Thursday, 21 November 2013

Kim's Review : Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen


"Karna's Wife - The Outcast's Queen" is Kavita Kane's first novel. Kavita is a journalist by profession, but she has chosen an extremely gripping topic for her debut novel.

Karna is often considered the most unfortunate and tragic character in the Mahabharata. Trapped in circumstances, not of his making, brought up by a charioteer, but with a higher calling, forced by fate and a friendship to fight against his brothers on the side of evil, tricked by Indra, Krishna and his birth mother into giving up his rights and celestial gifts. Cursed by Parashurama, a brahmin in deer form that he killed by mistake, Bhudevi - Mother Earth herself and his birth. With all these disadvantages weighing against him, he still fought the 18 day war at Kurukshetra and died a tragic death, stripped even of his righteousness by Krishna. Yet not much is known about his life, his line of reasoning and his perspective throughout this scenario.

This is what Kavita Kane, strives to enlighten us about in this book. While the title and the lead character in "The Outcasts Queen" is Princess Uruvi of Pukeya who chose to marry Karna in a Swayamvara, the tale Kavita tells is as much about Karna as it is about Uruvi. As far as I know, the Mahabharata mentions Vrushali, but not Uruvi. Shivaji Savant's epic work on Karna - "Mrityunjaya" also talks of Vrushali, but not Uruvi. Later Tamil literature talks of a wife called Ponnauruvi and this perhaps is the inspiration for Kavita's heroine.

"The Outcasts Queen" starts when Princess Uruvi, the only daughter of the King of Pukeya sets eyes on a God-like Karna when he enters the archery tournament in Hastinapur, but who is quickly rebuked and insulted about his low caste birth, until Duryodhana comes to his rescue (for his own selfish reasons) and crowns him King of Anga.

She falls in love with him on sight and at her Swayamvara while she is tipped to marry Arjuna, she actually chooses Karna in a dramatic opposite to the scenario a few years earlier at Draupadi's swayamvara.

From pampered and doted Princess, Uruvi now has to live her life as the second wife to an Outcast King, who is not even accepted as a Kshatriya. Aside from the humiliation she faces from the world, she also has to deal with resentment from Karna's first wife, suspicion from his brother Shona and awe and distance from Karna's adopted parents who really do not know what to make of her.

The only thing that sustains her is her love for Karna (and his for her) and implicit trust in his goodness, that is completely shattered with Draupadi's disrobing.

The story continues along the well known thread of the sequence in the Mahabharath, but this time from Uruvi and Karna's perspective, until Karna's death and the Pandavas & Lord Krishna taking Uruvi and Karna's son Vrishaketu under their wing.

*Spoiler Alert*
There were a lot of revelations for me in this book and I'm not sure whether these are actually facts from the original Mahabharata or gleaned from later interpretations or completely a figment of imagination on the part of the author.
1. Karna was married to Vrushali (from the charioteer caste) and had 7 sons with her, one of whom was killed at the melee at Draupadi's swayamvara.
2. Gandhari was tricked into marrying Dhritarashtra by Bhishma Pitamaha and this was what caused Shakuni's resentment, which he nurtured as hate among Gandhari's sons.
3. Gandhari tried to kill Duryodhana in her womb, when she realised that Kunti would have a son before her, making him the next in line to the throne. (although Dhritarashtra was older than Pandu, his blindness gave Pandu precedence to the throne. To prevent this erupting into a conflict, Bhishma Pitamaha was trying to get the eldest Kuru grandson to be Dhritarashtra's son)
4. Bhishma's refusal to be Commander in Chief for the Kauravas if Karna stepped on the battleground is often held to be  because he held Karna in contempt. But Kavita attributes it to Bhishmas realisation that Karna is a son of Kunti and he wants to prevent the brothers from killing each other.
5. The concepts of niyoga and pratiloma among others.
6. The introduction of Bhanumati as a character. As the wife of Duryodhana, she also presents a sligtly deeper insight in Duryodhana's character.
7. The allusion that Draupadi was actually in love with Karna and could not choose him at her Swayamvara because of external and familial complications.
*Spoiler Alert Ends*

What I liked about this book is the perspective it presents is quite new. We rarely get to hear Karna's side of the story.
A lot of information was new to me, but as I mentioned before, I'm not sure of its authenticity in terms of whether these facts are true to the original Mahabharath, if they came from later adaptations or if they are a figment of the authors imagination.
I completely agree with the authors (through Uruvi) viewpoint that Kunti was a manipulative b*&^%, as all the facts in the Mahabharath point that way.

The only thing that did not work for me in this book, was that the writing sometimes felt a bit stilted and the relating of of events so they tied in neatly with the chapter heading, left the sequencing a bit jerky to me.

Is it worth a read ? Well with recommendations by mythologists Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi on the front cover, could I disagree? The only name missing is Devdutt Pattanaik! :)

Rating : 4 / 5

3 comments:

Rahul said...

I liked the book very much!

Its not so much a euology of Karna but the personality of Karna as seen from the eyes of his wife, mainly. Though there are shades of glorification of Karna - but thats how a person, his wife, who is deeply in love with him, sees him! The way she understands, was in deep love and conflict over her affection for Karna is very well portrayed by the author.

The empathy that the author generates for Karna from its various characters is subtle and very well brought out. I came to know many things that i did not know of too!

The author does succeed in effectly communicating that Mahabharata has a lot of shades of grey and humanises Karna and helps is understanding the epic holistically!

life beautiful said...

Hi

You will find some of the answers to the questions in the spoiler alert in the book yuganta- end of an epoch by irawati karwe.

its a critical essay on various characters from mahabharata. and while some of the questions you raised above are maybe fiction. some are true.

all the charachters in mahabharata are shades of grey.. no one is black or white.

it is an interesting read

Karishma Pais said...

Thanks,

I'll check it out.

Also waiting for "Sita's Sister" by the same author

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