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A confession – I’d totally forgotten that Ved Vyas is the original writer (inspite of being an ardent adorer of his work). It’s Kalidasa’s romanticized version that was ingrained into my mind since childhood.

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Yes, Shakuntala used to be my most-wanted bedtime story. Of course, it’s not the Vyas version that Mom narrated to me – and finally I know why. Vyas was a hardcore realist. No illusions, no lovey-dovey hackneyed sentiments. No blurred vision. Just cold, brutal realism. A huge hug of gratitude to Utkarsh Patel for re-introducing us to Ved Vyas’s Shakuntala. A woman, in so many ways, a worthy predecessor for Vyas’s Draupadi.

Kalidas’s Dushyant had the convenient excuse of Durvasa’s curse to forget Shakuntala after the secretive Gandharva marriage. Vyas’s Dushyant seduces, uses and discards Shakuntala.

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Twitter review A tale from abandonment to abandonment, culminating in liberation. An emphatic and empathetic female pov.

Shakuntala is the love child of Kshatriya-turned–sage Vishwamitra and the heavenly nymph Menaka. Rejected by an furious father & forced into abandonment by a reluctant Menaka, Shakuntala is adopted by sage Kanva. Shakuntala nurtures an independent mind, curious queries and clarity of thoughts as she questions men, power,dharma, laws and politics around her.

She gets an opportunity to practice what she preaches, when King Dushyant weds, beds and then dumps her. Shakuntala cuts through the riff-raff to reveal his ugly self to Dushyant. She ensures her son Bharat’s royal heirloom before she walks off into a lonely horizon with her pride, values & dignity intact.

Pros:

  • An opportunity to revel in Ved Vyas’s original genius and his consistent homage to fiercely independent women.
  • Kudos to Utkarsh for writing so tenderly & heartfelt from a woman’s pov, whether it’s about  Ahalya, Menaka, Shakuntala or Madhavi.

His reply: I think all of us have a woman in us and all women have a man within them. Its the theory of anima and animus which works. In my case, the understanding of the women’s psyche is probably more defined and I have never shied away from accepting this factor.

My Q: Did Dushyant have other marriages in the 6 years between his 1st and last meeting with Shakuntala? If so, what would be status of Bharat vis-a-vis other royal heirs and the heirarchy?

His reply: Majority of the versions are silent about Dushyant’s other wives. It could just be a guilt factor which did not allow him to remarry. I have brought his angle about his guilt, when the minister suggests that he get married but Dushyant demurs.

  • Utkarsh also neatly juxtaposes Dushyant’s hunter views ‘ He did not like to hunt if there was no chase.’ It fits in perfectly with Dushyant’s views on feminine conquests.

Cons:

  • First few pages have dialogues of 2 characters crowded into one paragraph. It’s wholly unexpected from a Rupa publication.
  • I found it self-defeating when Shakuntala extracts a pre-nuptial promise of legitimacy for her son. She however extracts none for a daughter, thus making a daughter as vulnerable to subsequent slurs as herself. Given her feminist tirade, it seems out of character. But that probably, is a query targeted at Vyas rather than at Utkarsh.
  • The title should have read ‘A woman to be proud of’ instead of ‘A woman wronged’. The latter gives Shakuntala a victim tag, which she vehemently refused to become.

Verdict: Timely & time tested, well researched (Utkarsh does hold a degree in Comparative Mythology from Mumbai university) and well presented woman’s perspective by a male author. Recommended for admirers of mythology, Ved Vyas and fiery women.

Genre: Mythology/ Fiction

Publication: Rupa

Author contact: www.utkarshspeak.blogspot.in

Price: Rs 295/-

Pages: 269

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