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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Author Interview : Utkarsh Patel, author of ‘Satyavati'

Utkarsh Patel
Read up, the Interview with Utkarsh Patel, author of 'Satyavati'. The book was was a brilliant telling of a very important part of the Mahabharata, sometimes forgotten. It held its own, throughout the story. In this Interview, he tells us how Satyavati's characterisation came about, what the kind of research was put into this book, what the challenges were that went into its writing and what book is coming from him next, Folks...

Could you describe the journey of ‘Satyavati’? How did it begin? What kind of research was put into it?

This subject came up during a discussion with my publisher, who wanted something different as a story idea. Characters like Amba, Kunti, Draupadi, etc. have been written time and again. 

As part of my earlier research, I had realised that there was much more to certain characters, than what popular depictions have shown. Satyavati was one of them. 

There was more to her personality than just a helpless widow for a major part of her life.

Why did you choose Satyavati, exactly?

In mythology, women are either a damsel-in-distress or temptresses and seductresses. They were either the chaste Sati-Savitri or a vamp or benign mothers and wives.

A woman can be a combination of both good and evil, just as any other character. Every individual comprises of varying shades of grey and Satyavati epitomised this aspect of womanhood. She was someone who had hatred and love in her heart. She errs but she still rises above the rest. Hers was a story waiting to be told, and I hope I have been able to do so!

Could you describe the journey? How does it feel, now that you are plugging the holes in the Mahabharata?

Mahabharata is an enigma for me. It never ceases to surprise me or show me something new, every time I take it up, which is quite often. As a child, I was told, that Mahabharata should never be read inside the house, but there is so much in it which every household needs to know and learn from.

Typically, Mahabharata is a story about heroes, their struggles, sacrifices and victory. But we often forget that these heroes owed a lot to a number of women both directly as well as indirectly. Some were heroes because of them, some thanks to them. I want to tell the stories of these women, who have made some contribution to the epic and the society, but have been lost in time, in the male-melee!

‘Shakuntala’ and now, ‘Satyavati’, your books came out along with a number of mythological novels. What according to you is different about them?

Well, I can’t quite compare mine with the others as that is what the readers will have to do, however, I can mention what I do when I write. First, I try to stick to the original story as much as I can. This is not to say, that there aren’t deviations, but the original thread is the same.

Second, I try to interpret the fantastic elements. I try to demystify some of the mythical aspects to make the story more meaningful.

Third, I often cite references, which enables a reader to verify and also provide a reading list for further reading. Finally, my genre is mytho-fiction and not history!

How would you relate the lives of Satyavati to the lives today? Any similarities?

One of the main reasons of retelling these stories is that there are often too many similarities of such characters and instances with modern times. What Satyavati had to go through, is often what many women have to go through, submit themselves to the power of certain men.

We see people taking advantages of their powerful positions and violate women and are often forced to keep quiet. In certain segments of the societies, women are married off to men old enough to be their fathers. How much has the society changed? Except for a small percentage and in cities, do women really have the choice to choose?

How would you relate the book and its characters, besides Satyavati’s, to the lives today?

Just as I mentioned above, many of the characters can be identified. People like Sage Parashar and King Shantanu exist in our society even today.

While we might not find too many of Bhishma, but many of the characters in the novel are identifiable.

Which is your favourite character besides Satyavati? Why?

Well, can’t think of anybody from “Satyavati” (as in the novel), but from the epic Mahabharata of course, I have many.

Shakuntala is definitely my favourite which, of course made me write my first novel (Shakuntala – The Woman Wronged) followed by Satyavati of course. Amongst others, I like the character of Vidur and Shakuni!

What was the most challenging part about writing this book?

I think the most challenging part of writing this book, was to separate me from the character. Sometimes, I tend to get too carried away with the character and the ills heaped on her, that I tend to become her mouthpiece.

When you are retelling stories from epics, it is important to maintain a level of integrity with the epic, without missing on the nuances which have been lost in time.

What are the most fulfilling parts, now that you have managed to
write this book?

I am happy with the way it has turned out. I am happy that I have managed to maintain a balance in the personalities while making them human and believable.

I am also glad that I have managed to give a voice to the character, whose voice, as it would have been, was lost for a long time. Critics have liked it and so have the readers.

A reader wrote to me, ‘this is exactly how I would have felt and acted, if I was in her place!’ – Such comments make my day!

What book is coming from you, next? 

I have just finished a manuscript which is awaiting publication sometime end of this year.

It is the retelling of a Tamil epic from the Sangam literature, called ‘Shilapadikarm’, a hugely popular epic down South, but hardly known in the other parts of the country. I am also working on some smaller novellas, like ‘Satyavati’.

You can Read the Review, right here  and can Buy the Book, right here, for which you need to download the Readify App https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=in.readify
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