Sunday, 4 October 2015

Kaikeyi – the Visionary Parent!!! A Character Study

I know many of us will do a double take reading this title, as when we hear of Kaikeyi, we invariably think of an evil stepmother who cruelly banished her stepson, & none other than Lord Ram, to a harsh life of exile for 14 years and took away his rights of accession to the throne in favor of her own son, Bharat.

What if I tell you that my own learning & analyzing of the epic, Ramayan, leads me to another conclusion, and one that points Kaikeyi as:
  • Warrior Princess 
  • Able administrator & advisor
  • Loving & resilient parent
  • Hard taskmaster
  • Visionary towards the highest benchmark of good governance – RAMRAJYA.

Now before you think what I am trying to arrive at, I have logic to support each argument I have mentioned; however before that, for the uninitiated, let me give a little background on the character study we are doing on Kitabi Keeda today – Kaikeyi.

Background as we popularly know: Kaikeyi was one of the three wives of Ayodhya’s King Dashrath, and mother to Bharat. The other two queens of Dashrath were Kaushalya – who gave birth to Ram, & Sumitra – who gave birth to twins Laxman & Shatrughna. Kaikeyi was known to be the favourite queen of Dashrath & loved all the 4 sons of the empire, but she especially loved Ram the most. However, as fate would have it, Kaikeyi’s wet nurse, Manthara, gradually instigated her that her own born Bharat should succeed Dashrath as the King of Ayodhya & not Ram who was the legal heir by birth. Kaikeyi got swayed by Manthara’s poisonous words & “infamously” used her popularity & love with Dashrath to make two promises that changed the course of history forever:
  • Bharat’s accession to the throne of Ayodhya
  • Ram’s exile from Ayodhya for 14 years.

Dashrath had to comply by these wishes as he had once promised them to Kaikeyi when in a war she had saved his life.
This resulted in what we know today as Ramayan.
In one instant Kaikeyi became a fallen, greedy woman; an evil incarnate of stepmother (which by the way is a very European folkore notion, as mothers are hardly classified as evil stepmoms in Vedas; case in point – Yashodha, Satyavati, Rohini etc)…
The scene of Ram's banishment as popularly perceived
So after jogging your memory to what is today the popularly known version of Kaikeyi’s role in Ramayan, let me present this history from the research & analysis I have done over the years:

Kaikeyi – the story of a Resilient & Visionary Parent

Note: Before we proceed any further, let us for a moment keep aside that we are talking about Gods or a particular faith/religion, as if we read any article with this halo effect, we tend to get intimidated & are unable to relate to events on an analytical basis. Kitabi Keeda is purely doing this study to analyse situations as related in history & apply it to modern day learning.

Background as per KK research & analysis – Kaikeyi was born to King Ashwapati & was the only sister amongst seven brothers. She grew up without any maternal influence, & possibilities of these are twofold –

1.) her mother may have passed away when she was young
2.)there is a slight mention of a possible marital discord & separation between Ashwapati & his wife

Growing up amongst 7 brothers & a father, Kaikeyi was not a typical princess of that era. She had to compete with her male siblings in every arena; hence unlike many princesses she perfected the art of warfare along with her brothers. She was also a very gifted individual with shrewd & sharp observation skills, & hence used to take keen interest in her father’s administrative work and learnt from him the art of managing an empire. It is recorded in Ramayan that Kaikeyi used to accompany her father & brothers in warfare, dressed in armour & artillery, thereby propounding the theory that Kaikeyi was a gifted lady who was beyond the roles of other girls of her age & stature.

It is in one of these wars that Dashrath met Kaikeyi, & naturally her beauty, sharpness, wit, intelligence & warfare skills attracted him beyond anything. Dashrath was in absolute awe & instantly in love, as he had never seen such a dynamic lady in his lifetime. He asked Ashwapati for Kaikeyi’s hand in marriage & the betrothal was solemnised.

Dashrath & Kaikeyi had a very happy marriage; in fact she was his favourite Queen amongst all his wives. The reason for this is very simple; while Dashrath’s other queens were there to fulfill their roles of wives & mother to his children, Kaikeyi was just so much more. In Kaikeyi he actually had a companion & not only a wife.  She fought wars alongside him, indulged in discussions on militia & administrative strategies for the Kingdom, was most beautiful amongst all his queens, was graceful, pragmatic, yet given her young age playful & cheerful, easily making her the favorite for Dashrath. It is also said that having never seen female company in her own home, Kaikeyi craved for a mother or older sister like figure & hence was extremely warm to Dashrath’s two older queens, Kaushalya & Sumitra. She gave them all respect & in return used to crave attention & love from them, which she always received in plenty.

