Being blessed with the richest ancient literature and the most advanced culture of its time, Bharatiya (that is Indian) society has to be the ideal in the current times. If it is not then it is because of the people forgetting the routes. And rather than understanding the essence of the fables, folklores, mythological stories and scriptures; we started taking it literally. Then started polluting them with prejudices and agendas.
That’s why we need a retelling of the tales from the ancient literate in a perspective that suits the current time, without compromising their essence.
Kavita Kane is one of the authors of our time who loves to retell the stories from the ancient scriptures. Mostly her stories are about female characters who are given comparatively less exposure. It works in many ways. She can add her imagination to those stories and elaborate on them in the way she wants. She wrote books like Karna’s Wife, Sita’s Sister, Lanka’s princess etc; where we can see the protagonist is not named in the title, clearly reminding us that they were the people who are sidelined (mostly). At the same time, she wrote books like Menaka’s Choice, Ahalya’s Awakening, where she deliberately name the characters in the title. They are the characters who are one of the most misunderstood ones. For example, Menaka is known as the reason of the fall of Vishwamitra from his path and Ahalya is considered guilty for an adultery for which she was turned into a stone. Who later appears in Ramayana where she got free by Lord Rama.
Today we are going to talk about Ahalya’s Awakening.
|Book Title||:||Ahalya’s Awakening
|Publisher||:||Westland (27 August 2019)|
|# of Pages||:||
4779 KB; 356 (Kindle Ebook)
|# of Chapters||:||25|
Let us take a look at the cover page of this book.
An attractive cover page can influence readers to go for the book. Of course, there are many other factors we need to consider before spending our most valuable asset – our time – in any activity. But we are limited to analyze the details we have. And like we try to assess a person from his/her outer look on the first glance, we, subconsciously, made our decisions to go for a book (or for that matter any media) based on its first impression.
As you can see, the cover page of this book shows an illustration of the female protagonist. Being a scholar who lived in the forests with her sage husband, she is represented wearing white clothes. It also represents purity. Well, we would like to accept it or not, her tale is often seen from this aspect.
The background clearly represents the forest. While you can see the female protagonist wears a “Bindi” on her forehead, you can also notice the missing of “Sindoor”. That also shows that this norm was added quite later, maybe medieval times.
A well thought and detailed cover page which is moderately attractive.
It all starts when King Nahusha, now throned as the new Indra is quite passionate about Sachi, the wife of the previous Indra – Purandara. Now with the Indrasan – the seat of the head of the devas, he claimed his right over Sachi also. The wise advised him that Nahusha has to be reasonable and thoughtful, otherwise, his actions also will lead him to his downfall, like previous Indra.
And thus starts the story of the previous Indra’s downfall.
King Mudgal and his wife Nalayani were blessed with two kids Divodas and Ahalya. We see that the parents loved their children and they cannot get their eyes off from there. Of course, like in the most cases, Mudgal is very fond of Ahalya, probably little more than Divodas, an apple of his eye.
Gradually the kids grew up together, getting their education from a well-known sage. Ahalya was a brilliant student, and in academics she is even better than Divodas. Of course, their bond of siblings doesn’t suffer a bit of jealousy. Even after Ahalya started her adventures of learning warfare, Divodas remained her true support and more like a guardian.
While King Mdugal was more of a scholar who is a ferocious warrior who love to avoid wars as far as possible. Divodas had young blood and with the help of Indra, their alley, went to an avoidable war and came back victorious. This is when Indra saw Ahalya and his one-sided love was seeded from the moment.
Eventually, Indra proposed for a marriage with Ahalya through Nalayani who was quite fond of this proposal. Ahalya, however, didn’t like Indra much. She was at the stage of “indifference” of Indra’s feelings and exitance. She also knew that Indra helped her brother a lot. She, however, decided to study further.
After a lot of brainstorming and discussion about it, finally, Mudgal vetoed in favor of her decision and this is when she was sent to the Ashram of Gautam, to learn from him.
How their love-story bloom and blossom, how Indra got his rejection, how he coupled with Sachi, how Gautam and Ahalya got married and eventually her moment of fall come? All these events and incidents are better to explore in this fictional and imaginative tale explored by the author by keeping the roots of the characters and their attributes intact.
There are many characters in the book including: King Nahusha, Indra, Sachi, King Mudgal, Nalayani, Indrasen, Nala, Damayanti, Brahma, Vashisht, Sushna, Shambar, Lopamjdra, Agastya, Shashvati ANgiras, Ahalya, Gautam, Divodas, Suyasha, Uttank,… to name a few. Of course, some of them appear as a mention and some play a crucial role in the story. I must say that the author hasn’t sidelined any character.
If the story of Ahalya is started as a narration to Nahusha, how couldn’t it be concluded in the same manner? What was its impact on Nahusha? seems, the author has disconnected the story from its first dot, once started. Also, the last chapter of the book is quite disconnected. Was the author in a hurry to complete the book or was she struggling with her thoughts to pendown as she thought of?
The book is a fantastic work based on Indian mytholgoy. The author is really good at elaborating emotions. While the story has references of many adulteries, especially by Indra. The author however respects the line between sensuality and vulgarity. There isn’t a single sentence that needs to be edited in these aspects. And yet, the feelings and the bond of unity between a male and female is explored quite interesting at more than one places. The author requires an appreciation for that.
