So the first thing you do when you pick up a book is turn it over and read the description in the back. If the plot line grips you, you give the book a shot. In all honesty, the one provided at the back of The Winds of Hastinapur may seem more like a narrative than an attention-grabber, and in a shop, I might have put the book right back down on the New Releases table. But here’s the thing: the book IS just that. And that’s okay. The essence of this novel lies in the re-creating of a well-known story (read: the Mahabharata) from the potential thoughts of (gasp) the women in it (read: Ganga and Satyavati). And that, in itself, is a hell of an idea.
The story begins at the end, at the feet of a dying Ganga and with the deaths of the Pandavas atop Mount Meru. Between the theft of a cow and the unwelcome bearing of a curse, the first half of the book (Book One) is dominated by the demystification of the not-so-pure inhabitants upon this magical mountain called the Celestials. When the daughter of the Lady of the River is to bear the human births of the Elementals in the form of children that she must kill (all but one), the lives of a whole range of unsuspecting victims are set into motion. We see the eagerness of an adolescent girl to grow into a woman, and we see her exposure to the real world turn her into one in the most unfortunate of ways. Ganga is real: she disobeys; she protects; she rebels. She sacrifices and she kills. And equally real (and often purely cruel) are those that have been the cause of her consequences.
As Bhishma starts to take center-stage, we move focus to Satyavati (Book Two), the woman who perpetrates the second half of the curse – the suffering of Prabhasa, the Elemental who is to experience immortality in the world of mortals without the pleasures and pains of female companionship. A fisher-girl married into royalty at the cost of a potential king’s true realization, Satyavati constantly suffers from complexes that allow no husband, son or daughter-in-law to ever truly achieve happiness, and her somewhat self-imposed misery provides contrast to the victimization of Ganga, which certainly garners more sympathy from the reader.
At crux of appreciating this book is the author’s ability to characterize, flanked with doses of peripheral ornate descriptions. What I wasn’t a fan of were the periodic stretches of internal thought processes coupled with peripheral ornate descriptions. There are slow moments in the novel that allow for putting the book down for a while and getting back to it later when you’re ready for a little more of controlling fates, seeking truths and heeding commands. The other thing is that the novel ends without providing enough motives to want to read on. The book would work fine as part of a trilogy, but it doesn’t end with much hint at a trilogy, and it doesn’t stand alone too well either.
Nevertheless, it has been refreshing to read what truly was more of a re-creating rather than a re-telling of an epic so cherished by me, especially from the perspectives of female characters that we’ve never heard from before. The idea of the book is excellent, and I look forward to potential sequels.