Book Review: Shakuntala, The Woman Wronged

Book: Shakuntala

Genre: Fiction/Mythology

Publisher: Rupa Publication

Author: Utkarsh Patel

Shakuntala_CoverI have been reading a lot of fiction based on mythological stories  these  days. A few days ago I finished reading about love of the most beautiful celestial nymph Menaka and sage Vishwamitra. Their love came to fruition with the birth of a beautiful daughter Shakuntala. And the love story of this fiery daughter with Dushyant, King of Hastinapur  is what that has kept me busy these last few days.

The author, Utkarsh Patel, has astutely observed the different moral yardsticks of our society which still remain unaltered:

“A man was seldom blamed for his sins and if at all he was, it was passed off as an oversight. But a woman was blamed, shamed and made to suffer for the misdemeanours of men around her for no fault of hers”

Because of such double standards, almost all stories revolving around Dushyant have depicted the king as an upright man of high morals who becomes a victim of some strange curse and forgets about his love and marriage. He was hardly ever shown as one pleasure-seeking wily king…

But here in this story, author has dared to call a spade a spade….King Dushyant engaged in a one night stand with the a virgin woman on false promises of marriage and that makes him one of those vain men who consider women an object to play with and discard at convenience. His morals and intentions are questionable and the story does not sugar-coat the character of the mighty, used-to-getting-his-way king.

The demure Shakuntala of Kalidas, the great poet of all times, who pines for her beloved and is dependent on fate for reminding the King of Hastinapur of his marriage and promises to her, is nowhere to be seen in this story. This Shakuntala, based on the original characterization by Sage Vyasa, does not wallow in pain of abandonment but takes matter in her hands and questions the society and its different rules for men and women. She is fierce, fights for the rights of her son and asserts her importance as a wife. She is independent woman who does not need the crutches of wealth and a label of queen to survive in the world.

I loved the book through and through not only because it is very well-knit and to the point but also because author has subtly raised certain issues that still need to be addressed and debated over; the difference of reactions meted out to men and women for craving physical gratifications, the unnecessary emphasis given to virginity of women, freedom of women to choose their partners…

I am quite impressed by Vyasa’s and Utkarsh Patel’s Shakuntala for being brave enough to stand up against an hypocritical society and silence it with her uninhibited logical reasoning. Such strong women who believe in equality of men and women are need of this nation and more so today because men have taken enough advantage of the love which a woman has to offer.

We need more such men too who respect and honour women; who believe that future of such a nation, that does not respect its women, where women shed tears and are treated like objects, is doomed.

The chapter ‘Time’ however seemed little out-of-place because it reminded me of the opening scene from the mega serial “Mahabharat” with voice booming out of the idiot box “Mai Samay hoon….” Story could have been taken forward by prose within the chapters instead of ‘Mr Time’ speaking up suddenly and then keeping quiet during rest of the story!

But this hardly anything to hold against because the book has a wonderful prose that is apt to be read even in modern context.

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