If you read the book carefully, the author Kavita Kane acknowledges the influence of C Rajagopalachari’s ‘Mahabharata‘ for her tryst with the subject she has written. As a matter of fact (plain and simple one), Rajaji’s version is probably the best way to start your journey of knowing the legendary epic in translation. To describe its (Rajaji’s abridged version that is) attraction, it is an easy read with some simple language and description of the events taking place. The effect is seen in Kane’s debut novel ‘Karna’s Wife: The Outcast Queen‘. The book takes an unusual angle of seeing the ultimate family struggle and a battle between the right and wrong. But of course, Mahabharata is also about the religious and philosophical views it shares with the followers.
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In this book, you see the epic and its battle from the point of view of the wife of the epic’s most tragic figures, Karna. Uruvi, his wife, stands at a unique point, that of being a Kshatriya princess related to the Pandavas (and therefore, an insider) and also being the wife of the outsider, the Sutaputra, who is hated for reasons which really serve injustice to him. Uruvi, thus, has to bear the stigma and fight a never-ending battle of standing by her choice of picking him over the other Kshatriya princes and kings at her swayamvar.
If you have read Mahabharata in some details, the initial response is of seeing characters in either black or white. The Pandavas are the epitome of what is all true and good while the Kauravas lead by Duryodhana bring out the worst of humanity. But take a further study or interest in the topic and you realise that grey is the colour which most missed out on. Everyone has a reason to behave the way they did. And that is exactly what you read in this book.
Kane has managed to present a whole different perspective to the saga and changed the way we understood not just characters but also their minds. Characters like Duryodhana are on the side of the evil, yet they refuse to let their guard down. His anger is just towards the Pandavas. What even endears even him to us is his undying love for his friend Karna. He will do anything for his friend and the feeling is reciprocated by Karna. There are many incidences where you understand Duryodhana’s point of view. Whether you agree or not is an entirely different question.
The two main characters of the novel, Karna and his wife Uruvi, get your respect with each passing moment. Throughout his life, Karna carries the weight of the faults of the others but bears it with such grace and magnanimity that he ensures himself the role of a hero. Despite the odds placed by his mother Kunti, he never despises her. He prefers to be called Radheya, after his foster mother Radha. His love for his foster family overrides everything. He stands by Duryodhana for his friendship and the faith provided by the Kaurava prince when everyone else derided him for being a Sutaputra (son of a sarathi, a person who tames horses). He is probably the greatest warrior to be born, greater than even Arjuna and yet, his birth is shrouded in mystery, overshadowing his achievements. You feel for him. On the other hand, you meet the stubborn princess of Pukeya, Uruvi, who falls for Karna the moment she sees him at the tournament. She fights all odds to marry the man she loves at her swayamvar. You respect her for standing by Karna, understanding him and not falling short to chastising him for his failures. Their love for each other is based on respect for each other.
It is creditable that the author has been able to clearly define each character in a different manner. They come out as more human than mere figments of imagination or mythology. It is the language which is probably a bit less formal than found in mythological books. And that is important in probably endearing the novel to readers of all age group. One part which might attract quite a few readers is that the novel does not stretch the episodes. One of the best parts is that it starts from the tournament where you get introduced to Karna and we realise he is Kunti’s son from Surya.
Despite being a novel based on a lot of research on the subject, it remains a novel written from the figment of the writer’s imagination. Treat it as that and you will chance upon a wonderful easy read for a relaxed day. Mahabharata was never read any better.