Menaka’s choice is Kavita Kane third novel after the best selling novel Karna’s wife:the outcast queen and Sita’s sister. In the novel Menaka’s choice Kane has put life and story to a female Indian mythological character Menaka,a heavenly apsara. Among her three books, I have read only Menaka’s choice. All of Kane’s three books have mythological female characters as her main subject..who are often overlooked or neglected by readers from generations. Taking the less significant character as her subject in her third novel Kane has done it again,from the larger than life mythological stories and woven a delicate story bringing the character centre stage. As a childhood knowledge the only thing I knew about Menaka was that,she was an Apsara and the most beautiful one. She was sent from heaven to earth by Indra to disturb the meditation of Rishi Vishwamitra and prevent him from becoming more powerful than the devas in heaven. This is the only outlined story I know and most of us do know about Menaka. The idea that she was a woman with a life and can also have a life of her own never ever came across my mind before reading the book. Kavita Kane has actually given a life and a story to this less significant mythological character. She becomes not just a sensuous nymph meant for diversion and destruction or for physical gratification but also a woman with a ticking brain. She is aware of circumstances. She thinks and decide her own course of action. The book itself is a story of a woman, of how she dares to take a path of love and loyalty( which was strictly forbidden), of how a game of deceit becomes her truth,of speaking her mind and standing against wrong,of how her love is destroyed by the conniving Indra not once but twice,of her decision to sacrifice her happiness for the greater good of her husbands and children’s,of her desperation to reunite with estranged family ,of her silently bearing the pain. Kavita has also shown in her book the high status given to men in our Indian society. But not just the dominating nature of Indra or the volatile temper of Vishwamitra. Kane shows the weakness of men,that they refused to show. For Indra it was Menaka to whom he felt more than possessive. The soft or the human side of Vishwamitra absolutely besotted by the charms of Menaka and gives in to his carnal desires like any other man and seeks pleasure in the arms of the woman. He finds much satisfaction and comfort in leading a householder till Menaka pushed him away so he could reach a higher goal.
The charms and beauty of Menaka attracts the reader,and myself as well. The description of the romantic encounter between her two lovers Vasu and then Vishwamitra is given with much artistic beauty that nowhere it seems its either out of place or vulgar. Menaka as a woman,had suffer the lost of both her lovers and husbands,the heavenly Vasu and the earthly powerful man Vishwamitra. She was a pawn under Indra , who was more than possessive of Menaka. Kavita has shown the life of a woman ,a free will woman under the male dominated society be it the heaven “Amravati”. Menaka had Vasu in her life ,her lover her husband,before meeting Vishwamitra in her life. She was madly in love with Vasu the king of the Gandharvas. She as a woman had the satisfaction of her desire fulfilled in love by a man who was equally handsome as herself,who kept no limits in loving her back. But Menaka could not lived in her world of love with Vasu,because as a woman an especially an apsara who are created for a purpose cannot live life on her own will. Menaka is a weapon for Indra,a weapon of destruction and seduction. He used her for his own purpose and selfishness in many ways he wanted and in manner as he pleased.In Menaka I see a woman dominated against her will. She is forced to follow the norms and the order. Not just Menaka, in Indian society on a general case,women are commodities. To be bought and sold,by Men. To be used for purposes of their own satisfaction and needs.
Menaka had been crush under injustices done to her by Indra,the man of power. Her love was snatch and destroyed twice. But she had to keep calm and quite and let go. Suffer in silence and cry in the dark.
But Kane ,being herself a feminist decided to bring this character in a different light. Menaka in the book is shown not just as a submissive figure but also a strong woman with solid personality. Other characters of woman like Menaka are also shown but in a submissive way,like Rambha and Urvashi. Who were victims in the hands of the Men. Another strong female character is brought to light by Kane at the beggining of the book. Shakuntala the daughter of Vishwamitra and Menaka. She had courageously demanded her rights from the King Dushyant who was also her husband,but he left her in the forest for years and did not turn up untill Shakuntala decided to walk up to him for herself. He refuses to recognized her,but she did not fail to make the King realized and come to his senses,and accept their son and herself in front of evreyone . She is a strong woman to question against injustice and raise her voice against Men. Unlike Shakuntala, Menaka however has this craving of permanant commitment in relationships and family. Which she could never get. Kavita in the course of her narrative raises some key issues including of choice,selfelworth,life’s purpose, gender roles and politics. Kane most importantly showed the stronger side of a women. The independent personality enough to make her own choices and stand up for injustice. Even though her love having been destroyed by Indra not once but twice but Menaka did not grovel in her sorrow; she gets up stronger and make all necessary sacrifices for well being of her love ones.