Utkarsh Patel is the author of Shakuntala- The Woman Wronged. He has qualifications in Mythology, both Indian and World from Mumbai University. He is also a faculty on the subject of Comparative Mythology, at the Mumbai University, India. Utkarsh is also a regular trainer and lecturer on varying subjects at private organisations and educational institutions.
NAW- Please tell us about your book Shakuntala. What made you re-imagine the tale?
“Shakuntala – The Woman Wronged”, is the tale of Shakuntala as told by its original author, Ved Vyasa in the epic Mahabharata. She was the first significant woman character in the epic, who stands her ground and speaks up against the injustice meted out to her, by the powerful King of Hastinapur. She is a precursor to the heroines to come in the epic, viz. Satyavati and Draupadi. My book takes the basic thread from the epic and weaves in a fictional retelling of the same. Though a number of fictional elements have been included, what is important is that the story of Shauntala is told as Vyasa had envisioned it.
However, it was Mahakavi Kalidasa who made the character Shakuntala very famous in his Sanskrit romantic drama, Abhijnana Shakuntalam, but with a number of changes, including the characterisations of both Shakuntala and King Dushyanta. All, I have tried to do in my book, is to tell the Vyasa’s version of the story as many are not aware of that version.
NAW- Tell us about the research you did for the book? How did you go about it?
It all started with an essay I read by a scholar on the Vyasa’s version of the story. Thereafter, I read many such write-ups and articles on the same. I also read Kalidasa’s version in English for the differences in characterisations and events. Once I had a fair idea of Vyasa’s theme, which I gathered from the original translation of the epic Mahabhrata, I began penning my book. Occasionally, I would go back to my reference books to read about the numerous small myths that I have added as part of the narrative.
Besides, Shakuntala, I have also debated on two more female characters from mythology, i.e. Ahalya and Madhavi. Both have been individual researches, w.r.t. the chronology of events in mythology and the actual themes of the myths.
Though my book is a fictional novel, I have given references of the myths and events from the original and even explained the role of certain characters who are part of the novel, something not very common with novels.
NAW- How difficult is it telling a tale from a feminine perspective?
Honestly, I don’t know if it is difficult at all, if you can emote correctly. For me, such ideas came naturally as I was reactive to such issues, especially when I found many a woman complacent to certain aspects which went against them. Also, being a teacher of mythology, there has always been a strong bias against women, where many of them are reduced to helpless women being kidnapped or raped or simply waiting to be saved or on the other extreme, where they played the role of the temptress. There was a lack of strong female characters in mythology and if there were one, then they were glossed over.
NAW- Indian publishing market is full of mythological tales; all dressed up and re-imagined. What made you wade into this already crowded market where there is so much competition?
I do agree that the market is full of mythological tales, but many are far from what they were or were intended to be. While many take a thread from the original and give it a spin or take characters from mythology, and weave their own tales, mine sticks to the original as close as it can. Yes, it is a fictional representation, and certain characters have been taken as add-ons, but they are only from the perspective of a debate. Besides, unlike many fictions in the market, this book has a Foreword by Prof. Satya Chaitanya, the scholar whose essay inspired me to write the book and an elaborate Introduction, which explains why I found the need to write the book in the first place.
I always wanted to write, and started writing about six years back, when I started writing on my Blog, around the same time when I started teaching mythology at the Univ of Mumbai. Soon, my interest in writing grew and I thought of writing a book.
NAW- What do you do when you are not writing?
I read! I read and teach which are both very rejuvenating for me. Besides, I also speak at various forums.
NAW- What are you working on next?
Presently I am working on another book, which too is a mythological tale, again with a powerful female character. However, I am not at liberty to share this at the moment.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How did you find your publisher?
There isn’t much to write home about this. Many authors talk of how they were rejected by ‘n’ number of publishers and how they battled rejection and dejection; I am not lucky enough to relate such tales of struggle! I had sent my submissions to about four publishers, of which three of them responded! Rupa Publications were the first to send in a contract and I signed with them. I guess it was as simple as that!