Book Review: Kings and Queens

Book: Kings and Queens

Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta

Illustrator: Tapas Guha

Publisher: Rupa Publication

kings and queensI have grown up reading many many ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ books on kings and queens of India. In fact, my fascination towards history and the ease with which the stories made lasting memory is all due to those very books. The ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ books are much costlier now and a collector’s item.

Having lived for major part of my growing up years in northern India, the Akbar-Birbal stories were much popular.

The school books had stories of Mughal rulers, Ashoka, different dynasties that ruled Delhi and of temples of southern India.

This book by Subhadra Sen Gupta has stories of other four important rulers of India who find only a little mention in history books. The author has highlighted stories about Empress Nur Jehan, Razia Sultan and two kings, Chandragupt Maurya and Krishnadev Raya. I had not known much about King Krishnadev Raya except some stories about Tenali Raman, the court jester of the King. But this book helped me brush up my knowledge about Hampi and the king’s greatness.

Concise and to the point, this book is a wonderful read and may attract children with colourful illustrations. It is a commendable effort to highlight the achievements of important rulers of Indian history. Presented in a story form with relevant details this book would make for a great gift to kids to kindle a love for not only reading but also an inclination towards history and a curiosity to know more.

And not only kids but grown-ups might enjoy revisiting history through this book and illustrations. I for one enjoyed reading because it took me back to my childhood and the days of Amar Chitra Katha books. I often even copied and drew the characters and scenes from those books and with this book may be I will revive my artistic skills too.

A well compiled book with list of sources of reference for those readers who might want to go for detailed study of these stories.

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Book Review: Menaka’s Choice

Book: Menaka’s Choice

Author: Kavita Kane

Publishers: Rupa Publications

MENAKA'S CHOICEAmong 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.

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