Kunti, the focal point of an epic

Madhavi Mahadevan’s The Kaunteyas  retraces the story of the Pandavas through thir mothr Kuntidevi.

Published: 23rd June 2017 10:23 PM  |   Last Updated: 24th June 2017 08:20 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Madhavi Mahadevan’s The Kaunteyas  retraces the story of the Pandavas through thir mothr Kuntidevi. The author will be a part of a storytelling session and a discussion at the Ranga Madira Academy today.

CHENNAI: As a child Madhavi Mahadevan travelled frequently as her father was in the army and books were her constant companions on all these trips. It was thus no surprise that she took to writing, and has been a prolific short-story writer for over 30 years. She will be a part of a storytelling and discussion session on her debut novel, The Kaunteyas, a retelling of the Mahabharata from Kunti’s viewpoint, today at Ranga Mandira Academy.

What inspired you to write about Kunti?
I had no intention of writing a novel. But after writing short stories for decades, I was instinctively pulled to read Mahabharata...and I read both C Rajagopalachari and Kamala Subramaniam’s versions. I quite enjoyed reading Chitra Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions, a tale told from Draupadi’s point of view. When the Mahabharata is told form a woman’s perspective, it seems like a different story. I didn’t believe that only Draupadi is the only woman of significance in the epic. I felt there was more to Kunti...and started looking at her character in detail. She hardly speaks, but whenever she does, there is a turnaround in the story.

How long did it take to write the novel?
For eight months I immersed myself into the world of Mahabharata — watching 100+ episodes of the first television versions and movies. It took over 18 months of writing, including rough drafts. Once I got the ethos correct and understood the actions and motivations of characters, it started flowing easily. I’m a slow writer and cannot write more than 1,000 words a day (laughs). When I was writing this book, I cut myself off from everything and in my head I was living in Hasthinapur.

Do you believe you have got Kunti’s voice right?
There is very little that is said about her early life. Three images remained in my head and shaped my understanding of her: a young Kunti, floating her firstborn down the river with a prayer on her lips; the widowed former queen coming back to Hasthinapur with her five sons;  and finally after the war, the elderly woman leaving for the forest in the company of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra. These images conveyed to me her quiet but persistent struggle against the patriarchal order of the time.

The title of the book is interesting….
Yes, Pandu really had no role in the life of his five sons. Kunti, their mother, kept them together...which is why they were able to fight. That’s why they are the Kaunteyas. In those days, the mother’s name was also used to identify sons.

Any controversies?
While writing, I was aware that the epic is a sacred text to most people, hence took care not to deviate too much from its spirit. Everyone has an opinion on the Mahabharata. By and large, the portrayal of Kunti and the fact that I remained within the
parameters of the original text has been appreciated.
Upcoming works?
I don’t think I am finished with the Mahabharata yet (laughs). I am also working on contributions to anthologies.

Your thoughts on retelling of epics?
We read for entertainment more than anything else today. Epics have become just entertainment today. When anything is written about epics, it is pure masala.
That is unfortunate because, in olden storytelling, it was not just about entertainment. There was a wisdom in it that couldn’t be put in a one-line capsule, which is missing in the new versions of these
epics — graphic novels or televised series. I hope that people will read the
original versions.

How important is storytelling, for an author to master?
Writing came to us very late. History has been passed to us through storytelling and that is part of our tradition more than writing. Writing in regional languages has an older history, but English is still considered a foreign language. Oral storytelling is most important —  it is through this that cultural values are passed — there is a certain wisdom in oral storytelling that is missed when it is written. When you’re writing, you’re only searching for the right words.

Meet the author today, at 6pm, at Ranga Mandira Academy.
For details call 9952910972

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