“Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen” by Kavita Kane

Karna's Wife

If you haven’t read the Mahabharata, there’s no point in reading this one. Kavita Kane tells the story of the Mahabharata from a unique vantage point, that of Princess Uruvi, the only child of the King of Pokeya, who falls in love with Karna, the eldest Pandava, and marries him in the face of stiff opposition. With Karna’s birth being kept a secret by his mother, Kunti, the glorious son of the sun god, born with the golden kavach (armour) and kundals (ear-pieces) is condemned to be called a ‘sutaputra’ as he was raised by a humble charioteer.

The book has elements of a Mills & Boon romance with long conversations, imaginary sequences, and not-so-subtle appeals to the readers’ sentiments. Those who are sentimentally inclined will find the tears flowing. If you know your epics well, there is nothing that shocks, no new revelations, just another perspective. The book does not elevate Karna to another level, it merely evokes sympathy for his losses. The language is exquisite but delightfully Indian.

Many of the famous taunts that add spice to the Mahabharata have been repeated in this book. Draupadi insults Karna, Karna insults Draupadi, Karna insults Dronacharya and so on. However, the book has many original insights that are the unique inputs of the author herself. Here’s an example: ‘I almost feel sorry for Duryodhana,’ rued Uruvi as she sat with her husband in a rare moment of peace. ‘No one seems to be unconditionally on his side; he seems to be surrounded by half-hearted, disinclined warriors. Guru Dronacharya has already said he will only capture, not kill the Pandavas, while King Salya is the maternal uncle of Nakul and Sahadeva and an ardent Pandava supporter who has reluctantly joined the Kaurava side. Bhishma Pitamaha declares that he shall not kill the Pandavas!’

You have Kunti speaking about the practice of ‘niyoga’ wherein a woman conceives a child from another man with her husband’s consent. You are reminded that Satyavati (the Queen Mother) persuaded her illegitimate son Vyasa to perform niyoga on her daughters in law Ambika and Ambalika in order to produce Dhritrashtra, Pandu and Vidura for the continuance of the Kuru dynasty when her son Vichitravirya died without leaving an heir.

The book highlights many of the injustices perpetrated against women in the interest of the ruling classes of the day. In an imaginary conversation between Uruvi and Bhishma, the former says, ‘….you kidnapped the three Kashi princesses, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika, for your brother King Vichitravirya. They were forced to marry him. Were you not responsible for the suicide of Amba, who eventually killed herself because they man she was in love with refused to marry her, fearing the wrath of the great Bhishma? Kings were so petrified of you that you easily bought over their princesses and forced them to marry Kuru princes. You did it with Madri for King Pandu and with Gandhari for King Dhritrashtra.’

Karan’s first wife Vrushali, the mother of his many sons, comes across as a drab and stoic character. One can’t help feeling sorry for the devoted consort who loses her husband’s affections to the charming princess who abruptly comes in the way.

The chapters could have been given more interesting titles. ‘Indraprastha’, ‘Draupadi’, ‘Krishna and Karna, ‘Bhishma and Karna’, ‘Kunti and Uruvi’, ‘Uruvi and Bhanumati’ are hardly inspiring. On the whole the book has the characteristics of a Hindi television serial – it is slow moving, with several dramatic scenes, unnecessary repetitive dialogues, tear-jerkers, and strong emotional content. The shocks are minimal because we already know the story.

Overall Assessment: Not very enlightening.

Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen
AUTHOR: Kavita Kane
PUBLISHER: Rupa Publications
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2013

Contributor: Pushpa Kurup lives in Trivandrum, India and works in the IT sector.

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