One instance to establish Kaikeyi as a warrior is when she accompanies Dashrath to a war & saves his life by famously holding the wheel of his chariot with her bare hands, while Dasrath finishes the war. Had she not held the damaged chariot wheel in her hand, Dashrath would have been vulnerable to be mortally wounded by the enemy. Impressed at her bravery & strength, Dashrath grants her two promises that she can ask him to keep any time & promises that he will honour them at any cost.

These instances go on to prove Kaikeyi to be a smart, diplomatic, pragmatic & sensitive lady who knew how to keep everyone happy.

Once the 3 queens gave birth to their sons; Kaushalya – Ram; Sumitra – Laxman & Shatrughana; Kaikeyi – Bharat; the Kingdom became one happy family.

It is quoted that Ram was Kaikeyi’s favourite son amongst all the children. She loved him even more than her own son Bharat. Ram’s being firstborn & after a long wait was obviously one reason why he was showered with maximum love, but it was his enigmatic personality even as a child that made Kaikeyi love him the most amongst all the children.

Ram was resilient, practical, obedient, pragmatic, intelligent & caring child, thus showing Kaikeyi that he had all qualities in him to become of the greatest administrators known to mankind. It is recorded in Ramayan that when the children go to gurukul to attain education, Kaikeyi worries that all the three children will be taken care of by Ram very well, but who will take care of Ram himself. Such was her confidence in Ram & such was her affection for Ram.

As Ram grew & came of age, everyday Kaikeyi would see the potential in the young prince to become a legend, a benchmark of good administration, a man to be held in reverence for millennia to come.

However, one thing worried her the most; Ram was also the most protected, loved and indulged son, of not only his parents, but the whole Kingdom. This overprotective halo around Ram disturbed her. She could see this becoming the biggest impediment in Ram’s path to attain the knowledge & skill required to be a legend in good governance.

Of course, Ram could still rule Ayodhya & be the best that the Kingdom ever had, but so could Bharat. Ram, however, was meant for greater achievements, given his potential.
Ram had to travel; he had to get out of his protective environment & face hardships head on; he had to learn of the World outside Ayodhya & what it was made of; he had to encounter certain kingdoms and learn from them while setting things in order; & the first person he had to learn from was the Asura monarch – Raavan;
Raavan was known for his intelligence, military skills, administrative skills, & was an ruler par excellence. He was a learned man & had the intelligence of 10 maharishis in 1 brain (thereby earning him the title Dashanan – or one with 10 heads); however he was also an arrogant & short-tempered man who despite his intelligence was a slave to his ego. Kaikeyi & Ram both knew that not only could Ram learn the art of administration from Raavan; but he in turn could also teach the latter the value of virtues like resilience, humility, sacrificial nature that Ram brought with him.
Ram also had to make allies with far-flung strong nations on his own steam, which could not be done by being in Ayodhya alone.
Ram had to travel & make his own decisions & take his own learning if he had to establish a system of governance that only he had the potential to start. Travel is the biggest teacher for anyone to become independent & gain an unknown perspective that shapes one’s personality. Without understanding the length & breadth of the land, one cannot rule it to the best effect and make revolutionary changes, that millennia can look upto as an example for years to come.

The biggest problem now lay before Kaikeyi was, that not only did everyone love Ram, but also Dashrath & the other queens would simply not let Ram go on a dangerous adventure on his own into unknown territory & face the demons for himself. Call it the overprotectiveness of parents, but does it not happen in our day to day lives, that parents wish to protect their child of every harm to such an extent that they forget that there are certain hard lessons that a child can learn by making his/her own mistakes. If a child falls & does not learn to pick himself up, he will always need support; however if a child falls & is left to find his/her own way, they will find out a way to get up on their own.
But this was just not an issue of falling & picking oneself up; this was the task of going into an unknown territory & charting your own way. Ram understood this need & so did Kaikeyi, but she knew no one will listen to her logic & everyone was waiting for Ram to succeed to Ayodhya’s throne as soon as possible.

