Who is a Sati? A woman with unconditional devotion and dependence on their men? An independent woman who makes her own choices? A woman who helps her man to reach his goals by sacrificing hers and enduring? A woman who carves her own path on which men are her companion?
As times have degraded the notions of an “independent woman” to that of a “bitch”, often independence is looked out as a characteristic of a shameless woman. With the advent of the notions of a perfect wife, with fake gurus and babas going on preaching these false notions on women, the sanctity of a woman, her divinity has been diminished and stripped of all it’s glory.
To most men, women are but a piece of shit. Men in our culture are taught to worship goddesses but look upon women as objects of pleasure, meant to stay inside the four walls of the house and meant to stay silent and fulfill all of her husband’s desires.
Everyday I wake up stories of people are filled with sexual jokes most made on how to have sex with women, on how sexualised you can make a serial like TMKOC, on how you can criticise women and joke easily on their sexuality. No one stops them, infact when Instagram takes down posts about justice and truth, it takes no action upon such posts that are maligning the world. In a world where we clap and praise for great female characters like Daenerys in GOT, Batya in Sacred Games or Kelly Garrett in Charlie’s Angels or hero worship Black Widow or Scarlet Witch, to respect women and not to look upon them in the wrong manner is the least we can expect from men.
Ahalya breaks through all these stereotypes and forms an ideal image for today’s women to see, a wife who is not roped by a husband but rather who makes choices based on the fact if she is pleased or not. Not only she, all the Panch Kanyas, very well quoted by the author as Satis, display this quality of enigmatic aura of freedom.
Dasgupta has a deft handling of her heavy ornamentation of language with her efficient story telling techniques and flesh wrenching and gut wrenching scenery both of creation and destruction. In Ahalya, Koral’s skills come to its full light when both the aspects of this misunderstood character, demure and wild, intellect and seduction, are discussed vividly throughout the tale. Koral’s balances both the extremes well enough to not make the book feel like a burden or any one of the aspects of the story feel overpowering and heavy.
In Ahalya, Koral explores a hidden tale within a huge magnanimously narrated Hindu religious text. Her starting scene itself sets the bar high for the whole book. The eloquence of words Koral has to narrate the creation of Ahalya shook me to the core. It is like a wave on a turbulent sea, white toothed monsters grabbing to your body and making you swim across the sea of destiny to land on a shore of fate. It is the silent, slow breeze that makes the dry leaves fall down and even makes the pollen grains mate and form a new life.
The mythological fiction world has finally found its next gem and it is Koral Dasgupta.
Ahalya is one of the best mythological fiction I have read till date. It is a tale of a woman told through her own voice. A tale of endurance and pain, of love and it’s bitter consequences, of pleasure and it’s want that blinds men to not understand a woman’s feelings.
Koral’s sensitive novel is ought to be read by every thinking Indian, affianced, married or separated. It shows, with exceptional fictional skill, the subtle and everyday way in which men and women are bludgeoned to play scripted subordinate roles. Dasgupta displays a control of the medium, a sophistication that would be the envy of any contemporary writer. Her diction is pointed and the textures communicated exquisite. In terms of technique, her writing is masterful, she cannot write of an experience but will animate it with sharp and vivid life. There is not a single flat sentence in the book. Koral has a gifted pen that’s able to dip itself into a trove of refined observations of life and all the pain and plunder it can inflict on the unsuspecting wanderer.
It is very easy to see a particular mythological character in a particular way and fit them into a box, but Ahalya refuses to fit in. However, she is much more than that. She is a lover, she is playful, she is a warrior and full of energy. There were many intense moments. This is the role of feminism as well — it liberates women from the roles they are supposed to fit in, it highlights the roles that are not talked about. Whenever Ahalya showed up, it was a very powerful experience. She made a huge impression on me and stayed with me even after I was finished reading the book. Even if you are agnostic or an atheist, for Indians, Ahalya is very close to us, not some unblemished idol of perfection but rather flawed and thoughtful, as human as us.
For people who claim to love the idea of a strong woman in the Epics so much, we haven’t treated her with much respect. It is a violation of something that is so precious. Women, too, face that violation and disrespect. In contemporary times, her story is also relevant to the #MeToo movement. She has lived so many lives and given so much to our culture. When people think goddess, they don’t think a life full of struggle, but Ahalya’s is a life of a woman, full of struggle.
Koral’s tantalizing craft offered at the altar of metaphors and usage of imagery mesmerised me time and again throughout the book. The way Mist talks with Ahalya, things come alive and do their parts as living beings. The way Mist does the work of a mother, Mandakini of a friend, there could have no other better imagery used in explaining the loneliness of person that makes them find solace in non living things, bringing them alive with the vision of a kaleidoscopic imagination of the mind.
Brahma says to Ahalya, “Everyone is born perfect. They gather up imperfections as they live life,” one of the most toughest and hard hitting sentences of the book. Dasgupta teaches us life’s and love’s treasure trove guarded by dangerous snakes, ones to be defeated to open the treasure. Ahalya is a journey into shifting memories of love and passion, altering identities for seduction and punishment, and the subjective nature of truth. Tracing the fragile line between endurance of love and eternity of passion, Koral Dasgupta dramatizes her play of words.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Koral Dasgupta for giving me a copy of the book in lieu of an honest review.