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By Shakuntala and other stories from ancient India By Adithi Rao Puffin Books, Rs 175 SMITA LALA
  • Published 11.07.07

Adithi Rao’s first book Shakuntala and Other Stories is a collection of six classics of Sanskrit and Tamil literature.

The first story is Kalidasa’s Abhijnanashakuntalam, which is considered to be among his best. It is, as we know, the tale of Shakuntala and King Dushyanta. Shakuntala is the daughter of an apsara and the sage Vishwamitra, while Dushyanta is a king and a descendent of the dynasty of the Moon. The two get married and Dushyanta returns to his kingdom only to forget Shakuntala under the curse of the sage Durvasa. The two are ultimately reunited, but not before a painful separation and the birth of their son, who later rules the world.

The third story, Silappadikaram, is about the beautiful and chaste Kannagi, whose husband Kovalan falls in love with a dancer called Madhavi. Later, he returns to Kannagi and the couple move to Madurai to start a new life. Unfortunately, Kovalan is falsely accused of stealing the queen’s anklet and is executed. The chaste Kannagi avenges the wrongful murder by burning down the city of Madurai. Kannagi’s statue still stands today and she is an important part of the history of Madurai.

It is the Uttararamacharita, however, which stands apart from the rest. Because the second century playwright Bhavabuti has given it a completely different ending than the one we are familiar with. Bhavabhuti brings the Uttararamacharita to a happy end where Sita lives happily ever after with her husband Ram and her twin sons, Lav and Kush.

For Rao, who was an assistant director on the Hindi film, Satya, the book presents a major leap. Her association with films sometimes shines through her writing. For example, in the introduction to Madurai, in Silappadikaram, she describes it as a place where “the roar of the mighty sea was like a background score to the lives of the people”.

Every story is accompanied by a note on the authors of these classical tales and the period in which they were written — a thoughtful touch when one is writing for children.

But Rao sometimes chooses to start a story much ahead of its main event. For instance, in Urubhangam, which is an account of the combat between Bheema and Duryodhana in Kurukshetra, Rao begins with a meeting between Ghatotkacha and Bheema — an incident which occurs much before in the epic.

Still, Rao is a gifted storyteller and this book will no doubt be a delight to many.

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