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Voicing the Margin: A Reading of Kavita Kane’s Fisher Queen’s Dynasty

 


Voicing the Margin: A Reading of Kavita Kane’s Fisher Queen’s Dynasty

 

Lopamudra Adhikary

State Aided College Teacher

Department of English

Jamini Roy College

West Bengal, India

 

Abstract:

 

The Mahabharata and The Ramayana are supposed to be written thousands of years ago. Down the ages, the texts have been revisited, revised, retold many a time by the authors of both regional and pan Indian fame. These authors are taking up contemporary issues while retelling these myths. So the burning issues of today’s world, related to women empowerment, subjugation, and degradation of women, marginalization, etc., have found a place in their writings. These writers are presenting the old wine in a new bottle. This paper deals with one such Mahabharata-based fiction, namely The Fisher Queen's Dynasty by Kavita Kane, which is an autobiography of Satyavati. This paper will shed ample light on Kane’s portrayal of Satyavati as a feminist who fights against marginalization to build her identity. Thus it will bring forth how female observation of the Mahabharata varies from the male perception.

 

Keywords: marginalization; degradation of women; feminist; the Mahabharata-based fiction; Satyavati

The Mahabharata and The Ramayana are supposed to be written thousands of years ago. Down the ages, the texts have been revisited, revised, retold many a time by the authors of both regional and pan Indian fame. They have brought a plethora of new fiction based on these epics. Over time, there has been a change in India's social scenario and so in the mindset of the people. Their understanding of the values of literature, culture, and politics has also changed quite considerably. Keeping with these changes, these writers are taking up contemporary issues while retelling these myths.  So the burning issues of today’s world related to women empowerment, subjugation, and degradation of women, marginalization, etc., have found a place in their writings. These writers are presenting the old wine in a new bottle. This paper deals with one such Mahabharata-based fiction, namely The Fisher Queen's Dynasty by Kavita Kane, which is an autobiography of Satyavati. This paper will shed ample light on Kane’s portrayal of Satyavati as a feminist who fights against marginalization to build her identity. Thus it will bring forth how female observation of the Mahabharata varies from the male perception.

 

The term mythology refers tothe body of myths belonging to a particular religious tradition. Myths are specific stories of gods or superhuman beings participating in unusual occurrences or circumstances in an unspecified time but understood as existing outside ordinary human experience. Myths play an essential role in the culture and psychology of people since people may reach their past through myths. Myths often bind human beings to the future. According to Carl Jung, all human communities experience the same process of cultural and intellectual evolution. This is probably why all human beings have identical myths about creation. Myths are often suspected of being untrue, imaginary, which have no similarity with the real human world. Whereas some researchers regard myths as holy narratives which, according to them, are actually real.

 

It is needless to say that to the Indians, mythology is itihasa, which means “thus it happened” or “thus indeed it was”(Varughese 30). So the Mahabharata and the Ramayana narrate events as they happened. But the Mahabharata and the Ramayana cannot be treated as history; instead, they reflect incidents that are believed to have happened in the past. Indians frequently go to epics in quest of certain truths about themselves and their own situations. The ideals of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana continue to be an integral part of every Indian. These two epics are all about the different facets of Indian life. Perhaps no other work can claim to influence Indian life greater than these two epics.

 

While most of the authors focus on the magnanimous characters while retelling the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Kavita Kane’s retellings present the marginalized characters as their protagonists. Her novels present those characters about whom these epics speak very few lines though they are equally important characters. Fisher Queen’s Dynasty is based on the great Indian epic the Mahabharata,and the marginal character Kane deals with within this novel is Satyavati. Kane here presents the myths of the Mahabharata through the eyes of Satyavati. Fisher Queen’s Dynasty is an autobiography of Satyavati, also known as fisher queen, Kali, Matsyagandha.

 

            One may feel tempted to point out that though the Mahabharata tells very little about Satyavati. Yet, she plays the most significant role in the epic, and Kane's novel tries to capture her significance in the course of the events that happened in the epic. In the Mahabharata, one gets the minimal scope to learn about the different aspects of her character. But Fisher Queen’s Dynasty offers an entirely different experience of the Mahabharata by granting readers insight into the mind of Satyavati. Unlike in the epic, here readers learn about her from the time she takes birth. Readers witness her excruciatingly painful life experiences, struggles, sufferings, decisions, how she feels while making those decisions that made her infamous in the epic, and how she copes with the consequence of her each deed.

