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AHALYA: A Feminist Retelling

Today I am sharing my thoughts on AHALYA, a feminist retelling of Ahalya, one of the Pancha Kanyas in Indian mythology.

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(This blog posts also contain a review copthat was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)

Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
Ahalya, by Koral Dasgupta
synopsis

It is known that Ahalya was cursed by her husband, Gautam, for indulging in a physical relationship with Indra. But is there another story to Ahalya’s truth? Who was Indra anyway? A king? A lover? A philanderer? The first book of the Sati series, Ahalya hinges on these core questions, narrating the course of her life, from innocence to infidelity.

In the Sati series, Koral Dasgupta explores the lives of the Pancha Kanyas from Indian mythology, all of whom had partners other than their husbands and yet are revered as the most enlightened women, whose purity of mind precedes over the purity of body. The five books of the Sati series reinvent these women and their men, in the modern context with a feminist consciousness.

my review

Ahalya was a fairly new take on a character who has unfortunately not been explored much – and to the extent that, her story is often relegated to the backseat. I admit I myself first was truly intrigued by her when Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni explored her characteristics and actions in THE FOREST OF ENCHANTMENTS, another feminist retelling of the Ramayana, from the female (Sita’s) gaze. Prior to that my knowledge of Ahalya was limited to what I knew of her thanks to all the stories I had listened to, growing up.

Initial thoughts

When I came to know about this book, thanks to PAN MACMILLAN INDIA, I was very excited to read it and delve deeper into her story. Unfortunately, this was an overhyped read, and although I enjoyed it, I am afraid it fell short of what I was expecting. I felt that this book was very philosophical in a way (overtly so) and it was the one thing that I was not extremely fond of.

Redeeming factors

However, I also cannot deny that it is due to this wordplay the author uses, that the utter beauty of the prose was rendered. There is a fantastic intertwining of the philosophies of life along with Ahalya’s own growth. This is the contradiction at the heart of it – while I did not particularly like the philosophizing much, I shudder to think what the narrative would have been like without this lyrical and poetic hand that the author has used.

Realism

The characters have also all been really humanized – no one is really good or bad. They are humans (although admittedly with some godly qualities) like us, and therefore not entirely black or white. There is so much of the gray area in their beings. I felt really touched by the insecurities and fears that hindered them in their pursuit of growth and knowledge. After all, isn’t that what happens with us too?

It is a wonderful undertaking by the author and I look forward to the other works in this series. I rate it 3.5/5 stars.

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