By Neha Kirpal
Multifaceted author Saiswaroopa Iyer just released her latest book Rukmini: Krishna’s Wife (Rupa, Rs 295). All her five novels, Abhaya, Avishi, Mauri, Draupadi and Rukmini, are based on strong female characters from India’s ancient past. She also holds a certificate in the Puranas from The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, University of Oxford, England.
Before she turned full-time writer, Bengaluru-based Saiswaroopa worked variously as an analyst and venture consultant with fund managers and corporations such as Infosys. She blogs about history, culture, books, classical literature, Telugu poetry and sometimes politics.
She talks to eShe about writing a novel about Krishna’s wife, little known anecdotes from her life, and how more and more authors are increasingly exploring the hidden female voice in Indian mythology.
How did you decide to write a story about Rukmini, Krishna’s wife?
Krishna is the pinnacle of excellence that mankind has ever seen of an avatar. As God, as a man, a friend, a charioteer, lover and husband, every exploit of his is filled with a message that each seeker can imbibe. Rukmini is that feisty bride who managed to get married to Krishna after putting up a brave resistance against adharma.
Marrying Krishna is one thing and being a befitting partner to him is another. Most narratives of Rukmini stop with her wedding from where the macro game shifts to the Pandava-Kaurava dynamics or follows the stories of her son Pradyumna.
Then there are stories about Parijata-apaharana and Thulabharam where she shines as an example of bhakti. But nobody explored the side of Rukmini where she is the actual holder of Krishna’s fort in his extended periods of absence. She could have faced intrigues of various kinds in the complicated Yadava dynamics.
My book is an attempt to tell the story of this feisty bride turned fierce lady of Krishna’s household. The story traces Rukmini’s trajectory from her rebellious younger self to a strong and self-sufficient woman who can be an inspiration to today’s women.
Tell us about some of the research you did for the book.
The Mahabharata, Bhagavatam and Harivamsham have been my primary sources. There are also classic works like Krishna Charitra of Bankim Chandra Chaterjee, Krishnavatara of KM Munshi and Parva by SL Bhyrappa. These latter classics have attempted to highlight the socio-political dynamics of the times of the Mahabharata.
I should also mention Altekar’s works that highlighted the Yadava polity in particular that have helped me imagine Rukmini’s life post her wedding to Lord Krishna.
Tell our readers some little-known anecdotes from the life of this bold goddess who has conventionally been largely overshadowed by her husband.
Students of the Mahabharata would realise Krishna’s role on the rise of Pandavas and in determining their future and hence, the future of the whole on Bharatavarsha. But little do we know the significance of Rukmini’s brave rebellion against her brother’s wish of marrying her to Shishupala.
Rukmini’s choice of Krishna was not just a function of individual freedom. Her choice was a well-thought-out one that put a break to the expansionist initiatives of an emperor like Jarasandha. Even in her assertion of individual freedom, a civilisation got saved. My story explores this side of Rukmini who is well-versed in shastras, debates statecraft and takes brave decisions.
As the author of five novels, all based on female protagonists from ancient India, tell us your thoughts on how the narrative in mythology/history is increasingly changing, with more and more authors exploring the hidden female voice.
For very long, women in our country have grown up with a stupid myth that ancient Indian women were demure and submissive, and that Western invasions brought emancipation out of those shackles. This myth is an unfortunate consequence of being uprooted from our own corpus of knowledge.
Right from the ages of Rigveda to, say, Rani of Jhansi or even today’s leading women in many fields, we have had towering archetypes whose stories are not taught in our schools and hence we developed this needless inferiority issue.
With more authors working to connect readers to the true world of Indian knowledge, I hope we would be empowered as a society and a civilisation, reclaim our roots and develop resilience to become not just self-sufficient but also a guiding force to the world.
Tell us more about your upcoming work.
Currently, I am working on multiple projects including a historical project and a high fantasy series. I am also working on a series of non-fiction books aimed at helping aspiring writers and authors. Sometime in the near future, I also wish to work on stories with a male protagonist, for a sense of artistic completion.