There is an instance described in Ramayan, where Lord Vishnu (whose human manifestation is the form of Ram) visits Kaikeyi in her dreams & asks her to take the hard step of banishing Ram to a life of exile, as that is ordained. Kaikeyi is very reluctant initially, as she loves Ram too, but Vishnu reasons with her that his manifestation Ram has come on Earth for a reason & if he does not go through what is ordained as his “leela” (doing), humanity will never understand a very crucial aspect of life that is given in the form of Ramayan.
Now let us apply logic of this World to it. Vedas have always propounded that God or Evil are not external forces but entities within you. We all have God & Devil in us…it’s a matter of who we want to listen to that makes a thing called “conscience”. What Kaikeyi is experiencing here is an internal battle with herself, where her maternal love is not wanting to let go of Ram, where her own insecurity at being judged is stopping her from suggesting Ram’s exile from Ayodhya, where she also wants Ram to be protected; on the other hand a part of her conscience is telling her to let go of Ram if she wants to see him become the legend that millennia to come can follow; to not be worried of petty issues like how she will be judged in this birth, & think of the welfare of humanity as a whole; to rise above her own happiness & think of the benefit Ram will give to society by establishing RAMRAJYA – the highest benchmark of good administration; else millennia to come will take RAVANRAAJ as the benchmark of last known good, yet materialistic governance & hence will fall in a trap of ego, whim, anger, arrogance & take irrational decisions. The humanity needed to have the example of both forms of administrations & take their own call on which to follow.

Finally Kaikeyi’s rational conscience wins & she stages the whole drama of Ram’s exile & Bharat accession to Ayodhya’s throne.
What she gets in return is her beloved husband’s death out of sorrow & depression; her own son’s anger; her sister like queens’ rejection; a whole kingdom’s disgust as she sees her favorite child going away to attain a path of greater good by going through innumerable hardships.

She maintains a shrewd & cold demeanor, while inwardly she is the parent who does not let self-emotion & selfish love get in the way of what Ram became & how humanity benefitted from it in the long run.

Ram came back in all glory after 14 years of exile; his experience made him richer as an individual & after accessing the throne of Ayodhya, he established the highest benchmark of good governance known to humanity – THE RAMRAJYA!!!

Bharat always governed Ayodhya in Ram’s absence as a temporary ruler, and never once thought of taking away the throne for himself; who instilled this feeling of selflessness and respect in Bharat for Ram? Obviously his mother, Kaikeyi.

Please do not forget that if Ram is considered a legend to the power of Lord today, it would not have been possible without the vision of Kaikeyi – the visionary parent who sacrificed her own happiness, and has taken everyone’s hate in her stride, to help establish RAMRAJYA.

If you pore through history, almost all great legends & revolutionaries have travelled far & wide to attain the richness of knowledge that benefitted humanity on whole. Gautam Buddha, Adi Shankaracharya, Chankya, and to quote a very recent example, Che Guevara, have been travellers & revolutionaries; maybe not in same breadth, but just the same. Travel opens your mind to uncharted & unknown territories, it is upto you if you can learn from it or not.

Kaikeyi sacrificed so much to bring forth this learning to us; Ram established a system of governance that is revered to this day; now it is up to us to value that learning & build ourselves a better society or move on thinking of the whole chapter to be a fairytale and dismiss it J J

This is Kitabi Keeda’s own study of Kaikeyi’s character, backed by the logic that the epic provides and which is open to analysis & interpretations.


Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair – by Joel Dicker

The Day of Disappearance (Saturday, August 30, 1975)
"Somerset Police. What's your emergency?"
"Hello, My name is Deborah Cooper. I live on Side Creek Lane. I think i'v just seen a man running after a girl in the woods."
"Could you tell me exactly what happened, ma'am?"
"I don't know! I was standing by the window. I looked over toward the woods, & i saw this girl running through the trees. There was a man behind her. i think she was trying to get away from him."
"Where are they now?"
"I can't see them anymore. They're in the forest."
"Im sending a patrol over right now, ma'am."
The news story that would shock the town of Somerset, New Hampshire, began with this phone call.

This was the very first page of the whodunit that left me in a tizzy. A story starting with this premise could only promise something good….rather very good.

I first came upon Joel Dicker’s bestselling thriller, reading a book recommendation article in Mint’s weekend edition of Lounge. The premise of the book was so brilliant that I immediately booked my copy.

In a classic whodunit style, The Truth…focuses on a very prominent & celebrated author of the past & his protégé, who goes on to become a prodigy of sorts as well, falling in the footsteps of his mentor, Harry Quebert.

After writing a super successful bestseller, the protégé, Marcus Goldman, is struck with writer’s block & is simply unable to pen another expected “bestseller”.  Distraught & facing the possibility of a major lawsuit from his publishing house, he retreats to the quiet town of Somerset, where his mentor Harry Quebert is living his days out. Goldman needs some quiet, some inspiration that can chug the writer in him back in action.

