SHAKUNTALA THE PLAY OF MEMORIES

AUTHOR- NAMITA GOKHALE

PUBLISHED IN- 2005

PAGES- 208

Spoilers ahead.

For a change, I chose this mainly because my father was in high praises for it. Also it is comforting to settle down in the familiar surroundings of the Indian spiritual environment.

The book is one of it’s kind in delivering an impactful image of how a woman breaks away from the restrictions overthrown on her. The female protagonist Shakuntala, struggles to understand why must females be restricted from letting their minds wander around. Her childhood is spent with her mother dotting around her elder son, who grows up to be a monk. Initially she hates her mother but later, many months after she had passed away, she realises that she completely understands her mother. This is something that I found rather interesting. My father always says, “In the end, we all become our mothers”. I am not yet quite sure how to comprehend that but it seemed to me that Shakuntala figured out what it meant.

There was a particular scene that I really enjoyed. When Shakuntala gets her menarche, her mother accuses her of defiling the household(since her monk brother was on a visit at that time). Shakuntala, confused and scared, runs away to the forest where she meets a very peculiar being, a goddess like person. Not only does she help Shakuntala in cleaning herself up but also she adds the following:

Listen carefully, Shakuntala, I will instruct you in the ways of the goddess. Sometimes you will meet her as Kalika, or Raudri with the blue skin and eyes as yellow as a cat, who is the dark mistress of the illusory world. Do not be afraid when you sight her. And bow before her when you meet her as Jagat-Ambika, who is auspicious and beautiful and protects us all.

Sometimes the goddess drips blood from her fangs, at other times she is a woman of beauty- her glances are her arrows, her eyebrows her bow; fragrant oils are her armour, her desire her chariot. Remember that in every one of her forms the goddess is always Swamini, mistress of herself.

As she gets married to a rich household, she discovers what a woman must be like to satisfy her husband. But again and again, she expresses her desire to learn more about the world and move around. Although her husband loved her, he didn’t quite encouraged her thought and waved it away with a laugh. After quite a while Srijan, her husband, brings another woman into the household as a factotum but Shakuntala doubts her to be the mistress.

She eventually runs away to a Greek merchant from the home that she had created. The merchant Nearchus, takes her to Kashi where she had dreamed to be of so long. Nearchus now her lover, introduces her to various events, places and people. All the while, she was carrying Srijan’s child with her. As she gets tired of all the freedom that she has received, she leaves Nearchus and goes to visit the main religious centre of Kashi. There a bull attacks her and as she loses her child, she loses herself as well. She dies.

It was such a beautiful book. I don’t have enough words to express how much I learnt from it. I am going to read it again after 3 or 4 years and then understand even further of what it really meant.

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