time, sell it if someone buys, and move on to the next book. The sequence in which they come out is usually not up to me.
Who is your favourite character in the Mahabharata? Why?
I’ve always thought Gandhari was a fascinating character, mainly because so little is known of her. I’ve always been drawn to small or secondary characters in fiction, both in books and in movies.
According to you who are some of the neglected characters in the Mahabharata?
Ganga, Satyavati, Amba, Gandhari, Kunti, Draupadi (save for her humiliation scene, she’s just a prop. Some would say she’s a prop even in the humiliation scene). There are others too, like Subhadra, Sasirekha, Bhanumati. It’s no surprise they’re all women. I hope to give these people a voice during the course of writing my series.
(The curtain raiser programme of Goa Arts and Literary Festival – 2014, Author’s Speak—Talk cum interactive session on the book ‘Winds of Hastinapur’ by Sharat Komarraju on will be held on August 23 at 6 p.m. at ICG, Dona Paula. It is open to all.)
Winds of Hastinapur: A feminine retelling of the Mahabharata
By Padmavati Prabhu