A patriarchal society like that of India gives more importance to men than women. The Mahabharata, which is the mirror of Indian life, esteems men and manly interests more profoundly than women and female interests. It glorifies the bravery of Arjuna, eulogies Krishna, talks about mighty Bhima, praises the honesty of Yudhisthira and other ascetic characters. This epic is full of talk about the characters like Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana, Kripacharya. It also talks much about those female characters whom it considers as the epitomes of virtues. The much-talked-about female characters of the Mahabharata Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari set examples of chastity, sacrifice, devotion. But it mentions very few lines about Satyavati, and there also Vyas depicts her in a negative light. Kane offers a completely different portrayal of her character. She highlights both the good and bad aspects of her character. Kane offers a sort of amoral representation of Satyavati. In her retelling of the myths of Mahabharata, Kane presents the mythic characters like ordinary human beings who have merits and demerits. In this way, she makes these myths more attractive to her readers.

One may feel tempted to point out that Kane’s Satyavati is “more sinn’d against than sinning” (Shakespeare3.2.62).  Vyas’s Mahabharata presents her only as a heartless lady who compels Devabrata to take the oath of celibacy so that in the future, her son becomes the king of Hastinapur. The Mahabharata by Vyasa highlights the crooked means she adopts to become the queen. Her emotions, thinkings are never divulged. In the Afterword to The Stone Women, Shashi Deshpande says that “…the basic problem is that not only myths have originated with men, their interpretation has also been in male hands”(87). Men and their stories are the main focus in the writings of male authors. Therefore woman writers like Kane come forward to blurting out the untold stories of a woman’s heart. Kane unveils the injustices that befell her and influence her actions. Kane incorporates Satyavati into a feminist who raises her voice against her injustice and struggles for her sexual, political, and gender identity. Kane illuminates her quest for identity.

Satyavati’s life has been excruciatingly painful since birth. She is made to taste rejection right after her birth.  Her mother gives birth to twins before she dies. Her father, Uparichar Vasu, the king of Chedi, takes only the boy with him and gives her to her childless uncle Dasharaj, the chieftain fisherman. Her father abandons her because she is a girl and as Dasharaj feels, “Kings need princes, not princesses! If it had been up to him, he would have probably drowned you in the river” (31).Despite being a daughter of a king, she never gets the identity of a princess. She is raised as a fisher girl by her uncle.  Her brother grows up as a prince in her father’s palace, while she is destined to “sell fish and ferry people” (31). She is denied her birthright for being a girl.  Satyavati feels wronged, and she desires to earn her birthright. Dasharaj promises, “I shall make you the royal princess that you are” (5).

            Her life is full of miseries, neglects, admonitions. Being a fisher girl, she is treated as untouchable. Her body smells like rotten fish. Nobody comes close to her due to her nauseating body smell. People cover their noses in hatred while passing by her. Her dark body complexion gets her the name, Kali. She is treated “as a pariah, the lowest of the low” (11); despite being a young, intelligent, educated girl, she never gets any sort of respect. Satyavati is a victim of triple marginalization as a poor fisherman’s daughter, an untouchable female. The hard-hearted experiences make her resentful of the patriarchal society. Being a feminist, she weighs herself to be no less than a man. She decides never to be wronged by anybody. She endeavors to get respect from people.

With his encouraging words, Dasharaj adds fuel to the fire of self-establishment that is burning inside Satyavati. Dasharaj states, “you are an extraordinary girl yourself. You can never be bound by conventions or be tied down by others. You were born to rule, princess!”(19). He makes her believe that she is ‘born to rule’ (19). Kane’s Satyavati is a self-confident, undaunted woman who never succumbs to the convention of the patriarchal society and takes her stance in the face of any untoward situation. She perfectly fits in this image of a modern woman put forth By Beauvoir, according to whom a modern woman is she “who would be equal of men and who would think and act like a man and instead of bemoaning her inferiority to men, she would declare herself their equal” (149).

