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Book Review: The One Who Swam With The Fishes

I’ve always believed that Mahabharata was fought by great men but it was always women who were running the show, whether it is Satyavati or Draupadi. Imagine if there wouldn’t have been any Draupadi or Shikhandi, would there be any war in the first place? But the story doesn’t begin with Draupadi, it begins with Satyavati, The truth-teller, The One Who Swam With The Fishes and The One who will change the destiny of Kuru Dynasty.

But she wasn’t always Satyavati. She was the daughter of water, child of an Apsara and a King, who was cursed from birth and used to smell like fish. Matsyagandhi was her original name, and she was neglected by her parents and village folk.

The story of Satyavati begins with her planned encounter with King of Hastinapur, Shantanu. At the backdrop of this story, we get to read how Matsyagandhi transformed to Satyavati. Her father, the fisherman Chieftain, Dusharaj adopted her. Hated by her mother and adored by her brother, Matsyagandhi had a troubled childhood. Major contributors of this troubled childhood were the fishy odor coming out of her all the time and the distinct otherness she carried with herself.

Tired of the alienation and embarrassment, she chances upon a wandering sage, Parashara, who takes away her smell in return for sexual favors. Those favors one day turn into an illicit child, who will come to be known as Vyasa.

But the story doesn’t end here. Matsyagandhi is given a new name, Satyavati and is asked to go back to her hometown by Parashara. Once back, she settles into her old life. One day, her father discloses the secret that Satyavati is not his child, and was in turn adopted. To fulfill her destiny, she needs to meet the King of Hastinapur, Shantanu, marry him and become the Queen of Hastinapur. In the end of The One Who Swam With The Fishes, we can see how Satyavati manipulates the King and gets what she wants, thus beginning the epic story of Mahabharata.

Mytho-fiction is one of my favorite genres, and thanks to that I have read plenty of books on most of the characters of Mahabharata. When it comes to women characters, I have only read about Drapaudi, therefore I am super thankful to Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan to bring up these strong and beautiful women to read. 

This was the first time I was reading something about Satyavati and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The language of the book is simple, easy to understand and the past and present oscillate between the pages, keeping the reader completely engrossed. The story line has the right amount of plots and facts. I understand how twisting the mythology part can be tricky, and can go wrong in thousand ways. But Madhavan has handled this job wonderfully. 

The only drawback that I could find was the part where Parashara was introduced to Satyavati. Some of the scenes were deeply cringe-worthy, but then apart from that, the overall book is an absolutely brilliant read! 

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