TORN BETWEEN TWO IDEOLOGIES – RAM RAJYA AND RAVAN RAJby Editorial Desk September 13 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins, 31 secs
An excerpt from the book Mandodari, by Koral Dasgupta, released at Kitab Khana Mumbai with a conversation between the author and Avantika Bahuguna, Business Head, SheThePeopleTV, the #Newsdesk.
Mandodari, a significant yet oft-forgotten figure of the Ramayan, has long been eclipsed by her infamous husband, Ravan – the epic’s great antagonist. Celebrated for her beauty and piety, Mandodari’s remarkable talents and pivotal role in shaping the mystical kingdom of Lanka have languished in obscurity, until now.
Koral Dasgupta’s enthralling tale of power, love and loyalty grants a rare and intimate glimpse into one of the Ramayan’s most enigmatic female characters. It is the astonishing story of the Queen of Lanka. She confronts a myriad of challenges – from her frustration with Sita’s captivity, to Surpanakha’s deceitful ways, and the daunting task of steering an impossible dream for her husband.
In this fourth book of the bestselling Sati series, Mandodari’s formidable inner mastermind is unleashed, revealing how powerful women must navigate the intricate balance between the calls of the heart and the duties of leadership.
In the Sati series, Koral Dasgupta explores the lives of the Pancha Kanyas from the Hindu epics and reinvents them with a feminist consciousness. It is a rare insight into the emotions and role of one of the Ramayan’s most enigmatic female characters. And, it offers the Sati series fans a unique retelling of another heroine’s story from the Indian epics. Rich and immersive, Mandodari reveals the intricate balance women leaders must navigate between the calls of the heart and the duties of leadership.
Says the author, on being asked how the book release went, “The book release went wonderfully. Given that it was a day with heavy rains, I was quite surprised with the turn out. People managed to travel from Borivali and Powai, other than of course professionals who joined from nearby offices. Also there were youngsters asking interesting questions on women’s leadership with reference to Indian epics. It is interesting to go back and shake a few things up at the spot where our imaginations started shaping”.
KORAL DASGUPTA has published an eclectic range of books, which can be found in university libraries across the world, including Harvard, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Wales, Duke, North Carolina and Texas. Her work is widely discussed in the context of gender studies, art, myth and ecocritical literature. Koral’s fourth book has been optioned for screen adaptation.
About this one in particular, here’s what she has to say: “Mandodari is the fourth book in the 5 book series on Panchakanya. Mandodari features as the secret mastermind behind Ravan's splendour in the golden country of Lanka. She is a fierce loyalist to Ravan Raj, conflicted only when she meets the royal captive, Sita. I have totally enjoyed this story of feminine taandav! Next year the last book of the series will be out. That is TARA, the monkey queen married to both Bali and Sugreev”.
In addition to writing, Koral is the founder of www.tellmeyourstory.biz, an organization using literature to design and execute learning programs that inspire social engagement and behavioural change for inclusion and diversity. She leads writing programs and critical thinking workshops for both educational and corporate floors. Koral was also named in the Holmes Report’s Innovator25 Asia Pacific 2019 list and featured in Outlook Business magazine’s Women of Wonder (WOW) series. Mandodari is her eighth book.
Ashwin Sanghi, Indian writer and author of the novels: The Rozabal Line, Chanakya's Chant, The Krishna Key, Sialkot Saga, Keepers Of The Kalachakra, The Vault of Vishnu and The Magicians of Mazda, reflects about Mandodari too, and calls it “imaginative, intense and insightful...narrated in Koral’s signature style, the exchanges of Mandodari and Sita (and their implications for Ravan and Ram) are absolutely fascinating!”
Here below is an excerpt of the book:
On the darkest of nights, when everyone was asleep, the sea was awake. The jingle of multi-layered anklets resounded through the black sandstone stairs of the commanding edifice, in absolute disharmony with the echo of turbulent waves. The creatures of the sea looked up. Into the playful water where my feet were immersed, I dropped a few grains. The greedy red fish lapped them up. Before moving away, they deftly cleaned with their tail the slippery algae coating the lower steps. A blue mountain of granite, cobalt spinel and silica rooted deep within the sea spread its generous hue, cradling a mystical prison in its womb.
