Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

Book Review: Kavita Kane’s Ahalya’s Awakening

Before I write anything about the book, I must talk about the author. I have read every book of Kavita Kane, the first one being picked because it was an interpretation of a female mythological character. The beauty of mythology is that it can interpreted the way you are, what you value the most and what you stand up for. I have always felt that women in ancient India were never the way they are now. I have found Indian mythology to be patriarchal. The mythological heroes have always been shown as pious, infallible and responsible. Their mistakes, if any, have been repressed most times under the pretext of dharma. Even while growing up, I waited to hear stories about mythological women. I wanted to know more about the passing-by-supporting-roles. As I grew up, I understood that most mythological stories were written in a manner to portray what the society wanted us to believe or follow. Women were expected to follow footsteps of a male, be docile, inert and this is what the stories told us also. And they also ensured that topics of sex and extreme beauty was made taboo, hence the most beautiful characters were made to be called consorts and apsaras (never wives). And this is where Kavita Kane steps in, with her beautifully woven interpretations of the very same women who have been sidelined. They have been made the protagonists and what we then read is their perspective of everything we had read of earlier – whether it is the Mahabharata, the Ramayana or the stories/events before and after/beyond that. It’s then we know that these women’s choices were not driven by a man, but by their beauty, boldness, wrongness, ego, matriarchy, love, sensuality, sexuality. These choices were not correct all the time, thus leading to their fallout and realisations. In simple words, they were as human or godly as any of the male mythological characters but not insignificant in any way.

Kavita Kane has the tactfulness, the choice of words and boldness to portray all the above just perfectly. You will get transported with the protagonist and live her life. You will feel her anguish, her ability to love and hate equally, her joys, her innocence and her madness. You will be able to put yourself in her shoes many times and you will say to yourself, ‘yes, this has been me.’

Coming to the book, I had listened to the story of Ahalya who had been turned into stone by Rishi Gautam, her husband. Her curse was finally lifted by Rama during his exile. Yes, this is all I knew. But now I know a lot more.

Ahalya: created by Brahma; married to one of the greatest rishis of all time; desired by the king of gods, Indra. Ahalya, who was driven by just one need her whole life, wanting to be a rishika, the learned one. Curious and intelligent, she is in pursuit of it, and during the process falls in love with Rishi Gautam, one the most revered maharishis, and gets married to him as well. Her story should have ended perfectly, but she yearns for love, self respect, and of course enlightenment. She becomes aware of her sensuality, and asks for proclamation of the same. She turns more self aware, and this leads to one act, one step, one decision, which changes everything for her.

We are the product of our choices. Even today, making a choice has never been easy for a woman. She remains torn between her dreams, her dampatyam, her needs, and she ends up living the repercussions of her choices. Sometimes, these repercussions are her own guilt, society’s remarks, loneliness and self reflection. And sometimes it is joy, lightheadedness, free-thinking, self love and self-proclamation. To say these are mutually exclusive is wrong, I feel. Women have always been this: whether mythologically or modern.

A highly recommended read.

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