For most of my reading life, I’d escaped the lure of the ‘Indian’ English novel, apart from the childhood fascination with Ruskin Bond and his tales of vagrants. In recent years, I’d spent a few feverish hours poring over Ravinder Singh’s ‘Can love happen twice’, just to see how bad it could get, and this had pretty nearly killed my interest in the genre.
My interest in Indian writing (and also in Indian mythology) was reignited when I read Draupadi’s narration of the Mahabharata in ‘Palace of Illusions’, and more recently, ‘Karna’s wife’ by Kavita Kane.
‘Karna’s Wife’ is the story of Karna and his wife Uruvi, told from Uruvi’s vantage point. Uruvi is portrayed as a charming and headstrong child-woman, who watches from the gallery as Karna tries to compete in the infamous archery tournament, where he is humiliated by the Pandavas, and saved from disgrace by Duryodhana, thus cementing the most poignant friendship in the Mahabharata.
She falls in love with him and takes matters into her hands by getting him invited to her Swayamvara, in the face of all opposition, and marries him. The next few years see her mature from an idealistic girl to a pragmatic woman. She watches as her husband is driven by his unswerving friendship for Duryodhana to deeds that she finds heinous, and that could only lead to his downfall. Through her eyes, we witness the moral struggles of a man who was considered the most noble of them all by his contemporaries.
Mahabharata is a story that yields a different lesson every time you turn the pages. But the overarching lesson in this book to me, was acceptance. In today’s world, we’ve come very far down the road of self-expression and self-fulfillment. We’ve become consumers who demand only the very best experiences. In the characterization of Karna, this book suggests a different form of fulfillment – that of a man who was stilted and shamed by his ancestry, who was dogged by bad-luck and curses galore all his life, and yet unflinchingly and perhaps even joyfully performed his duties and stuck to his ethics. He accepted the poor deck of cards that fate had dealt him and made a meaningful life of it. A similar trait is displayed by Uruvi, who realizes very early on that she is powerless to change the course of Karna’s life, and has a happy marriage with him despite knowing that his days are numbered by his own actions.
Read this book for a fresh perspective of the Mahabharata, one that will make you question who the heroes were, and who the villains. Read it to be enamored and inspired by the staunchness and integrity of its central characters, and ponder awhile over the various shades of moral grey that was the Mahabharata.