 

She is well aware that it will not be easy for her to get the position she desires.  Satyavati realizes that she “cannot afford to have morals like the rich and the royal” (32). when she comes to learn about rishi Parashar’s “unnatural and mystical powers”(15), she manages to get a boon from her that can change her life though it costs her chastity. Parashar makes love with her and gives her a boon that transforms her from Matsyagandha to Yojanagandha, from a “foul-smelling” girl to a charming scented girl. He makes her regain her virginity miraculously while getting pregnant by him. Satyavatisecretly gives birth to Rishi Parashar’s son and lets the son live with his father so that, unlike her, he can get a better life being a son of a renowned rishi. Soon she becomes the most desirous woman.  She knows ‘the righteous would argue that it is unscrupulous,” but she asserts, “I would rather be branded that than be a forgotten casualty, as my mother was” (32).

 

Women have always been subservient to men. They have always been exploited by men. Their only function in society is to serve men as a daughter, wife, and mother.

There is the eternal child to be protected and controlled, the self-sacrificing mother to nurture and cherish the child, the chaste partner to guarantee exclusive rights, and undoubted paternity of children and temptress to titillate and provide sexual gratification. There is also a goddess to provide morality. What place does a real, thinking, feeling woman have in this agenda?” (‘Telling Our Own Stories’, Writing from the Margin and Other Essays, 90).

Satyavati vows to herself that she “would not be the conquest of a man” (59). She wants power. She wants to rule and not be ruled. When Hastinapur’s King Shantanu expresses his love for her, she takes advantage of the opportunity to become a queen. Unlike Kunti, Draupadi, Subhadra, it is not easy for her to become a queen as she is not a princess like them but a daughter of a fisherman. She has to manipulate him to marry her. Dasharaj traps Devavrat into making a promise that he will remain a celibate so that in the future, Satyavati’s children become heirs to the kingdom of Hastinapur, and Dasharaj thus agrees to marry her with Shantanu. Satyavati achieves what she has longed for. She becomes the queen of Hastinapur.

Vyas’ Satyavati is an opportunist who deprives Devavrat of his right to become the king of Hastinapur. It holds her responsible for what happens with Devavrat. Feminist critic Helen Cixous thinks women should take up the act of writings because she believes “…it will tear her away from the superegoized structure in which she has always occupied the place reserved for the guilty …”(880). Instead of generalizing Satyavati as good or bad, Kane delves deep into her mind and debunks the affectionate heart of a woman that nobody cared to unveil previously. Satyavati tries to persuade Dasharaj not to do the injustice with Devavrat. It is Dasharaj who compels Devavrat to take the oath of celibacy to secure the throne of Hastinapur for Satyavati’s son in the future. ‘For the first time in her young life, Kali felt guilty’. (93) She was denied her birthright by her father, and now due to her, Devavrat is going to lose his birthright. “She felt that she had lost respect for herself; that she had dishonored her very being”. (93)

She has to face everyone’s grievance in Hastinapur because she has bereaved Devavrat and because she is coming from an outcast fisher background. She is called queen Daseyi by everybody to remind her of the background she comes from.  The people of Hastinapur start protesting against their new queen. But with her sharp intelligence, she tactfully wins her subject’s confidence. Bhishma, Kane writes, “saw how she had won, going straight into the battlefield but not shedding a drop of blood” (148). Very soon, Bhishma recognizes her ability, her strength. With her political machinations, she strengthens Hastinapur. She proves herself to be the invincible and competent queen of Hastinapur. After Shantanu’s death, she denies marrying Ugrayudh as she says, “I am married to Hastinapur. I need no king, I will be its queen” (188). If she marries someone, she will be his queen, and the man she is married to will be the king of Hastinapur. She needs no king, as Bhisma is always there to protect Hastinapur and her. She doesn’t want to lose Hastinapur to any king.  She will never lose her “sovereignty as queen”(188).

