Panchali

[Inspired by the elemental image of Draupadi/Panchali, the undisputed heroine of the epic Mahabharata, depicted in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s masterpiece of a novel, ‘Palace of Illusions’.]

Draupadi

Panchali, I am, to you, my Partha, my love,
Painfully displaced in recycled domestic patterns
Circulated freely amid all your brothers and you.
The saint who determined my cycle between one coy bride
To the next had created enough music in my bones
To satiate all you Pandavas as equal husbands,
Though he never knew how trapped
My luminous smile had been,
My dark-skinned charm, colliding
with so much of your chivalrous cacophony.

Panchali, I am, to you, my valiant Bheemsen,
A luscious lilac that you craved to engrave
In your voluminous heart, never knowing
How the absence of light rustled in my bare form,
My deep, dark tresses, shedding its rhythmic dewdrops
Not in unconditioned love, but in stoic, formulaic surrender.
Panchali, my Dharmaraaj, I am to you,
The untamed fire that spread all over you, in spurts,
The easiest pawn you could have settled for,
Reckless, warped in a gambling spree
you could very well do without.

Did I burn you too, my cognac fire
Was it a bit too scalding, Nakul and Sahadev,
My youngest husbands, moving in the orbit
Of your elder brothers’ wants? Did you get
How my splinters and shards surrounded you
In a vain rapture in the palace of illusions
When all I waited for, perhaps, was the Mahaprasthan,
The final journey of my nemesis, with all five of you,
Following the slit throats and mashed up corpses
Of my sons, of our kith and kin?

Panchali, I am, to you, Karna, my all-pervading bruise.
For I had forgot, in spite of your irresistible musk
That you and me both were wiggling children
of the cracked earth. The fiery flashes of your pride
Matching my own insolence, had borne a cursed utterance,
‘Sutaputra’, my vanity had attested a lie, a lie that resounded
Every time we crossed paths, as a rhythmic reminder.

Panchali, I am, to you, my Sakha, Krishna,
The smoke and fury of my mind’s badland
Soothed from time to time, when your hands touched mine.
What magic did your words unfold
To this dark, forlorn child-woman,
As you hovered in my life, presiding over its queer equations?
Dream girl, I wasn’t for you, when disrobed,
shunned of my womanly honour, your drapes covered
my bruised, black moon. Your words revealed,
Like half-shining flashlights, draped my life
In the ambiguous sheen I myself couldn’t fathom well.
Here, you touch my hands yet again, for one last time,
Where I find myself beyond the rims of time, and tell me
I have played my part well in this chaotic and tumultuous play.
Is this a new beginning, where I dissolve and form anew?
Panchali, I am, look, the boundless sky, my new palace, engulfs us all.

Advertisements

Interview with Usha Narayanan, Author Of ‘The Secret of God’s Son’

Usha Narayanan had a successful career in advertising, radio and corporate communications before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of several books including The Madras Mangler, a suspense thriller and Love, Lies and Layoffs, a lighthearted office romance. The Secret of God’s Son is the sequel to her bestselling book Pradyumna: Son of Krishna which was published in 2015.

usha-narayanan_cover

The cover of ‘The Secret Of God’s Sun’

In this heart-to-heart conversation with the author, we talk about the protagonist Pradyumna, the son of Lord Krishna in her novels, ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ and ‘The Secret of God’s Son’, and other fascinating details about the theme, characterization and juxtaposition of the human and the divine that characterizes her literary work.

Lopa Banerjee: The title of the novel itself appears very intriguing to me. I would love to know what compelled you to make Pradyumna the protagonist of both your novels ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ and ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ and what came to your mind when you took up the task of writing this entire series based on his life choices?

Usha Narayanan: What inspired me was the thrill of discovering an unknown hero and the excitement of unearthing colourful tales woven around a son of Krishna. While the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa both have Krishna as the focal point, there is a wide difference in their tone and manner. The first focuses almost entirely on the human story, specifically the war between the Kurus and the Pandavas. But the puranas roam unhindered through heaven, earth and the netherworld, bringing us vivid stories of gods and demons, asuras and gandharvas. Pradyumna and his wife Maya are depicted as belonging more to this fantastical world and their lives provide more vibrant material for a fantasy. The paradox of his being both human and divine engaged my attention, as well as the possibility of exploring whether these two levels can ever meet.
Lopa Banerjee:  Your novel ‘Pradyumna’ is the mythic tale of the protagonist who endured much pain in love, which is not highlighted or mentioned much in the epic Mahabharata. When you wrote the sequel, did this same pursuit of delving into the mystery of a minor character of the epic haunt you? Can you share some of your feelings regarding this?