It is here that Goldman stumbles upon an affair that happened 30 years back, between Harry & a young girl Nola Kellergan. Harry is still heartbroken about the sudden disappearance of his girlfriend & cannot seem to move on in life from that sore spot.

Goldman returns to his home, still without a story, & still facing a lawsuit. One fine day, he receives a phone call, & is asked to switch on the news. Nola’s remains have been found in Harry’s own lawn, buried deep inside, and the legendary author is now facing charges of sexual assault, possibly rape & murder of a 17 year old Nola Kellergan.

Goldman, who cannot believe his mentor could do this, embarks upon an investigation of the case….and the case that opens up is so terribly complex & layered that it becomes difficult to find the truth…page after page!!!

I am revealing no further spoiler here, as that will simply deceive the purpose of writing about a whodunit. The information I have let out above is what you will also read at the back of the book & on promotional details of the novel; and trust me when I say it, that’s just the start of this roller coaster ride.

Joel Dicker, a young Swedish author, with his debut work has hit the nail right on spot. The book is especially a bestseller in Europe, and is touted as Sweden’s answer to Swiss thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. I would not call it an answer to the latter, as that 3 part thriller was truly more riveting, tightly knit, better characterized. Having said that, I cannot take away from the brilliant effort that The Truth…is.

The Truth…might intimidate you with its sheer length & breadth (it’s a huge book), however it’s a sure shot page-turner, from the word go.

The book is deeply layered, like any mystery/thriller/whodunit, with a bouquet on interesting characters forming their own small weave of mysterious backstories, thereby resulting in the arrow of suspicion being pointing at each. However, what especially caught my attention about this book was not only the main plot revolving around Harry Quebert, but the beauty with which the side stories also get their own character & form a completely detached mystery. It was like reading 2-3 mysteries in one book, yet not losing focus from the main plot. Balancing this act was truly a feat by Dicker.

The Truth…often alternates between a time gap of 30 years back & forth in order to relate the whole story thus taking it’s time in unfolding every nuance of the story.

The most striking feature for me in The Truth…was Harry’s mentoring of Marcus in just some impactful lines…chapter after chapter!! It was quite a treat for aspiring writers like me!! J J I have picked up a few tips for sure. J

The Truth…will soon be adapted into a major motion picture!! Grab the copy & read the thriller before that!!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Curse of Brahma: Super Thrilling first installment of The Krishna Trilogy

Good & Evil are two sides of a mirror; The pristine, clear, reflective side that shows us our appearance is Good, but the dark underbelly behind it…what is that?? Evil?? Or a counter reflection of You?? No one person is all Evil & no one person is all Good. There are elements of both in each one of us!! It is just a matter of time, which side of the mirror overtakes us first, & becomes the part of our being, thereby shaping actions & destiny of the course of future forever!!

Every thing that has happened or is happening has a story…every such event has a reason!!!

When I was given Jagmohan Bhanver’s “The Curse of Brahma” to read – the first instalment of his offering, THE KRISHNA TRILOGY, I honestly thought, “Oh no!!! One more trilogy?? When will people stop LOTRising our Vedic History into an over stylised fantasy fiction??!!” Yes, I have read almost all the “bestselling” fantasy fics on Indian Purans & Epics, & have not been impressed with any of them so far. I felt they were either too simplistic; if not that, then too amateurish; if not even that, then too Americanised in their language; if not that, then either unnecessarily sensational or too ho-hum. I had not stumbled upon one wholesome work that gave me a perfect blend of facts & fiction, all wrapped up in an interesting package; where neither is the Vedic fact compromised, nor is characterisation compromised, nor is fictional story around it irritating & cringe-worthy, like something getting in your way.

The Curse of Brahma addresses each of these points with great dexterity. As the name suggests, it is part of the Krishna Trilogy, therefore it focuses on Krishna Leela, i.e, Dwapar Yug. The author, Jagmohan Bhanver, takes his own pace & time to unfold his story. In fact, I did wonder, what has Brahma got to do with Krishna’s story at all, isn’t that Vishnu’s domain? ; & This is where Bhanver digresses you beautifully from the facts given in the Puran to his own fictional story of how the big Dwapar Yug drama unfolded.

In fact, the whole book is a perfect symmetry of fact & fiction.

