The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane is my second book by the author after Karna’s wife. I picked it up because of two reasons, one being my likeness of her writing based on her first book and second that it was on prime reading and I didn’t want to miss it. So despite having a few popular books awaiting my attention, I chose this one to read because I sensed that it would help me break from the heavyweight books that I had been reading lately. Though it did give me a respite, it wasn’t quite what I had expected.
Kali had never liked the smell that emanated from her, even she felt repulsed, so how could she blame others for pinching their nose and turning away. If it wasn’t for the lustful saint who sat on her boat that day, she wouldn’t have managed to get rid of her nauseating smell and turn her fate around. What could she do? He was anyway going to have his way with her, so why not strike a deal. She was Matsyagandha now. With the new musky odor, she saw the change the people’s behavior, especially men, evident. But first, she had to give away the baby to his father. It was, after all, the part of the deal.
King Shantanu fell head over heels in love with Matsyagandha the day he saw her. Unknown to him, she wasn’t the meek Kali anymore. This time, the deal would be to secure her future, not a mere smell. So when he finally laid his hands on her supple body, he didn’t know it was she who had truly won, as his wife and queen consort of the kingdom, Matsyagandha had become Satyawati, much int he same way as she had become Matsyagandha from Kali.
Written in the third person, the story of Satyawati is told by a reminiscing Bhishma as he lays on his bed of arrows, awaiting the right time of his death. The language is simple but I was inundated with the rush of elephantine and glossy words that kept coming. I think I missed some words entirely because I was too lazy to pick up my phone and look for the meaning, LOL. The prose, however, didn’t impress me as much as Karna’s Wife, and I felt cheated. Talk about author loyalty. The cover, needless to say, is extremely captivating. Even in the black and white kindle, I could sense the enchanting Satyawati’s gaze and I wanted to keep looking at her. I did go back to the cover repeatedly, to see if it was just awing at first sight or did it have an effect later as well. I decided on the latter because it has been a week since I finished the book and the cover still feels the same.
As enchanting as Satyawati was, her story that Kane tells is even more captivating. Most of us know what happens in the Mahabharata, and re-reading it in however many ways wouldn’t help in changing the facts. What will help is a re-telling, a different perspective from which the story is told, a supposedly minor character, or an obscure entity who otherwise had no major contribution. The fisher queen is one such person. Out of all the numerous books that various authors have published, re-telling tales from the point of view of Arjun or Bhim or Krishna or Draupadi, this seems like trudging on the road less taken. Having heard a lot of people say that the epic battles of Mahabharata and Ramayana were caused by women, I had come to despise these as scriptures. As folklore/tales/history, these are fine for me because I know there is nothing sacred in them and hence, giving no reason to revere them. What I believe is sacred or not, is a different path altogether, and I will not talk about it anymore here.
‘I learnt to love like a man—to love without feelings. And I shall never forget this lesson.’
So, back to our fisher queen Satyawati. Her character is superbly built. Unapologetic, bada*s, and way ahead of her time, she is how a woman should be in the face of adversities. Manipulative and remorseful, opportunist and culpable, fighter, and conscience-stricken, she is all blended into one. Abandoned as a baby, she is a bitter adolescent who knows how to turn around her fortunes in her favor using whatever means is at her disposal, even if it means letting go of her virtues. Unscrupulous and yet working tirelessly to save her kingdom from an unlikely usurper, Satyawati is not the usual queen, she is a submissive lover, an indulgent mother, and most importantly, a fierce matriarch. To know her is to know a river, only a seasoned chaperone knows what is where.
‘People are as shallow as the river shore, never as deep as the river.’
As opposed to her relationship with her husband King Shantanu, Satyawati shares a deep bond with her step-son, Devavrat. Despite the fact that he takes his terrible oath to comply to her and her father’s wishes, he isn’t bitter about it, in fact, he is her one true partner, in life’s happiness and miseries, it is they who are always seen standing together for their mutual love for their kingdom. Given that Bhishma is present in the story as much as Satyawati, his character doesn’t even come close to hers in terms of the growth that we see. He is a mere tool in the monstrosity of a machine that Satyawati’s mind is. It isn’t disappointing, I wouldn’t have liked it had the focus shifted from our queen to someone else, after all, I picked up this book for her, not the man Bhishma.
I know the author has taken artistic liberties and presented a lady who would be accepted more willingly if she is shown to be fighting for her rights rather than being a submissive sidekick of an old yet powerful king. It also needs a good editor to help with all the mistakes that I encountered (I don’t know what seasoned readers would do to the book!) I will definitely recommend this book to all the readers because this is what true woman power and equality looks like.