Usha Narayanan: The greatest love stories are tragic, often ending with the death of the protagonist and his beloved. Their path is strewn with obstacles that defy every attempt to surmount them. In the case of Pradyumna and Maya too, I could perceive many hurdles and decided to write their story using my own imagination. Maya, who is Rati reborn, awaits the rebirth of her beloved Kama, burned to ashes by Shiva for executing his duty. Rati prays ceaselessly to the gods and finally wrests a promise that Kama will be reborn as the son of Rukmini and Krishna. When Pradyumna is born, he is snatched by an asura and brought up by the asura’s wife Maya who plays the role of his foster mother. He is unaware of his original form or that he is the son of the Blue God. She frets and fumes as she tries to mould the dissolute prince into a warrior. When the truth is revealed, Pradyumna refuses to accept her as he still looks upon her as his mother. She is older than him too and the wife of the asura emperor. How this love story would develop was something that intrigued me and set my creative juices flowing.

As for the sequel, much of it is fictionalized. I followed what seemed to me the natural trajectory of their lives and their love. Now, when I read the initial reviews coming in, I am happy to see that my readers are just as thrilled with their story as I was.

Lopa Banerjee: What role did the epic Mahabharata play when you embarked on the journey of this novel? How much of the depiction is sourced from the epic and how much of it is fictionalized?

Usha Narayanan: As far as I know, Pradyumna is mentioned only a couple of times in the Mahabharata and Maya not at all. So there was not much that I could take from the epic, except for using the Kurukshetra War as a backdrop. ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ has a little more from the Mahabharata, specifically Draupadi’s vastraharan and the story of Duryodhana’s noble brother Vikarna. Of course Gandhari, the Kuru queen, plays a major role in my book as it is her curse that goads Pradyumna to undertake his  journey to Kailasa and Yamaloka. My challenge was to make the fictional sections appear to be a natural extension of our epics.

Lopa Banerjee: Does the novel also focus on the father-son dynamics between Lord Krishna and Pradyumna and their collective journey in the terrifying realm where the protagonist Pradyumna finds himself? What would you say is the foundation of this epic depiction?

Usha Narayanan: Imagine the delight and the terror you would experience if you suddenly discovered that you were the son of Vishnu’s avatar! When Pradyumna finds out this truth, he defeats and kills the tyrannical asura in whose kingdom he lives and makes his way to Dwaraka to meet his godly parents. He strives to make himself worthy of Krishna, spending every moment that he can at his feet, partaking of his wisdom. Even when he is elsewhere or in later years when Krishna leaves the earth, his father still remains his focus and his inspiration. We see Krishna too sharing deep truths with his son, knowing well that his son must continue his mission after him. The avatar shapes Pradyumna into the ultimate warrior in the cause of righteousness and an ideal purusha. We see the human side of Krishna in his interactions with his sons, his grandsons Aniruddha and Ajaya and his great grandson Vajra.

There is no foundation as such for my depiction of these relationships. I have merely followed the tradition of bards handing down stories to the next generation, along with their own flourishes!
Lopa Banerjee: The mythology sub-genre in Indian Writing in English is making major headway in the fiction publishing world. What do you think makes a mythological fiction enduring and remarkable to readers?

Usha Narayanan: Myths have a universal appeal that is not limited to India. Rick Riordan says, ‘They’ve got everything you could possibly want…mystery, treachery, murder, loyalty, romance, magic, monsters.’ The gods experience the same emotions that we do. They are jealous or greedy and do foolish things due to lust and anger. We see ourselves in them and wonder how we can attain their lofty world. Myths also bring us eternal truths wrapped up in exciting tales brimming with action, romance and divinity.

In India, we have a rich treasury of puranas that we have lost touch with, as we can no longer read them in the original Sanskrit. The old system of joint families where grandmothers told children tales of devas and asuras over dinner has become rare. When we extol superheroes like Batman or Superman, why not discover our own heroes ― be it Krishna or Pradyumna, Rama or Hanuman, Draupadi or Maya? As long as the telling is fresh and interesting, the characters are unfamiliar or looked at from a different angle, these stories will continue to charm readers aged eight to eighty.
Lopa: Wish you all success with the book, Usha Narayanan jee!

Usha Narayanan: Thank you so much, Lopa, for your original and imaginative questions. It was a delightful experience answering them. I look forward to more such interactions with you and with readers of your blog.

The ‘The Secret of God’s Son’ is available on Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Secret-Gods-Son-Usha-Narayanan/dp/0143424173/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473379617&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Secret+of+god%27s+son

SHE: Draupadi and The Every Woman

Draupadi

Draupadi. 

Image source: mahabharata.wikia.com

I am a phenomenal woman.

