Women..Some of us were born to plan battles for Kurukshetra, some to free India from oppressors. Our blood flows equally into the soil of this great country, but our fate is such that we will be lost in history. Heroines by Ira Mukhoty is one such book that revives the stories of eight such magnificent women, who not only challenged society norms in ancient times but gave us lessons for life.
Patriarchy is a hard truth that faces us and the biggest reason behind why these women were never much celebrated, hardly even read about. Foreign authors always find it interesting to know and write about our heroines, but not ours. Only a handful manage to come up with facts and figures to revive the ancient stories that mesmerize us.
The title itself, Heroines was very intriguing for me. The book covers eight magnificent ladies, beginning with the story of Draupadi. Daughter of King Drupad, she was deemed to rule the world. Instead, her life was never her own. She was distributed as a price among five men, which were to be her husbands. She was humiliated in front of the full court like a regular whore, and even her husbands didn’t stand up her. Ashamed they were as they gambled away their wife for the upkeep of their false pride and greed for the kingdom. But Draupadi waited and plotted seeds of revenge carefully, and then one day washed her hair with Duryodhan’s blood, the same Duryodhan who offered her to sit on his lap like a common whore.
The second story is of Radha, the love, and soul of Krishna. But then, the society never had an eye for something pious and precious. Her love for Krishna mortified the common folk, and at one time even tagged her as a woman of low caste. But her love for Krishna never waivered. She remained devout to Krishna till her last breath, showing how sacrificing a woman can be who truly loves.
The third story is of Ambapali, a famous escort, and courtesan of King Bimbisara, who gave up the life of luxury and fame to find her inner self. One day, Buddha was passing her village, and she invited him for a meal at her place. After the meal, Buddha preaches that “Craving and desire for the things of this world cause suffering. Give up those cravings now and stop your suffering”. Ambapali bowed before him and took off her ivory bangles, her earrings, and heavy gold necklace. After a span of few years, Ambapali’s wares were being flogged at the local market, her talking parrot, vanity mirrors, trunks full of silk. She devoted her life to Buddha, thus being her true self.
Then there is Raziya Sultan, the first woman Mughal ruler who ruled the land better than any man could; Meerabai, who gave up worldly affairs and joined her true love Krishna in prayers, receiving mockery and criticism from her in-laws and society. There are two fighters as well, Laxmibai and Hazrat Mahal. One carried a son with her onto the battlefield, the other kept fighting for her beloved Awadh till she died in a foreign country. There’s also Jahanara, the darling of her father Emperor Shah Jahan, a woman of good taste with her flair for Sufi music and exquisite architecture.
Heroines is not just a book about famous Indian women for me. It turned out to be more than that, a book that highlighted how even in ancient India women had to fight hard to stand up for themselves. Each of these women fought against the odds for their rightful place. Each of them had a goal and always wanted to be taken seriously. Some of them sacrificed everything for the motherland, yet hardly we remember them.
While reading Heroines, I felt as if our sufferings and struggle to do what we want to do has been going since ancient times. There might be no end to it, but these heroines give us hopethat one day, we might win.
Another beautiful thing I liked about Mukhoty was the way she compared elements of lives of these women. A forest for Sita was a home away from home, she followed her husband blindly into the forest, and one day perished because of the same husband. The same forest for Draupadi was a constant reminder of how she was humiliated and her husbands did nothing. Sita is still celebrated for being the doting, lovable wife in our society, as a Pativrata but nobody praises Draupadi’s struggle. That’s an ugly truth that Mukhoty very slyly shared through her words with all the readers.
I for one loved this book. I was hooked to it and yes, it has a fresh idea, something that I’ve never thought about before. All in all, Ira Mukhoty has done a brilliant job in reviving these great women for us. So make sure you grab your copy soon.