I couldn’t see well in the darkness. Only a vague masculine frame was visible, his neck and body confined with thick iron chains against the wall. A part of the torso was above water. Beneath, slimy creatures wrapped around his waist and legs. The raging waves churned fog and foam. A wispy curtain of smoke denied the pleasure of determining how intimidated he was by my ghastly prison.
Many flights of steps had brought me to this vestibule. Each layer I left behind returned my excitement with congratulatory applause. Fire danced on the walls from earthen holders. The path gleamed with distorted seashells inscribed graphically, petrifying the ripples with their reflections. Every corner of Lanka rejoiced at the incarceration of the chronic menace abhorred by their glorious monarch, finally handcuffed after many failed wars.
I had specially prepared for this meeting. The finest gold adorned my hands and waist. My drape was woven with rare threads sourced from ace artisans across the country. I was the queen of the land. And he, no more than a lowly prisoner. Indra was the captive of my son Meghnad, now known as Indrajit!
‘Welcome to Lanka,’ I said with a smirk, standing on the stairs. ‘This humble earthly prison is honoured to host the Devraj.’
The metallic chain clanged against the wall as Indra made an effort to look up. After a pregnant pause, his voice lashed like the baffled waves. ‘In the mortal and immortal worlds, nothing is permanent.’
Ah! Indra was trying to pull me into his illusion. What else could he do? I was not falling into that maze. Neither would I allow him to dismiss his defeat.
‘Mortal and immortal worlds! Well said, Devraj.’ It was fun to call him ‘Devraj’ again and again. Why should I not? Hadn’t Indra and his privileged clan always been dismissive and sarcastic towards a large section of us Mortals? I wanted to insult our prisoner. His snobbery, born out of the celestial throne, was known to prick the pride of many young talents attempting to uncover their brilliance. ‘Everything on earth is black or white, good or bad, sinful or virtuous, dharma or adharma. In the immortal world, however, the rules are reversed. Everything unfair is a philosophical metaphor – glorified as the magnificence of the Divine. A toxic discrimination distances the essence of existence. Yet, fools continue to pray.’
The iron chains must be hurting. Indra craned his neck to take a proper look at me. I could feel his eyes traversing my body. Expecting a lewd remark, my right toe was ready for action. One signal to the automated system would compress the place, bringing the thick walls closer to Indra, shrinking further his already compromised comfort. But the prisoner restrained, unlike the lech I had expected him to be.
‘Is this you or Ravan speaking?’ he asked, astonished. ‘Queen Mandodari, I respect your love for Dashanan. But I don’t understand your blind support for his stubborn irrationality!’
‘Do yourself a favour and don’t ever try to understand,’ I blurted out. Was this Immortal remotely qualified to comprehend the unfathomable? These silly beings didn’t know the language of splurging or preserving. They couldn’t love completely; they didn’t know hatred either. The Immortals evaluated actions on the scale of rewards and punishments. Punishments that often targeted not only the offender but also the fraternity, whether or not they were at fault.
‘Explain, Queen Mandodari,’ Indra pressed on. ‘I want to understand this love. Why do you partner with an abusive king? How did you lose your logic to the Lankan coasts? Is Ravan that wonderful a husband?’
I looked down at the sea where a swarm of creatures had flocked, splashing water with their tails and releasing bubbles through their gills. I threw the grains in my palms at them. They dispersed. Where was the haughty Indra, for whom I had come to the sea all the way from my palace? Was this even Indra? I had come to further destroy the one whom my son, Meghnad, had conquered. He was guilty of being Ravan’s biggest enemy.
‘Who are you? You don’t seem like Indra,’ I uttered, wondering if Meghnad had been tricked.
‘Who do you think is Indra?’
Here, this was the playful tenor typical of the Devraj. Before I could thwart his ramblings, the music in his voice whipped across the water. ‘Indra is an illusion, queen. Indra is your impulse. Nebulous, undefined. How you perceive him is reflective of your character, not Indra’s. It will take a lot from you to analyse the other world with mortal consciousness.’
I frowned. Through the clear ocean water of the night, lit up only by the flickering torch hanging from the high roof, I could see large fish gobbling up smaller ones. The huge universe was ridiculously enclosed within this tiny truth. The smaller fish would be swallowed by the larger ones, leaving behind bubbles in the memory of the deceased, which would eventually burst. The ultimate battle is to ascertain who is the smaller fish, what bubble it can create and how long will the bubble sustain! The mortal world is that simple. In my heart, I agreed that Indra’s immortal world, where no one dies, would be far too complicated.