I’ve let you drown in the chocolate sea of my visual beauty, 

In the mystic mystery of my lips, my cleavage, my deep dark tresses. 

You have reveled in my flesh, and never knew my blood, tears and sweat.

You revel in the glories of the orient, the magnitude of epics in the east

Remember the glorifying times some four thousand years back,

When the Veda and other scriptures were snatched away from our hands;

When Hindu purists dictated which women would veil their faces within locked bars

And doors of what they called their ‘home’, and which others would spread out

Their blossoming bodies in temples as ‘Devdasis’ (God’s own concubines).

We have been given away, sold and abandoned at the dictates

Of these purists who have been fathers, Lords, husbands and sons. 

I was born, in Panchal, bereft of a mother’s Yoni,

Emerging from burning contours of fire,

The river of my body ran and ran, meandering,

Eyes to cheeks, cheeks to chin, chin to my swan neck,

Nativity singing thigh-deep in the river that struggled

To stay still. I am the mighty, yet helpless Yaagyaseni,

The lilac, dark and earthy, my hair, a nocturnal flower,

Deep, dark tresses canopying male thirst, 

Consecrated with the color of Dushshaashan’s blood. 

A sloka in the epic Mahabharata says: 

“Na stree swatantramarhati” (a woman has no right to freedom in her life).

After epochs, I still contain the poison ivy and wrath of Draupadi, Panchali, 

Daughter to the king of Panchal, wife and mistress to five able,  

Masculine husbands, the Pandavas.

My five husbands, besotted by my suffocating beauty and aura,

Shared my breathtaking youth as easily as they shared alms in exile.

None looked at the gashes of my heart, while I ached behind the silent veil 

For my love, Arjuna. He had his shameless share of Chitrangada, 

Subhadra, and his countless other consorts, yet in the bed,

His dark, formless masculinity was coiled around me. 

Like an orchid, like a creeper tree, I had to strive for shelter, 

Wrestling with my mind, as I shifted beds and desires between my Lords, 

As my womb bore children by my Lords, who desired me,

As I embraced strange silence when rendered a mere pawn 

At the gambling table by my eldest Lord, Yudhisthira.

And even as I was being disrobed at the royal court of the Kauravas.

The great assembly of people present there knew I was bereft of honor

In spite of my five husbands; bereft of respect in spite of my sons,

Bereft of joy or victory in spite of being a queen.

Legend has it that the volcanic Draupadi reduced her enemies to the ashes.

What could I do with the lifeless jewel and empty crown 

In an epic that discards me repeatedly?

For all my strength and spirit, valor and virtue, 

I am at the receiving end of suffering and disgrace

In an epic written and dictated by men.

The Voice of the Every Woman:

I have been a ‘female’, a ‘meyechhele’, an ‘aurat’, a ‘jenana’

 For eons and centuries now. 

A crushed and broken leaf, my virginity, a looming deadline,

Prodding, pricking, I breathe in its burning sulfur, 

The flame gets lost, drenched in the night’s rain. 

I am the unfathomable silence and the sanctity put to test

Stroked, palmed, heated, cooled, tampered, a zillion times,

Smoldering in the scars and beauty marks, the fire dwindling,

Down to its finishing embers. I am the ink and the muse

The Gajagamini, the slow, resilient steps of the elephant, 

The unhurried dance and the wellspring of secret music

That inspires paintings, tapestries and lyrics. I am 

The scattered pieces of Draupadi, waist to breast, neck to lips

In blood as I walk down the steady flame, the apocalypse 

Where the scourging fire, the hungry flame threatens, screams

And dies down, my wounds, festering, adorning me.

My story is a memoir of the salt and pepper, the yin and yang 

Of domesticity. My story is the story of my ancestors, 

My journey, a broad spiritual legacy. 

Here, in your hands that I clench tight, my lover, my husband,

My father, my son, my friend, my poet, my artist and my ravager, 

I give you the knife to peel off my skin, one slice at a time, 

To crush my rib cage and cut open the pool gushing, the heart,

Red, volatile, hollow, one that you may have never dived. 

I feel sanctity in the blood drops, in my clogged pores, 

My arteries and veins, breaking free of relentless femininity.

I am the phenomenal woman. I thus rise 

Above darkness, deception, decay in a new thrust of life.

—————————————————————————————————————

Note: This poetic narrative, first published in B’khush.com, is dedicated to all my women friends across the globe, just before the occasion of the International Women’s day in March 8. The piece is developed from an excerpt of my book-length memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ which has recently been a finalist and a First Place Category winner at the Journey Awards 2014 for Narrative Nonfiction hosted by Chanticleer Reviews.