Though I am quite familiar with Mahabharta but couldn’t recall reading about Karna’s wife. This was primarily the reason that I picked up’ Karna’s Wife’ by Kavita Kane. I hoped to learn about Uruvi, Karna’s second wife.
Uruvi is a Kshatriya princess who falls in love with Karna and decides to marry him against her parents’ wishes who wanter her to marry Arjuna, her childhood friend. Marrying Sutaputra Karna changes the entire course of her life. She does get adjusted and accepted in the household of Karna. Her parents reluctantly accept her decision but the royal clan does not pardon her for marrying Karna. From a royal princess, she becomes an outcast overnight. Karna’s blind support to Duryodhana is a bone of contention between Uruvi and Karna. The impending war and certainty of death looming large fills Uruvi’s mind and heart with fear but she finally resigns to fate and tries to make the best of the situation.
I thought that the book is about the story of a princess who fell in love with an ordinary man destined to doom. But Karna’s Wife is more about Karna and not Uruvi. Through Uruvi, the author takes us through the journey of Karna’s life- a perfect son, husband and father, a true warrior and a true friend. Karna is presented as a tragic hero who falls from grace when he instigates the Kauravas to disrobe Draupadi. The book is a poignant saga of ambition, destiny, jealousies, heroism and human flaws. Every character shows different facets of human emotions. Duryodhana with all his ego and flaws shows his kinder side in his friendship with Karna. Karna also falls from grace when he instigates the Kauravas to disrobe Draupadi. Inspite of all his virtues, Karna couldn’t let go of the bitterness of rejection and humiliated Draupadi in the royal assembly- an incident for which Uruvi never forgave him.
The book turned out to be quite a disappointment for me. The main reason was that Karna’s wife, Uruvi turns out to be a fictitious character who is nowhere mentioned in Sage Vyas’s Mahabharta. Karna’s first wife was Vrushali who belonged to the same caste as him and they both had ten sons together. Some versions also briefly mention a second wife called Supriya. A Tamil retelling mentions ‘Ponnuruvi’ as one of his wives but most scholars opine that ‘Ponnuruvi’ was perhaps an epithet for either one of his queens and not the name of yet another wife. So by all accounts, this intense story of love and longing as described in ‘Karna’s Wife’ is fictitious. The real wife Vrushali is scarcely mentioned in Mahabharta and even in this retelling, she is marginalized and rendered mute.
The book is a retelling of Mahabharta with a different perspective. Karna, the quintessential ‘tragic hero’ is an intriguing character to write about. And so the author writes about the high-born Kshatriya who was abandoned at birth and wronged throughout his life. But in order to glorify Karna and to justify his actions, the author has degraded every other character around. Kunti, Arjuna, Draupadi- all are shown in a negative light as the ones who brought Karna’s downfall. Kunti and Draupadi who are remarkable in their own right, cut a sorry figure in front of the fictitious Uruvi.
Another reason why I disliked the book is the portrayal of Draupadi who has always secretly loved and longed for Karna. More shocking is the fact that Draupadi even forgives Karna for his role in her disrobing and urges Uruvi to do the same for the sake of love. This is a highly inaccurate version as Draupadi was never in love with Karna according to the original epic. Also this sets an utterly inappropriate example for the women facing sexual abuse. I do not relate to this twisted excuse of love for normalizing and legitimizing sexual harassment. This was precisely the reason I didn’t like ‘Palace of Illusions’.
The narrative gets quite tedious at times. The forced and contrived arguments of Uruvi to establish other characters as inferior are quite annoying. I feel that a retelling should at least stay true to the original in terms of story and especially when you are dealing with an ‘Epic’. In the name of creative liberty, you cannot play around with our revered scriptures. As someone curious to find deeper insights in the classical Indian epics, this book unfortunately did not fit the bill.
Title: Karna’s Wife: The Outcast’s Queen
Author: Kavita Kane
Originally Published: August 2013
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Genre: Mythological Fiction
Page Count: 310
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