Through another pair of eyes: A chat with author Kavita Kane

Through the mythical lens Kavita Kane   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Stories are very deep and symbolic. You don’t have to take them literally,” smiles best-selling mythological author Kavita Kane, who was in Coimbatore recently for a book-signing session at Sapna Book House in RS Puram. Mythology, she points out, has been used as “a literary device to portray contemporary issues and sensibilities.

Her first book was Karna’s Wife. Does she even appear in the epic, I ask incredulously. A very minor character, she responds. Actually she wanted to tell Karna’s story “but didn’t want him to do the telling. It would have become very one-sided. I wanted a woman who would see him for what he was: a tragic character with a flaw. A wife was the best to see him not just as a husband but as a political person, as a hero, a warrior, a condemned, conflicted and torn man… At first I wondered if the story should be told through his mother’s eyes but finally decided on the wife. After all she was his partner, his conscience.”

Interestingly Kavita had first lit on Urmila, who appears in the Ramayana as Sita’s sister and Lakshmana’s wife. “Hers was the book I really wanted to write. My second book but my first thought,” she smiles. What happened, I prompt. “I lost courage,” she says ruefully. “There wasn’t much on her, so I started Karna’s Wife. When that did well, I thought I could write about Sita’s Sister.” According to Kavita, Urmila also undergoes 14 years of exile, “her own private one.” Legend has it that Urmila was asleep for the 14 years so that Lakshmana could stay awake and serve his brother and sister-in-law. “Interpret the sleep as a metaphor for loneliness and loss,” scoffs Kavita, “and there you are.”

While researching for Urmila, Kavita stumbled upon Menaka. “I was intrigued by the fact that Vishwamitra and Menaka really loved each other and had a 10-year relationship,” she muses. “The way it is portrayed is as if she seduced him and abandons their child.” Kavita describes Menaka’s story as “every woman trying to create her own little slice of heaven.” If she had not revealed her motive to Vishwamitra, would they have lived happily every after? She shrugs, and adds, “I wanted to see what kind of woman she was and the circumstances that forced her to take the decisions she did without judging her. Our stories give us a very uni-dimensional image of a beautiful seductress. We don’t associate courage and sacrifice with her.”

And she lets fall another startling fact: Menaka abandoned not one but two children. Later I dig around and find this: According to the Pauloma Parva, Menaka has a girl with Viswavasu, the king of Gandharvas and abandons the baby near the hermitage of Sage Sthulakesa. “Menaka is the symbol of female sexual power. Her sexuality is part of her personality. It is who she is,” remarks Kavita.

Ahalya’s Awakening by Kavita Kane published by Westland

Ahalya’s Awakening by Kavita Kane published by Westland   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kavita’s latest book is Ahalya’s Awakening, about Ahalya who is restored to human form by Rama after having been turned into a stone for infidelity and adultery. “The episode is minor but you feel the echoes right through until Sita’s bhumipravesh.” The villain here, she feels, is not Rama, Gautama or Indra, but society. “It’s us sitting on judgement and condemning people with the little we know. The story of Ahalya is not about love and loyalty in marriage. It is about the how the act of being judgemental kills the very essence of a person.” Ahalya and Sakuntala are classic victims of a patriarchal mindset, Kavita argues. “In the original story, Sakuntala did not go back to her husband. But all we know now is Kalidasa’s Sakuntala.”

Kavita Kane in Coimbatore

Kavita Kane in Coimbatore   | Photo Credit: R Krithika

As a student of literature, Kavita stresses the importance of mythology. “If myths reflect the socio-cultural ethos of earlier times, they can also be used to contemporarise those same issues in today’s world. Actually nothing has changed. Love, rivalry, disappointment, war, anger, greed… all of these emotions still exist. There’s a chance of an alternative perspective by looking at the epics through the women and minor characters at that.”

Ask if she has a favourite among her books, Kavita says she enjoys them all, but each is special for a different reason. Take Sita’s Sister, for example. “I come from a family that has lots of girls. Sita also had four sisters, and I wondered if things changed once they became sisters-in-law. And then Satyavati… the seeds of discontent actually start with Yayti, Sarmishta and Devyani and find their apogee with Satyavati and Shantanu.

She agrees that the research is time consuming, more so because not much is known about these characters. “Sometimes the information is so huge and massive that filtering it all takes time. I have to remind myself to get down to writing.”

Her next book is almost done, but “I am being a little superstitious, I don’t want to say what it’s about. Not now,” she says pleadingly.

Kavita Kane’s latest book Ahalya’s Awakening is published by Westland and is available in bookstores and online.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 10:24:28 AM |

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