Book Reviews

Book Review – Menaka’s Choice


Wonder what made me pick this book up ??!@

I read three awesome books by Sri M where my consciousness was lifted and my soul was stirred ….. then I saw the title “Menaka’s choice” and thought it might be an interesting take on Apsara Menaka and Brahmarishi Vishwamitra’s life. This book was underwhelming and irritated me right through the reading of it – its soft porn at its best and a grammatical nightmare at its worst. My first suggestion to the author is to get a good editor who knows English.

My second suggestion is more serious – when you pick stories from our Puranas and epics, to reinterpret, either you should be an expert or you should atleast treat the characters with some respect. The first such book that I read was the “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Divakaruni and it was outstanding. Then the Shiva trilogy by Amish Tripathi was again riveting and very interesting. This book by Ms. Kavita Kane is just terrible.

Ms. Kane has made a nymphomaniac out of Menaka and a sex-symbol out of Brahmarishi Vishwamitra, the man who created an alternate universe through the power of his penance ! Its one thing to show him as any regular man who succumbs to temptation, but nearly every page in the book is about sex happening, about to happen or someone fantasizing about it.

The legend that the author is trying to re-interpret is well known – Lord Indra is scared that he will lose his heaven because Sage Vishwamitra’s powers have reached an all time high. He sends Menaka to seduce him and take him off course with her charms. She ends up falling in love with him and they have a child who is given up to Sage Kanva and brought up as Shakuntala. King Dushyanta meets Shakuntala during a hunting trip and falls in love, marries her but leaves her behind with the promise that he will come back for her. She waits and while waiting, Sage Durvasa visits Kanvashram and she forgets to welcome and serve him. In a fit of rage he curses her that whoever she is thinking of will forget her. She begs for forgiveness and Sage Durvasa says that the person will remember her when she shows something that he gave her. When Shakuntala reaches Hastinapur King Dushyant doesn’t remember her as she loses the ring that he had given her. Finally a fisherman manages to find the ring that had been eaten by a fish and when he brings it to King Dushyant, he remembers Shakuntala and sets out to find her and his son. They are re-united and the rest is history as they say. Interestingly, India is named Bharat after their son, King Bharat.

And for the record, we still have a Kanvashram on the way to Landsdowne and its a beautiful place. So the story may very well be true and not “myth”.

Anyway, statements that are grammatically incorrect put me off -here are a few samples from the book – “Possessiveness wells out the tenderness of responsibility;” What does this mean ?%^*! “.. how more wicked could an apsara be?”…”Her sham had made her exploitative and devious of her own feelings.” What ???

The saving grace is the Epilogue which brings together some pieces of the puranas and epics – the connection of Sage Vishwamitra to Sri Rama and Sage Parashurama. There is also mention of Nalkuber’s curse that stopped Ravana from touching Sita.

Anyway – I should thank Ms. Kavita Kane for rekindling my interest in Brahmarishi Vishwamitra, Shakuntala and King Dushyant. The “Gayatri Mantra” was created by Brahmarishi Vishwamitra after all …

As far as reading this book is concerned, I wouldn’t recommend it.

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2 replies »

  1. Binduji,
    OK, I will take your recommendation and not read”Citizen” Kane’s novel. In any case, writing a fictional piece with well-known historical or mythological characters is like walking into a booby trap. [Oops, pardon the unintended pun 🙂 ]. The events and characters are so well ingrained in collective memory, that if you present anything different, the public will reject it as ersatz stuff. If you go to Punjab and offer Dosa batter for making Chappatti, will they not spit on you?
    That said, an elderly friend once told me that the story of Menaka and Viswamitra is actually an allegory. It is not so much about Indira distracting the sage; it is about learning to “let go” feelings after personally understanding the experience, rather than forced suppressing of the same. However great your dedication to meditation (or any serious task), suppressed feelings will find a way of exploding at the wrong moment and spoil your efforts. So learn to handle feelings before you attempt big goals. My friend’ interpretation seemed to be reasonable.
    Let me make a wild guess as to why you picked the book — you expected her to present Menaka as a strong lady, and tell the story from Menaka’s viewpoint. Be charitable to Ms Kane — may be she was experiencing her feelings (like my friend suggested) through the book! But, I wholeheartedly agree with you on one point: don’t try writing books, until you have understood the language!

    • Kaushik Ji, you are spot on – I did expect the author to present the story from Menaka’s point of view but that obviously didn’t happen. Also I feel many new-age authors use our epics to base their stories on and with their limited understanding re-interpret them wrongly. If the book succeeds then that interpretation becomes a reality and the true meaning or other deeper interpretations are lost. Like the movie “Ashoka” with Shah Rukh Khan is remembered only for Priety Zinta’s item song – it never brought out the true Chakravarthy Ashoka who ruled over the biggest population on Earth and is a much bigger emperor than Alexander or Genghis Khan. Thats the disservice these kind of books do. Now some idiot will make a XXX movie out of this book and Menaka will forever be considered a celestial vamp or worse ! 😦

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