“Do not judge a book by its cover.”
But when it comes to books, we mostly do. It’s the cover and blurb that catch the eye first, and make us select the book. That the cover design isn’t appealing would be the first thing I would say when it comes to the book, The Winds of Hastinapur by Sharath Komarraju. Given that I found the cover design of his first book to be really well thought of, this one fell a lot. It didn’t have the magic that I expected from the genre.
A thing that I feel would be good to keep in mind before starting the novel is that this isn’t a retelling of the Mahabharata. It’s a part of it rewritten; and rewritten from the point of view of two of the women in the great epic.
The first part of the book titled River Maiden is the story of Ganga, who is the mother of Bhishma Devavrata. It narrates the story as it happens, from Arundhati cursing the Elementals, the birth of Devavrata, and his growth. It covers the story till Devavrata leaves Meru and heads for Earth. The second part titled Fisher-Girl is the story of Satyavati, the fisherwoman who goes from daughter of the King of Fishermen to the wife of Shantanu, king of Hastinapur kingdom. It narrates the story of her rise, ambition and decisiveness, as well as the events that follow from it including Devavrata’s vow. Suffice to say that both parts turn the ideas we have of the mythological elements upside down, as expected with a rewrite, even going so far as to introduce aspects that we might find difficult to accept given how we have understood Mahabharata previously.
The essential component of any mythology or fantasy is magic. It has to be in the narration and it has to be in the story. With a retelling of the great epic, the latter part is quite obviously going to be present. It is a delight to see that Sharath brings some magic into his narration too, with some parts in first person and the rest in a neutral third person point of view. Some things stand out that may put a slight dampener on that, like some of the characters sounding the same in the way the dialogues are delivered, but overall, it is the narration that quite pushes the book ahead. The best aspect of the first part is the narration itself. With the story and the voice of Ganga, the narration gives voice to a previously unheard character, and brings forth the emotions like the pangs of a mother who has to give up her child. The best aspect of the second part I feel is the way Sharath introduces the fisher-girl Kali (who is only later christened Satyavati). It showed kindness in the character, and patience as well before continuing to explore other parts to the character. Expect some unexpected twists, more so in the first part than in the second. It’s not impossible for a man to write from a woman’s point of view, but it is slightly difficult I feel, and Sharath does a good enough job with that. The chapters where it is in first person are titled accordingly, but I’d have loved to see it in complete first person perspective though.
The novel opens with the sentence, “Through the ages, this story will be retold by many”. I’ve read both retellings and rewrites. I can frankly say that this book will be one that lingers. I do not know if this is the first of a series, because after his first two novels, this third one was a shift in genre; giving him the option to return to crime fiction or stay with mythology. But if it is part of a series, I believe the bar has been set quite high for him with this first part.
Why should you read it?
Mythology delivered from a different perspective, delivered in a magical and flamboyant narration.
What you may not like…
The cover design doesn’t work for me; it doesn’t have the magic the book has. And sometimes the dialogue style makes the characters sound similar.
About the Author:
Sharath Komarraju is an Indian author. This is his first venture into mythological fiction after writing two crime fictions, Murder in Amaravati (Amaryllis, 2012) and Banquet on the Dead (Westland, 2012).
Title: The Winds of Hastinapur
Author: Sharath Komarraju
Publisher: Harper Collins India
Price: INR. 300
(1st May 2014)