An exclusive excerpt from Bride of the Forest: The Untold Story of Yayati’s Daughter by Madhavi S. Mahadevan. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2020.
The forest was already a lush, tangled dream. In the runny light of dawn what appeared surreal to the girl’s eyes was the city of Pratisthan—the yellow of its brick walls, the disarray of its streets. The citizens were still abed. The network of narrow, paved alleyways was silent but for the sighs from the night just spent. However, the smells lingered and gossiped of the frenzied drinking and dancing, of clandestine desires and sated hungers, of enticement, seduction and indulgence. In the street of the courtesans, bruised garlands of marigold and jasmine drifted in sluggish drains. A tambourine lay in a pool of vomit. At the city’s intersections stood enormous clay lamps that had burned bright all night, but now held curls of blackened wicks, like stillborn worms. The only signs of life were the lean, brown stray dogs scavenging through animal innards and fishbones.
A glimpse from Anuja Chandramouli’s Mohini – The Enchantress (Published by Rupa Publications India, 2020)
Prelude: A Hint of Hope Borne on a Dream
The storytellers tended to go into raptures describing her sublime, flawless beauty, waxing eloquent about the perfection of her form and features, not to mention the heaviness of her bosom, supported as it was by an impossibly narrow waist. Captivating eyes with so much depth that most wanted nothing better than to plunge into those twin orbs, exploring the secrets within for the rest of time; lustrous tresses that cascaded in waves of silk, nearly caressing the earth over which she glided with effortless grace; luscious lips that mischievously promised endless delights and so on and so forth.
Though they were mostly males who could not or did not want to look beyond the sumptuous perfection of her physical attributes, none of it was an exaggeration. For she was bewitching and her beauty had a power of its own, which could simply not be discounted. And yet, when it came right down to it, her beauty was almost beside the point.
By Chirantana Mathkari
Gandhawati stood stunned looking at the dead salmon in her kitchen sink. With its neck twisted at the edge of the sink and its eye staring at her, it had quite an appalling effect on the vegetarian!
She looked away and took a deep breath — but she just got a strong fishy odour in her nostrils. She rubbed her nose, and convinced herself by saying: “It’s someone’s food, it’s someone’s food and you need to respect that.” She brisked to the kitchen door and opened it. She inhaled the air in the garden. It was snowing.
Wondering where her husband was, she went upstairs to his study. The room smelt of masala chai (Indian tea with spices). She stood at the door, her arms crossed. Shantanu was too lost in his thoughts to notice her.
“Morning,” she said.
As if woken from a dream, Shantanu was startled. He looked at her and blinked his eyes rapidly.
“Are you okay?” she asked a bit awkwardly.
“Yes, of course,” he replied, taking his tea cup near his face, hoping the vapours would hide his tears. He took a deep breath slowly. The spicy fragrance of the tea still reminded him of Ganga. He looked away from his wife. Read more
How Indian publishing discovered its “Game of Thrones” and created a literary phenomenon.
WHEN the world’s highest-earning novelist launches his new thriller in January, his co-author may not be familiar to Western fans. James Patterson, an American crime writer whose estimated annual revenues of $95m dwarf even those of Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, sometimes joins forces with local writers when he sends his investigators abroad. “Private Delhi” will be his second murder mystery with Ashwin Sanghi, a novelist from Mumbai who is far better known among Indian readers for his contribution to popular mythological fiction—one of the most remarkable, but overlooked, publishing stories of the past decade.
In the age of Patterson, Potter and “Game of Thrones”, Indian authors have brought their own special flavours to the table: mass-market fiction based on reinterpretations of the two great Hindu epic narratives, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Canny authors enlist ancient fables of gods and heroes, of rival clans, gigantic battles, perilous quests and fearsome ordeals as a way of unlocking the crowd-pleasing genres of mystery, fantasy and historical romance.
These stories have helped transform publishing in a nation of 1.3bn people with improving literacy rates and—in contrast to long-term trends in the West—a growing appetite for the printed as well as the electronic book. Adult literacy rose from 65% to 74% between 2001 and 2011; the projection for 2020 is 90%. The annual value of the book market has swollen to an estimated $3.9bn, with 90,000 new titles added each year. Chiki Sarkar (who is married to a correspondent in our Delhi office) used to run Penguin Random House in India and has now founded her own company, Juggernaut Books. She believes that the establishment of book chains that emphasise promotions has meant big books are becoming bigger, just as they have in the West. “Into this landscape you’ve now got an old genre that has found new vitality,” she adds.
The Ramayana and Mahabharata have long nourished Indian popular culture, whether through village storytelling, puppet-shows, television serials or Bollywood movies. Indian novelists writing in English used to be known abroad purely as a source of strenuous literary works; now they regularly produce gaudy blockbusters that marry these ancient tales with the latest trends in genre fiction.
