June 24, 2014

Book Review: The Winds of Hastinapur*

Title: The Winds of Hastinapur
Author: Sharath Komarraju
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Mythology

It is the season of remakes and retellings, from the looks of it. To be honest, I’m a little wary of film remakes. I mean, why redo something that was already done well? It’s akin to unravelling a perfectly knitted sweater and then trying to do it all over again.

I’m not making any sense, I know. That is what happens when you write after ages. You start to lose coherence. Thankfully, that is not the case with Sharath Komarraju, author of The Winds of Hastinapur.

TWoH is a retelling of the Mahabharata – nothing new here, since there have been quite a few retellings by other authors. What DOES make the book different is the point of view from which it is being told – the women.

“My hair is white and thin now. In a few moons, the Goddess will claim me, and I do  ot  have a fresh young virgin by my side to absorb my knowledge and take my place once I am gone. The Mysteries of Ganga and her Sight will vanish with me, and the Great River will become nothing more than a body of lifeless water... it is my intention, therefore, to tell you the story as it happened, as I saw it happen.”

TWoH retells the epic through the eyes of Ganga and Satyavati, the two wives of King Shantanu, the King of Hastinapur. Ganga, or Jahnavi, a young river maiden, lives in Meru,the land of celestials. At the ripe age of 14, she is sent to earth to set right a curse that the wife of sage Vasishta cast upon Prabhasa, one of the celestials. Thus Ganga goes to earth and becomes queen to King Shantanu, promising him a son who will be his heir and future king of Hastinapur. And bear him a son she does, but not before bearing seven more before him, and killing all seven of them soon after their birth. This was her curse. She soon returns to Meru after fulfilling her duty on earth, but brings her son, Devavrata, the supposed future king of Hastinapur, with her, because she cannot bear to part with him. The second part of the book is from the point of view of Satyavati, also known as Kali, a fisherman’s daughter who goes on to become King Shantanu’s second wife. Her rise from being a mere fisherman’s daughter to becoming a queen, the role she plays in shaping Devavrata’s destiny, etc. forms the rest of the tale.

I liked the fact that the book was written from the point of view of the women of Mahabharata, and that too the lesser known ones, than the men. It gives a very fresh perspective to the epic. It took me a while to get going with the book, because I felt that the first half is a little slow. But it picks up speed towards the second half. But then again, a retelling of an epic is hardly meant to be a racy read, right (the exception being the Shiva trilogy by Amish, maybe)? Do not pick up the book if you have no time on your hands to read. I unfortunately couldn’t relish the book much because I was hard-pressed for time and had committed to review the book by a particular date. I will be going back for a thorough reading soon enough.

A few pointers to the author and editors – I found the text used very annoying. The bold font throughout the book was quite an eyesore. Next time, maybe used a bigger font size and cut out the bold type, please? Also, the cover. Not. Done. Na-ah. It reminded me of some of those tacky mythological adaptations on televisions. It does not do justice to the book at all. Sharath Komarraju is a truly gifted writer, no doubts about that. But I would have preferred it if the pace had been slightly quicker. And the editing could have been crisper, maybe a few pages shorter. But that’s just my opinion. I’ve become a lazy reader of late.

Retelling of epics is a tricky business, I must say. And to stand out amongst a long line-up of writers who have made an attempt at it previously is no mean task. Sharath succeeds in this. Go for it if you are a mythology fan. Go for it anyways, if you appreciate a good book. It is definitely worth your time.

My rating: 3.5 / 5

Check more about the author and his writing here.

*This is an author-requested review. 

P.S:- I forgot to give you guys a very important update. I am a proud aunt to a gorgeous little girl now. She was born on April 9. I have honestly never felt such unconditional affection for anyone the way I do for the little munchkin. She is a beautiful beautiful baby.