            The Mahabharata praises women like Kunti and Draupadi for their sacrifices, tolerance, and submissiveness towards the male characters, particularly towards their husbands, but Kane’s Satyavati refuses to be a pliable wife. She is too indomitable to be marginalized by the male-dominated society. Whenever Shantanu tries to exert his domination over her, she refutes it demanding her rights as a queen.  When Shantanu tells her to obey his commands as he is also her king, she says to Shantanu, “I am your wife, your queen” (139). Satyavati makes her own decision using her sharp intellect. Shantanu, an emblem of patriarchy, makes Satyavati responsible for his tragedy. According to him, she compelled him to marry her, forgetting his son, his former wife, Ganga. Shantanu claims that it was all her fault that he came close to her as she seduced him. He says that “she lit a carnal response in me” (165). Satyavati strongly protests against all his accusations. She is no passive sufferer of the injustices doled out to her by her husband. She’s always been a vocal person. Questioning his morality, she asserts he would have never married her if she had not demanded it. He willingly made sexual relations with her but then became reluctant to marry her. She chastises him and says, “I don’t know how you can pretend to be so grand and noble when you are the one who started it all” (165).

Satyavati raises her voice also against the marginalization of the fisher community. She categorically says Shantanu to “treat them with the dignity they deserve” (139) as the fishermen are also his subjects. She empowers the fisher folk.  She extends all possible amenities to them.  Everyone in Hastinapur, including king Shantanu is displeased that she has taken Dasharaj, a fisherman, to the court. But being a virulent rebel, she goes against everyone and gives her father a vital position in her court.  There is no one to support Dasharaj in this old age except her, so she cannot evade her responsibilities towards him as a daughter. She believes in equality, not in discrimination of human beings based on their castes. She becomes the voice of the marginalized people and fights for their rights. She is well aware of her responsibilities as a queen. She also fulfills her responsibilities towards her ill husband, her subjects. She is unwavering in performing her duties.

She always acts according to the demand of the situation. She goes through emotional upheavals after the death of her son Chitrangad, but she never admits defeat to the situation. She states, “queen needs to be more sensible than just sensitive”. Sensing the need for the hour, she arranges for her second son Virya’s marriage. She forces Bhishm to kidnap the three princesses of Kashi to get them married to Virya. Bhishma castigates, “you are a ruthless manipulator: without pity, compassion or conscience” (282). The two princesses Ambika and Ambalika, are forced to marry Vichitravirya. She knows she does wrong to them by forcing them to marry her son, but she cannot see the dynasty die. Vichitravirya dies without any child. Having no other options left, she chooses ‘niyog’ for her widow daughters-in-law to get the scion for Hastinapur. She calls for her son from Rishi Parashar Vyas, who fathers the heirs of Hastinapur.

She has always given priority to the throne of Hastinapur, and for the sake of it, she does the most despicable act. Amba insisted on Bhishma marrying her after being rejected by her lover, but Bhishma never breaks the oath of celibacy. Satyavati tries to reason with Amba knowing that Bhisma will never marry her. Amba ultimately dies being rejected by him. In this regard, Satyavati’s capabilities cannot be ignored. She is an overweening queen who can go to any extent to keep everything unabated when the situation is not friendly. Satyavati witnesses the consequences of the implacable decisions she took in the past. She is remorseful. She confesses her guilt to Amba. Satyavati, who has never bowed to anyone, prostrates herself in wretched acquiescence. She finally leaves her palace to live in the serenity of the forest.

In this biography of the mythic character Satyavati, we get a new perspective of her character. Kavita Kane beautifully explores various shades of her character that elevates her from a marginalized character to the protagonist of the Mahabharata. She battles with every adverse circumstance and substantiates herself as a strong personality. Satyavati is reincarnated as a female with enormous boldness and conviction, a distinguished character with a rational mind who struggles to come out of the grip of marginalization and establish her identity as the most significant woman who cannot be ignored.  The Mahabharata's disregarded and disrespected margin character gets a feminist voice in The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty to speak for her rights, stand her ground, and fend for herself.

 

Works Cited

 

Deshpande, Shashi. The Stone Women.Writers Workshop, 2000.

 

Deshpande, Shashi. Writing from the Margin and Other Essays.Penguin Books, 2003.

 

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.Vintage, 1997.

Kane, Kavita. The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty.Westland publication ltd, 2017.

 

Shakespeare, William. “King Lear.” An Oxford Anthology of Shakespeare.Ed. Stanley Wells.Oxford University Press, 1989.62

 

Varughese, E. Dawson.Genre Fiction of New India: Post-millennial receptions of “weird” narratives. Routledge, 2016.