Fans of the Winds of Hastinapur, who should be legion, will delight in reconnecting with Sharath Komajju's alternative –Mahabharta universe, where divinities and royals are both complex, caprious beings –with the former distinguished only by slightly enchnced powers, and the latter by more immediate desires and ambition. Komarraju has set himself greater challenges in this sophomers outing of his series: the plot thickness, the players multiply and the geopolitical chess board on which this epic game unfolds is a thing of beautiful intricacy.
For the story of the Great War is also the story of the women...
Amba lives for revenge, but circumstances and men conspire against her Will her daughter bring her the only salvation she seeks?
Kunti stakes all to free her brother Vasudev and his wife Devaki. Yet it is the groom –choosing ceremony that will define her life.
Gandhari too has come of age, and is faced with a difficult choice: she must marry the blind prince of Hastinapur's dcceit.
In the background, Bhisma pulls the strings, making alliances and marriages, devising new strategies, ever increasing the might of Hastinapur.
Sharath Komarraju is a Bangalore –based author. He began life as a software engineer but has since jumped the fence to write full time. His first novel, Murder in Amarvati, was longlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2013. Perhaps his best known work is the Hastinapur series, which attempts to tell the story of the Mahabharta through the thoughts and lives of the eipc's lesser known female characters. When he 's not writing, he's either watching cricket or talking to his wife, or trying to watch cricket while talking to his wife.
The wise men who reside at the foot of these mountain say that desire is the root of all evil. For hours every day they stand on one leg in their soiled white loincloths, and they join their hands above their heads. They wish to conquer desire, they say; desire for food, for water, for the flesh of another. Only a man who has conquered his desires has conquered all, they say, with their kind smiles in their dulect tones.
And yet, these men who serve the gods tour North Country and became guests of honour at various kingdoms for three months every year, when the wind from the Ice Moutain becomes so chilly it turns the skin blue at a mere touch. It is during these tours that they perform acts for the betterment of the world: acts which have, over the years, prevented the disappearance of the race of kings from Earth. In return for these acts of kindness, the kings offer their silk beds and their nubile waiting –women so that the sages do not experience the discomforts of winner.
Up on Meru's slopes we defer to the will of the Goddess Bhagavati, She who is present in a drop of water, in a grain of sand, in a mite of dust. If She has decreed that living beings shall be ruled by desire, that desire must be the one thing that drives their lives relentlessly forward, we do not question it. All that the Goddess has given us, we accept, we covet, we reverse.
But now I am no longer on the Meru. I am no longer Ganga, Lady of the River. I am but a woman whose skin has pale yellow patches and parched green spots. I do not speak often now, but when I do, my voice is like the cackle of a crow. Every morning, I walk up to the great white boulder that now covers the Cave of Ice, and I whisper the incantation that would have once opened it. My son, Devavrata, would have laughed at this foolishnessm and he would have said that the world of Earth was nobler than the world on Meru; but perhaps this is the difference I speak of. I do not fight my desires. I give in to them.
They say that the Great war has brought about such destruction in North Country that it is has hastened the end of the epoch of Dwapara, and that the Crystal Lake has all but dried up. Indra's explorers, however, must have found lands and lakes further up north, for they seem to have forsaken all interst in the sixteen Great Kingdoms – or what remains of them. The salt route continues to exist, shrouded in magic. The dead lake is covered in mist that only a Celetial can clear. Devavratra's old Mystery has doubtless been enchanced, and I doubt that now even he could find his way to the lake.
What shall happen from now is not my hands. I know that the door to the world of Meru shall remain closed, at least until my death. What will happen thereafter is not to my concern. They teach us on Meru –through not many of us listen –that the future is but an illusion which no man can know. The past is unalterable, but at least it is real. The two worlds are different in this, too; here on Earth, men and women fixate upon their futures and in a doing so they forget to spend a little time, every now and then, reminisicing about the real, rigid –and often pleasent – memories of the past. They say in the new epoch ( the wise men call it the age of Kali ) earthmen will kill each other, that the gods will shun them, that they will descend from Meru at the end of it all to populates North Country with life of their own kind, But how quaint is the idea. North Country lays barren of life now. Brother has killed brother in the Great War. The cleansing has already happened. The Meru people have alreasy forsaken the earthmen. And yet the wise men look ahead – as I have said, on Earth, the eye is forever on the future, the one thing it cannot see.
But I, from sheer force of habit, must look unto the past.
I must go back to the time before Vichitraveerya's passing, back to the time when Devaratra, perhaps vain of his strength, won all three princess of Kasi for his brother. Ambika and Ambika fulfilled their destinies in their own strange ways and bore sons that carried forward the line of the Bhartas. But what of Amba, the first princess of Kasi who should have become queen? Her tale is a long and tortuous one, but in the end it is she who had a bigger say in the fortune – and fall –of Hastinapur.
Fortune, because she brought about the great marriage alliance of the age which merged Kuru and Panchala into one. Fall, because her child would grew up to be the warrior who killed Devavrata, the undefeatable champion of the throne of Hastinapur.
I used to hear it being said that no warrior in North Country could drive a chriot as swiftly as Devavrata. No one could fight with a sword as skillfully as he. No one could shoot arrows as rapidly as he. He read the scriptures and understood them; he debated with Brahmins and was hailed as their equal. In politics and battle strategy he was peerless. It warmed my heart to hear such things, but I was also wary. I was that Devavrata's destruction would come about from that one place men scarcely care to look : from that one place men scarcely care to look: from within. He would be destroyed –as all powerful men eventually are – by the consequences of their actions, by the ache they cause through their choices.
Amba's tale, then, is also the first chapter in the tale of Devavrata's ruin.
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