There has been a plethora of feminist retelling of Indian mythologies in recent times. Several authors are taking up cudgels for characters who had an important role to play in the stories but were not given a strong enough voice.
The epic Mahabharata is an example of extreme masculinity or testosterone overload in which the women while being key to the proceedings still play a peripheral role.
Several Indian writers have tried to retell this ancient story from Draupadi’s point of view. But what about the rest? Do you know about Gandhari’s thoughts while the Kauravas and Pandavas were fighting?
A new novel by Aditi Banerjee tries to reimagine the Mahabharata by looking at it through Gandhari’s eyes. The book is set at a time when Gandhari, Dhritarashtra and Kunti are in vanprastha and have, but, one day to live.
As Gandhari awaits death, there are flashbacks that take the reader through the events that transpired in the lead up to the Kurukshetra war. The author ensures that Gandhari doesn’t remain just a self-sacrificing wife or bad mother remembered for her visually and emotionally impaired husband or the hundred disorderly sons.
Aditi presents a composite and sensitive story that portrays a queen who has been misunderstood through time. Gandhari along with the other female characters here are presented as individuals who have their own motivations to act in a certain way and aren’t just extensions of the men.
There are several female characters who are given prominence here, from Satyavati to Draupadi to Kunto to Madri to Ayla. The last is Gandhari’s maid, who has a complex back story also.
At its core, the story is about Gandhari’s relation with Lord Krishna and how it ended with her cursing the ‘God’ and his Yadava clan.
The best aspect about the novel is that it humanises Gandhari, but withnot hiding her flaws. The author doesn’t pander to the mother of the Kauravas.
She is shown to fail as a mother, her self-induced miscarriage and silence during Draupadi’s disrobing present her as a person who makes bad decisions, a prisoner of circumstances, maybe, but not a bad person.
Aditi, thus, succeeds in her mission to make Dhritarashtra’s wife have “a lot more nuance and depth” and be more than just an extension of her blindfold.