What sets Bhanver’s book apart from others in the same genre is, that while most of the books use ready made facts & characters as main plot line to start their work & weave the fictional story or character in between the narrative as a secondary plot, Bhanver’s book takes the opposite route. His primary characters or start of the story is purely via fiction, and then slowly incorporates real characters & story back into his fictional narrative to make complete sense of the whole story & where it is headed. This, to my mind, was very brave of the author, as not only it involves exercising your own creativity & not solely relying on ready made story obtained from Purans; it also gives a different outlook & meaning as to why the major events of Dwapar Yug actually happened, the end of which earmarked the start of KaliYug.

I will not reveal too much about The Curse of Brahma as it will end up divulging the spoilers of the book’s plot. But I will tell you what to expect when reading this book:

·     Original story to kickstart the book: As the name suggests & the Book’s summary suggests, it starts with the after effects of a curse given by Brahma that shapes the destiny of future & propels the Sampoorna Avatar (Complete incarnation) of Vishnu to come on Earth. I had not read about any such event in Purans & was pleasantly surprised that Bhanver’s imagination did not underwhelm the unfolding of actual events of Krishna Leela.

·      Amartya Kalyanesu Watch out for this character!!! So much depth & dimension to explore in him!!

·      Conceptual explanation: As is the norm with books of this genre, The Curse…also explains some important concepts of cosmology & the Holy Trinity to make absolute sense. They are not over the top nor are they underwhelming in their explanantion.

·      Character build up: Bhanver has given enough time & thought to build up his characters & given reason as to why someone became how they are seen today in the pages of History. It’s not a cardboard caricature like many books of this genre easily slip into (take Amish’s Shiva Trilogy as an example: Sati is a ferocious & strong willed warrior princess who fears no one & does not think twice before wielding a sword, yet she gives into regressive practices like Vikarma with absolute ease, believing she deserves to be ostracised for “crimes” she has not even committed!! Or on one hand Daksha is willing to break any law & do anything to protect his poor daughter from the fate of being a widow; yet he plots to suddenly kill Shiva, irrespective that his daughter will again be thrown into the same fate that he fought against in the first instance; take Ashwin Sanghi’s The Krishna Key as an example – Tarak Vakil, the main protagonist is this smooth serial killer who thinks he is the incarnation of Krishna & is annihilating Evil through his murders…& then suddenly this strong character turns into…into…something like Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chashma!!). Bhanver’s characters on the other hand stand firmly on their feet & act & react exactly how they should, given their characterization. If someone changes his or her colours, a valid explanation of that is also given to make it look wholesome & logical.

·      Romance Plots: I can say one thing very safely; most Indian authors (not all…mind you), just cannot write romance with ease. Cannot!! And authors of this genre, just cannot. It just does not come out naturally & looks like an effort. It’s exactly how our film stars used to kiss on screen – cringing, like on a gunpoint, like a chore that has to be done. Amish’s Shiva Trilogy (especially the first book) made a difficult read for me solely because of this reason; Shiva & Sati romance (where even the serial Mahadev could do a good job) was so cringe worthy & “trying too hard”. Ashwin Sanghi’s Krishna Key romance was similar & a total washout; Anand Neelakanthan’s Ajaya track of Karna - Draupdai & Duryodhana- Subhadra was laughable!!! Compared to that romance plots were few in Bhanver’s book but well developed, subtle & came in as a matter of fact. The Devki & Vasudev romance was nowhere cringing in nature & nor were side plot romance tracks. The important part was, that while these tracks were there, they were not causing an impediment to the main plot, but were simply contributing to it.

·      Thrilling build up: The book is a thriller for sure!! The plot of the book thickens into thrilling events one after the other. Whether it is the fight sequences or events mentioned in the Purans, they have been given a wonderfully ominous feel. You can almost feel such events unfolding right in front of your eyes. The fight sequences are especially worth mentioning; they themselves have a character of their own.
Another thing that caught my interest was how Bhanver delved into gore when required (not unnecessarily or too much) to create significant amount of pathos. His description of Tamastamah Prabha – the Hell of Hells was eerie & pathos inducing. However, he did not delve so much into it either, as to take away from the main plot of the book. His focus & commitment to the story was always there.

To sum it up Bhanver’s The Curse of Brahma is Thrilling, Intelligent, Pacy, Brave & laced with a strong narrative. It works on its own fictional plot first & then smartly weaves in the events mentioned in Purans….and boy does it deliver!!! I just hope the rest two books in Bhanver’s Krishna Trilogy live upto the pitch at which this book takes you as a reader!!


Publication: Rupa
Available on Flipkart & all leading book stores.

(Disclaimer: This is not a paid article; the views expressed in this review are blogger’s own opinion)