Some conversations are so natural that almost everyone will link to them and found them part of the core of every household. For example:
“Ahalya is the most beautiful girl in the world”, King Mudgal whispered as he bent forward to kiss his baby daughter on the forehead. She was magnificent, delicate and glowing with life.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
“All new fathers say that!” laughed Nalayani, amused by her husband’s reaction.
Some gems of wisdom are spread in the book so naturally that you cannot keep yourself from admiring them. For example:
Don’t make plans for your children; that’s a mistake parents often make to fulfil their own ambitions.
Not only mature ones, but even teenagers will appreciate this line :).
Some of the character defining lines are the positive side of the book. For example:
“You know you are very beautiful.”
“But where is my achievement in that?” Ahalya asked, with genuine puzzlement. “It’s not my talent; it’s God’s gift.”
“I am proud of my family, but that legacy, again, has been bestowed on me. It’s a privilege, not a consequence of my personal abilities.”
These lines show the character of Ahalya. How mature, intelligent, realistic and thoughtful person she is? See, while she respects the admiration of the beauty without being superficial or idealist, she also remains realistic. This is a gem of writing. No fake faminism or anti-feminism dialogs. And you will love the character for her strength. To add to that, you will find lines like:
Ahalya, he had noticed, liked to dare the impossible because the forbidden was a constant temptation: she had a deep desire to do something different prompted solely by curiosity. And yet, nearly all the time, she was the most obedient and passive child.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
“But the beauty is yours, isn’t it? So why does a man need to define it?” asked surprised Ahalya. “You are said to be a smart woman, Sachi. Do you need to a man to validate your intelligence?”
And yet, the feeling of women, in general, regarding how they are seen and treated in the society by the majority of their male counterparts, is explored as well:
Kindness is ignored and intelligence is dismissed. Most would not recognise or acknowledge the wisdom behind loveliness, the wit behind the appealing beauty of a woman.
The book tries to show both the sides of all discussions. For example, the following lines clearly iterates how a king should behave and what he should do.
“A king, too, can serve God by serving the people and his subjects,” Mudgal reminded her gently. “A king conquers not only land but also the hearts of the people.”
There is an essence of philosophy in the line, of course. The author doesn’t shy away from mentioning:
Politics seemed to lie in the hands of the powerful and was contaminated by the jaundiced eyes of the beholder.
I found some nice lines regarding education and teaching in the book through the conversations between characters, of course. Here are some of them:
Teaching is not just about imparting knowledge; it is also about enabling a student to understand their own potential for learning.
It is an education in values, not information, that makes a better man, a better world.
I like the way marriage is explained in the book. Again, it shows both the sides of it, in a few words.
“Because it is the most exquisite, meaningful relationship between a man and a woman: but only when it is a marriage of two hearts, two bodies, two minds, two souls and two friends. Then it is a happy companionship,” he said. “Otherwise, life can be horrid. An unhappy marriage can be stifling.”
I also like the inspirational lines from the book. I like the fact that while they are philosophical, they are rooted in reality.
Grief is like a mire bringing you down, sucking you into its darkness. It is cheer and hope that save you.
It is better to face what is in front of you, not just with dignity, but with some humour. It makes sad, less sad and glad, more glad!
Think of what you will do rather than what will happen. It is what you do that will make things happen.
There are some hard-hitting lines that you may not want to miss.
“The best man or best for me?” she asked cynically. “They may not be the same.”
Some lines elaborate on the factual norms of the society without being academic.
One’s attire reveals success and status; although it does not make success, it is a part of it.
Here are some lines from that book that require a special mention:
Being contrary does not necessarily mean being wrong or incorrect. It is another perspective which you need to comprehend as well.
If love is complicated, faith is oddly simple. You have to treat it with an honesty – which is often hard.
No one has to be perfect to be deserving of justice.
The story of Ahalya is beautifully summarized by the author as:
It is just one single moment of weakness, that momentary lapse of judgement – that is all it takes for us to make us lose our all in our struggle between good and bad, right and wrong, allowing the wrong to win.
If I had to choose my personal favorite segment of writing in the book, I will settle for the following, for sure:
“Education sees no gender, no bias,” continued Gautam. “If the Upanishads clearly declare that individual souls are neither male nor female, who are we to discriminate when educating men and women?”
It is simply fantastic, deep and logical. If we understand it and follow it, I don’t think “gender discrimination” stands a chance of existence in the society.
I am sure that the above mentioned quotes must have given you a fair idea of the quality of writing, exploration of characters and incidents are portrayed in the book. My main aim here was to keep the spoilers away as far as possible (of course, the story of Ahalya is known to those who know Indian mythology, especially through Ramayana, so there is nothing much in those aspects that can be considered as spoilers. Here, however, I am referring to “spoilers” in terms of the exploration of the tale in the form of “retelling and reimagining” by the author.)
The way it explores politics and how people are suffered from the action of some of the power-centers is something you shouldn’t miss.
If you want to read something meaningful yet entertaining. You should go for it. I enjoyed reading it and I recommend it.
Around 8 out of 10.
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