By Nilesh Mondal
It is no easy task to write an epic, but a job more difficult than that would be to attempt retelling one of the most complicated and incredible epics to ever have been written. Kavita Kane does exactly that, although to her credit, she already is an established name in terms of retelling Indian mythology. One can only assume it was this confidence that made her choose to venture into the retelling of the Ramayana, the exploits of the Prince of Ayodhya and his nemesis, the king of Lanka. A retelling of such an enormous, extensive and breath-taking epic can be a hit-or-miss situation, where on one end lies the risk of falling prey to clichés or getting lost in the convoluted plot of the original epic, and on the other, the befitting reward of satisfaction.
Kavita Kane tackles this opportunity head on, and fortunately ends up with something of high finesse and value.
Lanka’s Princess takes us through the life and times of Princess Meenakshi, the only daughter of Rishi Vishravas and sister to Ravan, Kumbhakaran and Vibhishan. Meenakshi, born in a family no stranger to war and dark secrets, is regularly neglected by her mother and brothers, and reprimanded by her father. Her chances at a happy life are cut short repeatedly, driving her into a corner where hatred and spite engulfs her soul. The way these circumstances mould her character and prepare her for her role in the battle between Ram and Ravan, are fascinating and suspenseful to watch unfold. The slow transformation of kind and compassionate Princess Meenakshi into the ruthless and vengeful Surpanakha is heart-breaking to follow, and imparts a well-founded depth to her character, which makes it inevitable for us to sympathise with this deeply troubled villainous protagonist.
Despite being a retelling, or rather reimagining of the mythological epic, this story handles other contemporary sensitive issues with profound understanding and space as well. This is a revelation for the readers, as we are made to realise that issues of feminism and prevalent gender discrimination, insecurity based on looks and skin colour, honour killing, taboo on sexuality, sexual violence, and many others were alive and well even in the times of Shree Ram. The writer however, tackles these issues subtly and with much tact, weaving them into the narrative and not making the whole story about one particular issue alone, or appearing outright judgemental at any point of the narration.
The other characters in this book are just as fascinating; Ravan as the arrogant, invincible warrior with his profound weakness for beautiful women, Kaikesi as Meenakshi’s mother, excellent in schemes and emotionally wounded. Kumbhakaran steals the show in some scenes as the obese, sleeping giant who has a heart of gold and a sharp intellect to go with it. Mandodari, Ravan’s wife is also an example of a strong female persona, and exudes confidence in her occasional presence throughout the book.
This book does suffer from its share of flaws, of course. The inconsistent pace of narration throughout the story might seem a bit disconcerting at times. For example, although the childhood of Meenakshi is vividly detailed, her presence during the Great War between Ravan and Ram is mostly skipped, focusing only on some pivotal conversations and a brief mention of the war and its repercussions. Some descriptions of characters are repetitive, and at times the conversations between characters seem to be taking place in modern times, not the time period talked of in the Ramayan.
However these can be easily overlooked, especially when we consider the amount of research and dedication that has been put into the book. The tale of Meenakshi breaks our hearts, and yet, tells us volumes about the strength of a woman who has survived love, loss and rejection, only to rise up and fight again.
That, and the incredible prologue and epilogue sequences, make this book an important read, and gives the legacy of Meenakshi (whether we remember her as a princess, lover, warrior or monster), a much deserved voice.
The reviewer is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Power Engineering. When he’s not overwhelmed by the intricacies of engineering, he lets himself sink in a quagmire of unfinished stories and unwritten poetry.