Book: Menaka’s Choice
Author: Kavita Kane
Publishers: Rupa Publications
Among the two other books ‘Karna’s Wife’ and ‘Sita’s Sister’ by Kavita Kane, I have read only ‘Sita’s Sister’ a story of Ramayan from the viewpoint of Urmila, Lakshman’s wife and Sita’s Sister. Ramayan being the story of Ram and Sita, Urmila has only little role to play in the epic yet in author’s story Urmila becomes the protagonist and retells the story from her perspective.
With her stories mostly having mythological women as her subjects, Kavita Kane has done it again….taken one less significant character from the larger than life mythological stories and woven a delicate story bringing the character centre-stage.
From the many bedtime stories narrated by grandparents and many ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ books that I read as a kid, I gathered that Menaka was one of the most beautiful ‘Apsara’ a pawn in Indra’s scheme, sent from heaven to disturb Rishi Vishwamitra’s penance and prevent him from becoming more powerful than the devas in heaven.
But author Kavita Kane has given Menaka a personality. She becomes not just a beautiful sensuous nymphet meant as diversion or for physical gratification but also a woman with a ticking brain; she is aware of circumstances, she thinks and decides her own course of action. It is her story; of how she dares to take a path of love and loyalty, of how a game of deceit becomes her truth, of speaking her mind and standing up against wrong, of how her love is destroyed by the conniving Indra not once but twice, of her decision to sacrifice her happiness for the greater good of her children and her husband, of her desperation to reunite with estranged family, of her silently bearing the pain…
Since forever, men in Indian society have been given a status equal to God…infallible! Rishis like Vishwamitra leading an ascetic life have been revered and depicted as above all mortal insecurities. But the author has shown the human side of Vishwamitra. Known for his volatile quick temper and placing a curse on whoever dared to cause trouble in his prayers, Vishwamitra is absolutely besotted by charms of Menaka and gives in to his carnal desires like any other man and seeks pleasure in the arms of the woman. He finds much satisfaction and comfort in leading a householder till Menaka pushes him away so he could reach a higher goal.
As I read page after page the lucid description of Menaka’s charm and beauty attracted me and I wished I could see this lovely damsel in flesh before my eyes too. Kavita Kane has described the romantic and amorous episodes between the sage and celestial nymph with such artistic beauty that nowhere it seems either out-of-place or vulgar…it gives you goose pimples instead… it is almost delicious to read.
‘All is well that ends well’ and Menaka stands vindicated of her guilt of deviating the great sage from his path of attaining highest wisdom, her children have no ill feeling towards her, her sacrifice is recognised and held honourable by her husband, Vishwamitra and Indra learns a lesson of humility.
This book is as delightful to read as ‘Sita’s Sister’ with easy syrupy language. Read it for that relaxed feeling and easy joy.