Kavita Kane’s latest novel, The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty, tells the story of the forgotten Queen. Rejected at birth over bias; made to live a life among fisher folks in poverty; seduced by a Rishi to produce an abandoned son; blinded by ambition to marry an old King- and above all, a guilt-ridden defeated woman inside who portrayed herself as a hardened matriarch of the Kuru Dynasty. Satyawati is all as has been summed up. Those aware of the Mahabharat often visualize Satyawati as the beautiful young second Queen of King Shantanu, but very few people have tried to delve deeper into her soul to visualize the personality she was and the circumstances that made her so. Kane’s extensive description of the lost Queen in various shades of white, black and grey portrays an unheard side of Satyawati.
Going by the old adage, ‘Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’, Satyawati’s entire life was spent in the quest of securing and sustaining the power that was taken away from her during birth. The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty portrays her as a highly ambitious woman since her adolescence. She repented no actions and was guilty of none- save one. She was ready to be seduced by a Rishi who had promised to drive her stench away so that she could be presentable and attractive to her suitors. In fact, when she enmeshed King Shantanu in her web of love she took pride in the fact that she had won the King of Hastinapur, ‘not some young fisher boy or some callous villager.’
The Royal matriarch was equally opportunistic. She was adept in grabbing every opportunity that came her way for securing her position in the Royal household and for also making sure that her sons and their successors would lead a comfortable and powerful life in Hastinapur. She was a woman ‘born to rule’. She practiced Kingship without ever being the crowned King.
Ironically enough, Satyawati could never forgive her father for having abandoned her as a child. Her rage and anger at being denied the title of a Princess and being pushed to abject poverty made her climb the ladder and take charge of Hastinapur as a Queen. She was always a fighter and fought to carve out her own destiny- and at times, that of others too. But, she abandoned her own first-born – Ved Vyas- whom she conceived as an unmarried girl. Hence her demand for justice of abandonment might seem a little paradox to her own actions.
Devrath, Ganga Putra, The Crowned Prince- whatever one would like to call him shared an unspoken bond with her. Cursed to take an oath of celibacy and remain fatherless for his entire life, Bhishm vowed to look after his kingdom as a regent and come to its aid whenever required. However, his presence strung a different chord in Satyawati’s heart. His acknowledgment of her as ‘Mother’ was a sharp sting and mockery of her destiny. Despite defeating each other and crushing each other’s soul for decades, they stood by one another in times of happiness and sorrow. When the world abandoned Satyawati, it was Bhishm who stood by her, often bounded by his Oath rather than his free will- but nevertheless stood by her.
The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty is not only the story of Satyawati and Bhishm but also of the future. Bhishm once states, ‘Any powerful King can now send an army and start a war. . . . .but this will go on, get worse until one day we will be killing each other on some huge battlefield.’ Indeed in his long life, Bhishm did see such a battle and fought in it himself at Kurukshetra where the Pandavas and Kauravas, blood-thirsty of revenge, ambition, power, and pride fought against each other. Another instance occurs when a newly widowed Satyawati was proposed for re-marriage in the court of Hastinapur and Bhishm had cut off the tongue and killed the offender. Years later, the same Bhishm sat numb and could not utter a word when Draupadi was disrobed in the Royal Court. Furthermore, there was a time when Bhishm, as a son had given up his own life to make his father happy with his new bride; but it was changed to a time when fathers blindly overindulged their sons and was literally at their mercy. While Satyawati had the ability to confront the existence of her illegitimate child, later on in the fisher queen’s dynasty, Kunti could never reveal her secret till the day her firstborn was killed by her youngest son.
Interestingly the step-son who was made to give up his throne was a witness of changing times, changing principles and changing virtues while the woman who started it all no longer existed. Satyawati had ‘stolen’ his birth-right to establish her own. Satyawati had ended his lineage to start her own. Every time I have read stories from the Mahabharat, I have wondered often if Bhishm had not taken his Oath? If Satyawati had married Bhishm instead? If Bhishm had listened to her and married Amba, then what would have happened? If any of these three would have happened, the world would not have heard the Mahabharat in utter amazement. The world would not have imbibed the life lessons from the Epic. Over the years, this Epic has personally taught me a lesson- ‘Neither is one Right Nor is one Wrong!’ One acts only according to the situations and personal prejudices. Hence Satyawati cannot be completely seen in negative shades but not in positive either. The world may perceive Bhishm to have wronged many, but he was bound by his own words, chained probably more than anyone in the hands of Fate.
Kavita Kane has barred the psychology of The Fisher Queen. She is reputed to bring forth to the world the stories of those women who have mostly been forgotten by the world; yet played important roles and exhibited various shades of their personalities. It was a pleasure reading The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty and I am eagerly looking forward to her next. Also, I just have to commend the cover page illustrator. The book is aesthetically appealing and full of symbolism.
*Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy by Westland Books in exchange for an honest review.