As someone who never really had an inclination towards mythology, Sharath Komarraju’s Hastinapur series came as a pleasant surprise in my reading journey. It is Mahabharata told from the point of view of some of the leading ladies of the tale. Which is interesting, because women are most of the times relegated to the sidelines when it comes to these large-scale epics. It’s always about the might and magic, who wins and who loses. But there are other people too, the ones who watch everything silently, the ones who become victims of the whims of men, either harboring vengeance or looking for redemption. These are the women of the Mahabharata and Sharath brings their stories to the forefront like never before.
This book covers three women – Amba, Pritha (Kunti), and Gandhari. Each of their stories are unique in their own way. But what I loved immensely about the book is the humane aspect of it. I don’t know if Mahabharata was ever told at such a deeply personal level. The characters feel alive and real, their state of mind authentic to the time period the story is set in. You empathize with their plight, even when you’re not really sure how their predicament could be solved. The solution, when arrives in the story, is equally surprising and Sharath does pull off a couple of neat twists right under your feet. Now I’m not a master at Mahabharata or anything, but I know that he tweaked the original story a bit (but of course, who are we kidding, this epic must have seen a million tweaks by now) which actually makes the proceedings more intriguing because you’re never really sure what to expect. And the final chapter does tie up all the narratives, nicely setting up the sequel. You can see all of the pieces falling into place for the big events of the Mahabharata to begin.
Sharath also impresses with his prose again, the language and dialogues have that old-world charm to them. Compare that to the modern-ish banter of the Shiva Trilogy and you’ll know what I mean. The author also relies on sensory detail to make a point. A lingering sound or smell is effectively used a couple of times, which I thought was pretty neat. The dialogs were clever and sharp, and the narrative breaks into first-person from time-to-time taking us closer to the characters.
So should you read this book? I would definitely say yes. If you love Indian mythology, this fresh perspective will only add more firewood to the flame. Even otherwise, I feel that this is a great place to start one’s journey in mythology. Just so you know, this is the second book of the series and I highly recommend the first one ‘Winds of Hastinapur’ as well.
Note: I’m an early reviewer for this book which goes up for sale in December, but you can pre-order it right now on Amazon.