The Satyavati in all of us

Vinaya Patil
Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Author Kavita Kane tells us about her latest book The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty and how Satyavati has been ignored in our texts for centuries

Author Kavita Kane tells us about her latest book The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty and how Satyavati has been ignored in our texts for centuries

Matsyagandha, Daseyi, Yojanagandha — the queen of Hastinapur, Satyavati. Abandoned as a baby, preyed on by a rishi, she hardens herself, determined that the next time she is with a man, she will be the one to win. And win she does: the throne of Hastinapur for herself, and the promise that her sons will be heirs to the kingdom. But at what cost?
An insightful look at the grand matriarch of the Kuru family, the woman who set off the sequence of events that ended in the bloody battle of Kurukshetra, The FisherQueen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane is Mahabharata through Satyavati’s eyes. Kane has previously written four books on Indian mythology: Karna’s Wife (2013), Sita’s Sister (2014), Menaka’s Choice (2015) and Lanka’s Princess (2016). Here are excerpts from a brief interaction with her:

Tell us briefly about The FisherQueen’s Dynasty?
The book is about Satyavati, the grand matriarch of the Kurus of Hastinapur in the Mahabharata. She is a fascinating figure, right from her birth, her rise from a fisher girl to queen, her sway over the family and kingdom and her eventual death. But we rarely see her as such a dominant persona — she remains a minor character though she happens to pan a passage from Shantanu till Pandu’s death. Her parallel and contrast, her raison d’être is one person: Bhishma and the book revolves entirely around these two characters who were responsible for all that was to come — the hate, jealousy, fury, revenge, and finally the internecine war that ruined all, everybody and everything...

What got you to write this? The trigger?
The character of Satyavati — I loved to hate her and later hated to love her! You either adore or abhor her, she does evoke extreme reactions. You cannot be indifferent to her as she does not allow you to treat her so. And she is probably the most powerful woman in the Mahabharata; as also the most political person, ushering in the game of power and politics and intrigue and cunning which is to dominate the Mahabharata and the lives of the Pandavas and the Kauravas later.

How long did you take to write this one and what was your research like?
The research takes the longest. Joining the dots of the various threads and embellishing folk stories to chronicle them into a coherent, individual story is the challenge, especially when characters like Satyavati are essentially minor and overlooked characters with not much material on them. I had to draw a lot from the character of Bhishma and the events surrounding him, to flesh out my Satyavati. All this took a full nine months.

Why mythology? All your books are mythology-based.
Why not mythology? It is like listening to old stories and finding that nothing has changed. But mythology goes beyond old tales, it tells us not the story of gods but of man and his war with himself and the world, his mistakes which we are to learn from. You often find a plausible modern parallel to stories from the epics. I am already getting feedback that this Satyavati is so much like Indira Gandhi. But seriously, I would rather use the huge canvas that mythology provides, to portray contemporary thoughts and ideas rather than contemporarise the epics. That age-old charm and grandeur adds to the magnificence of mythology.

What makes you write mythology from the woman’s point of view? How different is it, in your eyes, from the traditional mythology that we all grew up reading? How difficult was it for you to look at the stories with a different lens?
The fact that our mythology is alive and living down thousands of years is essentially because of the versions and perspectives allowed down the ages. We see it in terms of say a Karna, Ram, Krishna, Ravan, Arjun, but the moment the spotlight falls on the female player, the plot remains the same though the perspective changes, thereby changing the narrative. The beginning of the Mahabharata is almost entirely about Bhishma and his travails but the moment it’s seen through Satyvati’s eyes, the experience is somewhat different. She is the woman who changed him from the crown Prince Devavrat to the formidable Bhishma.

How much of the woman in you is reflected in your stories?
I like what one reader said about Satyavati when she read The FisherQueen’s Dynasty: that ‘there is a Satyavati in all of us — we are born, we resent, we lust, we conquer, we are greedy, we lose, we aspire to win, we are contrite, and eventually we give up and perish’. Guess that should answer your question! It wonderfully sums the book up and the manner and method of characterisation. It’s not about me or any autobiographical element, it’s a common human journey of emotions and experience.

What next?
Another intriguing woman, another book. Am working on it….should be out by this December.

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