Books: Author Trisha Das on her new book 'The Misters Kuru - A Return To Mahabharata'
She talks about her fascination with the ancient Indian epic and why she wanted to create ‘fan-fiction’ based on it.
Have you ever read a book and wished you could imagine its characters in a different scenario?
National Award winning documentary filmmaker and author Trisha Das, whose new book The Misters Kuru - A Return To Mahabharata is out now, used her creative license to create potential ‘fan-fiction’ based on one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. The Mahabharata - an epic poem ascribed to a poet named Vyasa - tells the story of two branches of a royal family - the Pandavas and the Kauravas who fight the Kurukshetra War for control of the throne of Hastinapura.
She tells City Times in a Zoom interview how the character of Draupadi (who is jointly married to the five Pandavas) had always intrigued her and how The Misters Kuru is meant to be not so much a sequel but the second part of her 2016 novel Ms Draupadi Kuru: After The Pandavas.
Trisha gave us a bit of background into the new novel, for those who haven’t read the earlier book.
“In the first book, Draupadi and three other women from the Mahabharata - Kunti, Gandhari and Amba - she used to be Shikhandi - come down to Delhi and they have a sort of second chance at life and there is a lot of comedy and adventure and some romance as well.
“Then they’re given a choice whether they want to stay - and it’s a hard choice because going back to heaven means they get to be in heaven but staying on earth means they have to join the cycle of rebirth. At the end of the book the four women make their choice and it’s kind of a spoiler but Draupadi and Kunti decide to stay back.”
Writing Draupadi’s love story
The character of Draupadi - portrayed as a heroic princess - has long intrigued readers and Trisha is no exception; she reveals she “always wanted to write Draupadi’s love story.”
“In the second book, the Pandavas up in heaven kind of notice that their mother and wives are missing and decide to come down to Delhi to convince them to come back to heaven. And then they get caught up in a life of their own - there is more adventure, more comedy and also this time there’s a battle which I was quite excited to write. Finally, Draupadi falls in love - with one of her husbands - and this time there’s no need for sharing so it’s kind of cool.”
Why did she decide to write this sequel? “There were always meant to be two parts to it. So not so much a sequel but the story in two parts. I wanted to do the women first and then have the women established on their own without the interference as it were by the men. And then have the men come down and be forced to deal with the women on their own terms.”
Same characters, new story When classic stories are re-told there are always challenges involved as they are deeply entrenched in people’s minds and popular culture. Trisha said bringing mythological characters into a contemporary setting was basically creating “fan-fiction”.
“I’m taking characters out of the original epic and I’m putting them in different scenarios. But I’m not re-imagining the epic. The books pick up from where the epic left off. So I’m not going to be pompous enough to say ‘oh, it’s a sequel to the epic’ because that’s like a really arrogant thing to say. It’s basically fan-fiction.
As someone who has studied the Mahabharata “quite a bit” Trisha feels a personal level of attachment to its characters. “I’ve always felt that in the Mahabharata, definitely the women, but I think to a large extent the men as well, were sort of all banded together and forced to realise a pre-destined path.
"Especially the women, they were given very little choice in their actions and their destiny. And I just kind of felt like, ‘oh my God, it’s so unfair; their lives were so unfair, none of them got to choose’. So what would life be like if these characters were given a choice? And all the opportunity that comes with living in the modern world? How would they react based on their individual personalities?”
It’s sort of interesting even for me as a writer to go on that journey with them.”
A breezy read with a commentary
Trisha describes The Misters Kuru as a “light and breezy read” as well as a “social commentary.”
“You know how you taste food and there’s layers, right? So they (people who have read the book and given her feedback) think the first thing that hits you is that it is a light and breezy read. I always like to keep the writing simple because writing needs to be accessible. And if it’s pretentious then it just alienates most readers.”
Humour is an important element of the book, admits Trisha. “The humour is sort of layered with a lot of irony and a social commentary on the times that we live in, but also the times that we’ve come from, so putting history in perspective, putting the modern world in perspective - comparing and contrasting the two. And also talking about in a sort of subtext kind of way, the relevance of traditional values and these particular characters in our modern world, and how we can learn from them and how they can learn from us.”
Apart from mythology, there are also many classic novels and films that are being seen in a new light for their depiction of women. Are there are any vintage books/novels or films she’s seen or read that she thinks were way ahead of their time - in their portrayal of women?
“I think there are quite a few. If you think about Margaret Atwood’s work, she is an author who was way, way ahead of her time and didn’t really get appreciated until much later in life. And what she wrote for women - the whole dystopian thing - yes, in that sense.
"In terms of films, in Bollywood specifically, I really feel like filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee was ahead of his time! And I am also so inspired by him because you sort of look at his films on their face value and they seem just like any other films, but then you read between the lines and you kind of see the subtext in them and you realize that the women are very powerful, the men deconstruct the idea of masculinity. So yes, I think Mukherjee, in a very commercial, ‘masala’ and funny way gave us films that were ahead of their time.”
Trisha says if she had to pick a female hero from literature it would be Emma from Jane Austen’s eponymous novel. “She’s such a busybody and misguided person - but so charming. At the same time I love her charisma, her strength, I love her confidence. I wish that I had had that kind of confidence much earlier on in life. She’s very young in the book obviously. I’ve always had a soft spot for Emma.”
From filmmaking to writing
Trisha, the sister of Indian comedian and actor Vir Das, has written and directed over 40 documentaries in her filmmaking career, but says she’s focusing on churning out books at the moment.
“I’ve been churning out books pretty regularly. I’m finding as I go along that I prefer the writing to the filmmaking. But I do love filmmaking and when the right film comes along hopefully I will get to do a lot more of that as well in the future.”