Kavita Kane is an author known to write about female characters that aren’t given credit in our epics. And here, in Lanka’s Princess, she does the same thing she’s done in her previous novels. Surpanakhai, Ravanan’s youngest sibling and only sister, is the main character here and although she is the only main character, she isn’t the protagonist, she’s the antagonist. The one thing that sets aside this book from the author’s other books is that while she wrote about those women in a pleasant, non judgemental manner, her disdain for Surphanakai and Asuras in general is obvious in this book.
From the get go she is described, by her own mother, as dark and ugly. While the father, a Brahmin Rishi, says that she is as dark and beautiful as her mother, the mother disagrees and openly treats her badly, preferring the fair skinned Ravan and Vibhishan over her dark skinned ugly daughter. A daughter is said to be a burden in India and neither parent makes the tiniest effort to stop themselves from showing that to this little child. And this open hatred is what moulds her into the monster that they claim she is.
Naturally, since the author obviously has disdain for these characters, you can be sure that there isn’t going to be one good thing about them and that’s how it is. North Indians have a different legend from us South Indians so this was a rather interesting read for me, to see how, except for Ravan, all the good people were fair skinned and all the bad people were dark skinned. How all the asuras were bad and barbaric while all the mortals and devas were cultured were good. There is a line here to describe what she(Surpanakhai) thinks of Lanka “There was lot of wealth but little sign of culture; the luxury in the chamber was senseless, haphazard and ill fitting.”
Throughout the book we get Surphanakai’s broken transistor like thoughts, always quick to judge and ill tongued, constantly plotting against one or the other character. The author goes out of her way to tell us just how horrible Asuras are and in the end we are left with no doubt that these people are evil. Again, the legend in the south is much more different from the north, so this may be why I had a hard time coming to terms with this obviously negative portrayal of these characters.
I had no problem or difficulty finishing this. It was an absolute breeze, one that you can read in one or two settings. Especially if you like mythology because this does feel imminently familiar. Granted it is a known story but even though it was a different story to one that I’d hear as a child I read this with a sort of closeness that I find hard to ignore.
While this is a completely easy read and I finished it over one evening, it doesn’t challenge your intelligence in any way. The author tells you, through Surphanakai’s eyes, exactly how each character is but she doesn’t show you. (For instance, she loves her grandmother and she is described as the only one who treats her well but there is nothing else to make us like the granny. Just sentences, no moving actions.) And this is the biggest problem with mythology books. Epics have already done the work for the authors so they have to make little effort by way of world building or character building and it shows. We read these books because we already know these characters and I don’t think I would be interesting in picking the author’s books based on just her writing if she were to write about characters I don’t care about (which is why I didn’t pick up Menaka’s Choice). Also mentioning, the number of typos and editing mistakes were quite high, it does say Archive Copy on my book so I’m hoping it’s just this one print batch that has this issue.
I gave Lanka’s Princess 3 stars. This was a rather quick and interesting read but not memorable. The constant description of being dark and ugly got to be a little too much for me and while this still exists in India and I don’t have an open problem with each country and their ideas of beauty, I do take offence to someone being called ugly because they are dark. I wouldn’t recommend you start with this as your intro to the author. For that I’d say pick up Sita’s Sister or Karna’s Wife. And if you’re a south Indian I’d say be warned about the difference in how she is described in the north. Apart from this, this was a quick and enjoyable read that you can finish in a couple of hours. I didn’t feel any lag in the story anywhere and was able to finish it without having to take a break so if you’re looking for a timepass read, this will be right up your alley.
Surpanakha, Ravan’s infamous sister—ugly and untamed, brutal and brazen. This is how she is commonly perceived. One whose nose was sliced off by an angry Lakshman and the one who started a war but was she really just perpetrator of war? Or was she a victim? Was she Lanka’s princess? Or was she the reason for its destruction?
Surpanakha, meaning the woman as hard as nails was born as Meenakshi—the one with beautiful, fish-shaped eyes. Growing up in the shadows of her brothers, who were destined to win wars, fame and prestige, she, instead, charts up a path filled with misery and revenge. Accused of manipulating events between Ram and Ravan, which culminated in a bloody war and annihilation of her family, Surpanakha is often the most misunderstood character in the Ramayana. Kavita Kané ‘s Lanka’s Princess tells the story from the vantage of this woman more hated than hateful