Karna's Wife

'I've always loved mythology because of myths', I'm reminded of Mark Twain's tongue-in-cheek 'praise' of mythological concepts whenever I pick up a book that has mythology in its core. So when I read Kavita Kane's maiden book 'Karna's Wife: The Outcast's Queen'(Rupa Publications), I was well aware that it was a piece of fiction presented in the form of a book.

At the outset, any perceptive reader of Mahabharat and its innumerable characters is alive to the fact that Karna had two wives: Vrishali and Supriya. Uruvi's name as Karna's wife doesn't appear in one of the longest epics in the world. However, one Ruvi finds a fleeting mention as a courtesan of Ang Desh (present Bhagalpur in Bihar), who was enamoured of Karna and the latter was also besotted with her, albeit for a very brief period. That apart, Uruvi can be seen as a generic metaphor for all neglected wives and women of great warriors and figures described in the mythological stories. Buddha became great and enlightened but the world forgot his wife Yashodhara. Lakshman left his legal wife Urmila to accompany Ram and Sita. Ravan's level-headed wife Mandodari hardly got any recognition despite the fact that she warned Ravan and cursed him in advance if ever he dared touch Sita at Ashok Vatika.

All these women are eternally forgotten by their 'great' husbands as well as by people. Kavita has depicted Uruvi as a King's daughter who fell for the charismatic man. Here it must be mentioned that Karna is arguably the most fascinating character in the entire Mahabharat despite being Duryodhan's boon companion. His life was a saga of might have beens. Fate always flirted with this magnificent character, who was actually a greater warrior than Arjun. Bhishma accepted this fact lying on the bed of arrows and waiting for the most opportune moment to breathe his last (Veer hante Arjun, tathapi Karna sarvopari). Uruvi tried tooth and nail to dissuade her husband Karna from Duryodhan and Kauravas, who symbolised evil.

But Karna was determined, nay obstinate, to be on the side of the perceived evil. Kavita's book is a poignant account of a helpless wife's resignation to her ineluctable fate but not before making her husband see the light of Dharm and sanity. Uruvi has been delineated as a woman of strong character who was not a blind follower of her husband. The way, Hindi poet Maithilisharan Gupt gave a semblance of respectability and individuality to the forgotten wives and women of the Indian mythologies, Kavita also did her bit by lending a modicum of importance to Karna's wife.

 On this count, she indeed deserves a round of applause. Considering the fact that it's her maiden creative endeavour, this book has the potential to engage the readers in a manner that they put it down only after finishing it.