When the world was being created, the devas and asuras went to Sage Prajapati to understand the meaning of Atman, or the self. The first answer that he gave was a simple one. The asuras accepted it and left with the confidence that they now had the power to use this knowledge as a weapon. But the Devas, led by Lord Indra were not satisfied with the answer. They kept cross-questioning the sage trying to grasp the complete significance and debating the ideas. This small anecdote from the Puranas defines the essence of an asura – impatient, hungry for power and impulsive. One can also conclude from here that there is an asura and a deva within each of us. It is our choices that define which part of our nature we allow to rule our minds. And that is the essence of Kavita Kane’s next – Lanka’s Princess.
Surpanakha – the one with the sharp, claw-like nails was born Meenakshi – the one with the fish-shaped eyes. The book is about her birth and her mother’s immediate rejection of her as an ugly and useless being; her life as a kid at her father, Rishi Vishravas’, ashram, growing up neglected and overshadowed by her brothers; her life as Lanka’s Princess, again neglected and side-lined; her life as a mother and wife, finally finding love. We see the events that finally bring out the simmering angst and bitterness – small incidents and experiences that keep fuelling an inner desire for revenge, even at the cost of those few that she loves. We see her set into motion the events that finally lead to Lanka’s war and the downfall of her entire race.
The book is well researched. The narration flows easily. Every character is well developed and given the space they deserve. The best stories are those where the reader is impacted by the psyche of the characters. In that Lanka’s Princess scores a ten-on-ten. An hour of reading the book left me agitated and angry, with no other external trigger ! Its inherent dark nature means you need to be mentally very strong to read it at one go. You alternate between sympathising with Meenakshi and disgusted with her inherent asura nature, which brings out the worst in those around her.
Like her previous book (Menaka’s Choice), the book could have done with better editing. The end is the only place where the author briefly disappoints; it is hurried and the events end too soon before one can grasp their meaning.
Yes, Lanka’s Princess is the story of Surpanakha. Like all of Kane’s other works, it offers a look at an epic from the perspective of a female protagonist who is side-lined in the main epic. But unlike the other books, Lanka’s Princess delves much deeper into the myriad facets of human nature; into the complex mysteries that define people as asuras, devas, danavas, rakshasas, etc. It makes us re-look at the studies that our ancestors, millennia ago, devoted themselves to to decipher the meaning of life, knowledge and learning.
As one reads the book, one cannot help but ponder whether we ever recognise the asuras and danavas that exist in our midst in the form of murderers, rapists, thieves, etc. Or our inner demons that cry ‘tit-for-tat’ when faced with discord. These classifications are never by birth. And then we wonder if our present day pundits who preach the virtues of value by birth ever understood the wisdom in our mythology. Because it definitely goes much deeper that birth.
What Lanka’s Princess will leave you with is a cartload of food for thought.
This review was first written for Women’s Web.
Reviewer’s Rating: 4/5
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