The first book I read this year is Karna’s Wife by Kavita Kane. For all fans of mythology this is a must-read. Written from the point of view of Karna’s second wife, Uruvi, it is a fresh look to the epic, Mahabharata. Kavita Kane has crafted the dialogues so well that it is easy to picture the era from her words. That being said the same rather long-winded descriptions of the setting and the background story may often also seem like a jarring annoyance. The reader is constantly reminded of a foreign, almost voyeuristic presence in Karna and Uruvi’s love story.
Tales of star-crossed lovers always have a certain attraction. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge about the Mahabharata, knows that Karna is fated to die in the battle of the kurukshetra. The ominous foreboding builds up beautifully throughout the novel, making the intimate moments between him and Uruvi all the more poignant. Uruvi’s strong love for Karna and Karna’s staunch acceptance of his fate is moving to the point of tears. At the same time, the author has broken conventional and patriarchal mode of story-telling by giving her female protagonist a strong voice. Like Draupadi in The Palace of Illusions, Uruvi has an affirmative role in the book. She rebels against society by marrying a pariah below her caste, and yet at the same time her love for her husband doesn’t blind her to his faults. She condemns him on his despicable behavior towards the Pandavas and Draupadi. She goes against her in-laws wishes and despite being a warrior’s wife she becomes a healer, like she wanted to be. She condemns Kunti for abandoning Karna and criticizes Bhishma for allowing the war to happen. So beautifully has her character been developed that the 21st century woman will have no trouble in empathizing with Uruvi.
All the characters in the book is grey. Draupadi is sensual and pretty but she is also vicious and vulnerable. Kunti is the kind-hearted and nurturing mother of the Pandavas, but she is also the woman who ruthlessly abandoned her first child and never accepted him to salvage her reputation. Shakuni is the cunning manipulator who corrupts his nephews, but he is also the fiery avenger of his father’s death and his sister’s forced marriage. Krishna is hailed as an reincarnation of the God Vishnu but he is also one of the reasons Karna dies. Duryodhana is condemned for starting a war only to quench his thirst for revenge but he is also a loyal and loving friend. Arjuna is a noble warrior but he is also arrogant and jealous. Every character is coloured in different shades of grey, and is highly representative of a morally ambiguous era, where the lines between the righteous and the wicked are too blurred to be seen.
Amidst all these characters, Karna is the quintessential Greek tragic hero. His fatal flaw is his unflinching loyalty and gratitude to his friend Duryodhana and this is what ultimately results in his downfall. Otherwise he is shown in the book to be a character more sinned against than sinning, and his quest for identity and recognition is what drives the plot forward. The story is told from Uruvi’s perspective but it is undoubtedly the story of Karna – a man as noble as the five Pandavas, but who died because he chose the wrong side. His presence questions the very nobility of the Pandavas – the undisputed heroes of the epic – since they continually taunt him for his low birth. The book is a fantastic retelling of the Mahabharata, not only from a feminine point of view but the point of view of a pariah’s wife. It gives voice to all the vilified characters from the conventional narrative. By the time the last page is turned, the readers are as much in love with Karna as Uruvi is. It’s a book I will definitely read again
Recommended by a close friend and the debut novel of Kavita Kane this book ticked off three boxes 😀