*** Special Feature - December 2016 ***
A tale set in the times of Mahabharata. An assertive and idealistic Princess Abhaya meets the enigmatic Krishna Vaasudeva. A bereaved Dhatri, hounded by her own family is saved by Lord Bhauma. When subverted religion becomes a tool in the hands of power thirsty and strikes Bharatavarsha, the land of Aryas, Abhaya finds herself face to face with the impending doom.
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Craft of Female Characters in period fiction
History, especially Indian history, is a rich source of intriguing female personalities. As we go back in the ancient lore, exploring the texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Upanishads, even those women with passing references make us pause and wonder about the awe they command from us.
When I started writing Abhaya, I also turned to period fiction written by the contemporary and the not so contemporary authors. The lessons learnt were many and I am still learning.
Of the lessons, I learnt, the most important one was of depicting variety within a character. Well-rounded female characters (for that matter even male), don’t allow the reader to qualify them with one or two adjectives. But they have qualities that evoke different reactions from different readers. One of the readers inflated my ego as a writer by saying that after reading Abhaya, he wanted a woman like Abhaya in his life and if not, he would name his daughter after her. Another reader amused me when he described Abhaya, the protagonist of my novel as someone with an attitude and as someone who wanted things on her own terms! To each his own or her own. And that is how I felt it must be.
Spending quite a couple of years in my attempts to write my debut novel, I dwelt upon the relationships that defined my protagonist as well as other characters. Relationships bring out the layers in characters. Be it animosity, compassion, concern, desire, friendship, loyalty or love, a variety of relationships helped me churn out the finer facets of the characters. Relationships also define the strength, principles and ideals that a character espouses. I remember a discussion with another writer friend who candidly discussed the disadvantages of knowingly or unknowingly mellowing the male (or other female) characters to depict the strength in the female protagonist. It reminded me of a statement I had read in one of the inspirational books that peak performers are not those who don’t lose their way, but they are those who know how to get back to it.
Strong women, contrary to the feminist tropes, are not those who don’t have dependences or weaknesses. But they are those who know when to acknowledge their dependence. They aren’t those who shun relationships in pursuit of independence. They aren’t those who sport rebellion on their faces. Quoting a Telugu proverb, they are those who know when a scratch with a nail can solve the issue as against wielding a battle axe all the time.
To explore the converse, what would make a female character weak? (That would be an author’s nightmare!) Love, desire, sweet-talk, diplomacy, tactical surrender don’t personify weakness. But lack of insight and comprehension weakens our heroines. We as writers would be failing them when we give in to the lure of brooding and complaining through them as against working hard to craft their analytical, decision making or solutionist side.
At the risk of sounding old school, an average reader seeks value and inspiration from a story. The expectation is much more if the book is a retelling, reimagination or reconstruction of an immortal epic. We, the writers would do well to ask ourselves a question. Do our heroines inspire the reader to face his or her life with increased faith in self? Or do they call out to the reader to solve their ancient problems, blaming the rest of the world?
About the Author:
An IITian and investment professional turned author, Saiswaroopa's interests include Indian history, literature and Philosophy. Also trained in Carnatic Music, she has won a gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams in rendering Annamacharya Kritis. Currently based in London, she is working on her next novel based on a Rig Vedic Legend.
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