Esha Dutta, Ehsaas Woman, welcomed Kavita Kane to the Virtual Session of An Author’s Afternoon – Kolkata. She is said to have revolutionised the mythological writing diaspora of female writers. She prefers to write on the lesser known women characters from mythology. Her books – Karna’s Wife, Sita’s Sister is based on Ramayana’s most neglected character – Urmila; Menaka’s Choice on the apsara Menaka; Lanka’s Princess on Surpanakha, the female antagonist in the Ramayana; The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty on Satyavati, the grand matriarch in the Mahabharata; and the latest one Ahaliya’s Awakening on Ahaliya, ironically one of the most revered as well as the most doubted character in the Ramayana. She quit her job as Assistant Director of TOI to concentrate on writing. She is also a columnist, a screenplay writer and a motivational speaker having given several talks all across the country’s educational and research institutes, corporate and management forum and literary festivals. In conversation with Kavita was social worker,e columnist and literary enthusiast Swati Gautam.
Kavita opened the session sharing how discouraged and demoralised she had been when she began writing her debuted book as there was not enough information on her central character. This had made her switch over to her second book Karna’s Wife whose success gave her the courage to return to Sita’s Sister. Kavita elucidated that the real ethos of the book is about sisterhood and the other women characters among whom Sita passes through in the entire epic. Kavita, describes Urmila as a woman of immense maturity, ‘silent strength and fortitude’ and these shades of her personality drew her to write on her. Her book unveils the silent exile that Urmila had succumbed herself to simultaneously along with Sita with dignity; and the forgotten sacrifices by the lesser spoken/ overlooked female characters in the Ramayana. Kavita has plans on a part two of the book as well.
Karna’s Wife – Uruvi:
Uruvi is a fictitious character conceived by Kavita as she didn’t want to tamper with the image of Rushali – Karna’s first wife. Kavita conceded that it was a huge risk taken on her part as it was her debut book. She was delighted that her book was very well received and commended. ‘Uruvi personified Karna’s conscience,’ explained the author. The darker shades of Karna are revealed through Uruvi in the book. Kavita shared that Uruvi is a extension of herself as she seeks answers from the great epic.
Kavita reiterated that people usually tend to stereotype women as the ‘devi or the devil.’ Manekas’s choice lifts the veil over Maneka’s decision to surrender the truth behind her presence to Vishwamitra. With this book Kavita brings to the forefront the tragic tales of the Apsaras behind the myopic translation of the seductresses. Maneka’s selflessness and the political embroilment that revolves around exploitation practised by the Gods get transcribed in the book. Kavita revealed that she was indeed sceptical about writing this book as it would peel through the darker layers of societal representation of love and lust in the mythological space and her desire to portray Maneka as real as she was. She did fear a backlash as she chose to unveil the beauty behind the art of seduction.
Lanka’s Princess – Surpanakha:
Kavita talks about the pain that Surpanakha had inflicted on herself as she wallowed in negativity. The author also says that the mission of the book was just a plain simple story to tell and unfold the futility of revenge and antagonism and the cultural confrontations. Through this book Kavita also brings to light the different versions of the epics that interpret the diverse translations by different generations. Surpanakha was a very exhausting character to decipher as she tried to give her the ‘girl next door’ portrayal with ordinary normal insecurities and emotions and complexities said the author.
The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty – Satyavati:
Kavita speaks on the cynicism Satyavati nurtures about men due to her past experiences however never letting it cloud her thinking. According to her, Satyavati is the most political female character in the epic and an opportunist.
Valmiki’s Ramayana is all about betrayal and relationship. Kavita decodes societal judgement of a woman based on reflection of her actions intentional or unintentional. ‘The whole right and wrong is nuanced and got distorted by patriarchy. It’s a translation of conflict, of emotion, judgement, love and temptation that leaves Ahilya voiceless.
As the protagonists in her books are not mainstream characters Kavita shares that not much information was available on them. Hence she had to draw them from their presence in the lives of the bigger portrayals and a lot from folklores as they tend to humanise the characters. Kavita elucidated that fictional translation of mythology acts as a temptation that lures you to visit the originals. Her characters are originals with a fictional voice conceived on the foundation of ancient texts that emits a philosophical relatable essence. Kavita also stressed that readers can definitely differentiate between fact and fiction.
The insightful session left the attendees mesmerised and Esha concluded the session.
Singh’s book ‘Batla House’ is centred around the controversial and famous encounter that took place in Delhi at the Batla House. The book starts from the first bomb blast that took place on 13 th September 2008. The bomb blasts were simultaneous in many places at the same time and were done by a terrorist group called the Indian Mujahidin. The terrorist group had done serial bomb blasts in over 14 places in Delhi and the police had been trying to find them since a long time. When they got the news of the group hiding in Batla House they went there to investigate where the shootings happened. Media spun the news saying that it was a fake encounter and that it was just done under the pressure. The media and the people put out rumours saying that the police officer that died was killed by his own team, however, when the forensic report came it was clear that the police officer had been killed by the terrorist group, the dead terrorists also had residue of gun powder on them that indicated that the shots had been fired by them. The police officer that had died was one of the most decorated police officer, Mohan Chand Sharma, it was his discovery that had led the team to Batla House. He had in his lifetime neutralised around 35 terrorists, received numerous medals and was also awarded the Ashok Chakra for bravery in the battle field after he had died. He was knowledge of both the technical and the human skills.
He said that the media is like the 4 th pillar of democracy and has the responsibility to make sure that they do not put out fake news out in the public domain. When the police investigate and presents the facts, it does in front of the court where the defence also has the right to fight and present the facts to the court, a judiciary body that is independent of the other pillars of the democracy. Whereas the media just presents the facts that they think is correct and frames a side, the other side has no right to defend themselves. The party that is declared guilty by the media become guilty in the eyes of the people and has no chance of redemption. The media must understand that they have a greater responsibility to refrain from showing the news that can leak sensitive information about the case and hamper the investigation. Media is like the 4 th pillar of democracy and has the power to sway the people in whatever side that they want to. The investigation teams must also be trained in what information should be shared and what should not be, as that can make or break the case.
Singh then said that sometimes the clues can be found easily whereas many times when dealing with terrorists finding clues that connect and make sense are difficult. The investigation agencies have to look for clues both on the scene and off the scene. The area has to be extensively swept for any evidence and the dump data, like the phones connected to the nearby tower, same phone present at different locations of crime. The data has to be looked through carefully as the evidence is hidden in them to crack the case.
When talked about the investigation that followed the encounter Singh mentioned that the team that has done the encounter is never a part of the investigation team, however since there is not one agency for looking into the encounters, the media and the people still claim that the teams are the same and hide facts that do not show the police in good light.
The two roles that Singh played were both of important as one dealt with the physical and internal security of the country whereas the other with the economy and social security of the country. Both these roles are fulfilling in their own way and give an immense sense of satisfaction knowing that one is doing something that will help the country be a better place in all aspects.
The conversation ended with Esha thanking Singh and Bhatia on an insightful conversation on the encounter that happened in Batla House and how the media had twisted the facts that were presented.