He spotted her immediately. He could not tear his eyes away from her distant figure. Leaning against a roadside tree, she stood out in the thronging crowd on the streets of Mathura. Krishna stared at her for a long, thoughtful minute before he started to move towards her.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Balram, perplexed. He looked at his younger brother, a darker version of himself. ‘We will be late. King Kamsa is waiting to meet us at his palace.’
‘Just a moment…’ replied Krishna, his eyes still seeking the woman. She was still standing near the tree, watching the bustling crowd around her, as if enjoying the street scene. She ignored the young street urchins giggling at her. One attempted to throw a stone at her.
She looked distinctly surprised as she saw a young, dark, handsome boy approach her. He could not be more than seventeen, his face boyish, with a wide, warm smile but there was a quaint air of maturity about him. It was his eyes—smiling yet mocking in their solemnity. He looked eerily familiar but she could not place him. Not that she could have forgotten such a good-looking face, she reflected, feeling a strange emotion rise within her.
‘Do you live here?’ asked Krishna politely, smiling.
Penguin present Uttara: The Book Of Answers translated by Arshia Sattar. The book exquisitely captures the heady delights of the original text in all its sensuous, colourful detail—frenzied battles, simmering intrigue, lustful demons, and the final and tragic act in Rama and Sita’s love story.
Of the seven books that comprise the Valmiki Ramayana, the Uttara Kanda is the final and perhaps the most problematic: Rama banishes his beloved Sita to the forest; Rama kills Shambuka, a low-caste man practising austerities that are above his station; Rama is reunited with his sons during a sacrifice at which he loses his wife forever; Rama watches over the death of his devoted brother Lakshmana who knowingly submits to a curse that will take his life.
Uttara Kanda raises more questions than it answers, and Arshia’s accompanying essays skilfully explore the shattering consequences of Rama’s actions even as they unravel the complex moral universe of the Ramayana.
About the translator:
Arshia Sattar has a PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. Her translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana is now a bestselling Penguin Classic. Lost Loves: Exploring Rama’s Anguish is a series of essays that reads the Ramayana as a tragic love story. Penguin has also published The Mouse Merchant: Money in Ancient India as well as her translation of Somadeva’s Tales from the Kathāsaritsāgara. She works with myth, epic and the story literatures of the subcontinent.
Featuring some of the most interesting but lesser known stories of the Mahabharata, is Puffin Books’ new release titled ‘The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Stories from the Mahabharata’. The book is authored by award-winning writer Sudha Murty, her first in the mythology genre.
“I belong to the land of Hubli, a city in Karnataka. During my younger days, we didn’t have digital media or electronic gadgets the way we do now. So the best part of my day was the one I spent either in listening to stories from my elders or reading them,” Says Sudha, “These stories were often based on our epics and hence, did not always follow the logic of real life. So I perpetually had questions on the whys and hows about the stories’ sequence of events. However, no one could completely satisfy my curiosity or withstand my endless questioning. Little did I know that my curiosity would follow me into adulthood and culminate into this book for my young readers. My hope is that this book answers at least some of the same innocent questions that I also wondered about as a child.”
‘The Serpent’s Revenge’ is the first book in the series of four and will release on 25th October.
About the author:
Sudha Murty is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written novels, technical books, travelogues, collections of short stories and non-fiction pieces, and the hugely popular children’s books which have been bestsellers. Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages, and she has received many awards.
Another extraordinary battle recounted by India’s mythology man, writes Pradyot Lal in Tehelka
He is a veritable one-man industry. Ashok K Banker, generously considered one of the most seasoned and experienced hands at peddling mythology to readers, has published at a furious pace for the past two decades and more — often making you wonder whether he is for real. Just short of 50, a prolific writer on almost everything, he has already traversed the epic Ramayana route to now turn his attention to the heroism of a determined tribal chief pitted against a huge invading force comprising 10 kings from neighbouring countries. The battle lasts but one day and results in a brutal massacre of the invaders. Banker unlocks the secret behind the success of King Sudas in this impossible battle in the style of a historical novel, which should interest and absorb readers of all age groups. Read more
Mahabharata – the epic that played out in Kurukshetra is getting a million reinventions: The Outlook
Can you hear the dull throbbing of vimanas in the sky? Can you smell the burning embers of the morning fires? Can you feel the thud-thud of millions of boots on the ground? Assassins, demons, monsters come together on the battlefield with super-warriors to play out the final battle. There are atomic weapons, lasers, genetically engineered super-elephants. The archetypal underpinning is the story of heroes overcoming hardships and growing in the process. Read more