Book Review: Ms Draupadi Kuru by Trisha Das (Reviewed by Ananya Sarkar)

Book: Ms Draupadi Kuru

Author: Trisha Das

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2016

Page: 284

Reviewed by: Ananya Sakar

An Earth(ly) Affair

            Reinterpretations of the Mahabharata have not been uncommon over the last few decades. Indeed, this great Indian epic has been retold from the women characters’ points of view and even from the Kauravas’ (conventionally perceived as the antagonist) perspective. However, an imaginative projection of four of the most famous female characters from the epic in modern day India upturns all expectations and comes as a breath of fresh air. And for choosing such a bold story in Ms Draupadi Kuru, Das deserves credit.

            The book opens in the pristine, picture-perfect environs of heaven where Draupadi, the central character is stiflingly bored. As she tells her friend and confidante Amba, “Heaven might be able to keep the men happy with external sexual pursuits with beautiful virgins but what are women supposed to do with them? They need something for us too…” On that premise, Draupadi requests Krishna to allow her and a few others a sojourn in the mortal world. She argues that it would be a welcome change from the sameness of eternity and give them a chance to try new things. The feisty Pandava Queen also convinces Amba and Kunti to accompany her to Earth. She is not a little disappointed, however, when Gandhari (projected here as a disdainful and overtly self-righteous woman) also expresses a desire to come along to drink in the sights from which she had blindfolded herself for the most part of her life as a mortal.

            The four women are given permission to visit the world for thirty days and they choose Indraprastha, which had been the Padavas’ former kingdom, as their destination. Narad Muni takes them there before handing them plain skirts and blouses as well as undergarments and shoes as worn by women in the present age. He explains to them that Indraprastha has now been named New Delhi and promises to come back for them after the stipulated time period. Furthering the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, Narad Muni gives the group a cell phone with his number saved in it in case they want to return to heaven earlier. The women’s abode on Earth is ostensibly a makeshift structure for public urination, deliberately covered in filth and stains to repel mortals but the inside of which is spacious and well-equipped. They are also given Krishna’s magical pot of food and a handful of currency notes for purchasing anything that catches their fancy.

           As the women embark on their adventure, naively ignorant of the changes in science and technology as well as human attitudes and behaviour over the past many years, they experience life in unprecedented ways which leave them appalled, dazed and amazed. A passage in the book recounts thus, “Draupadi grinned to herself. Stinking toilets, horse manure, sack-like clothing, screeching phones and mortals copulating in the open…this world was nothing if not interesting.”

           Despite all the advancements, Draupadi regrettably notes how certain things have remained the same such as the entrenched patriarchy and the view of daughters as a burdensome responsibility rather than individuals. She is also surprised at conventional society still assigning titles to women (Miss and Mrs) based on their marital status but is glad to learn that the neutral “Ms” is opted by modern women “who think men and women should be equal.” At the astrologer’s, she promptly opts to be addressed as Ms.

           A feminist vein runs throughout the novel, particularly when Draupadi expresses her anger at human beings for blaming her alone for the Great War at Kurukshetra. As she says, “Me? They think I was responsible for the Great War? How typical, blame it on the woman! No one talks about their ambition or the fact that my darling husbands wanted their own revenge for being kicked out of Hastinapur and then Indraprastha into the blasted forest, where they had to pick leeches off their skin and eat berries for twelve years. I could’ve screamed at them about revenge until the cows came home, but a fat lot they would have done about it had it not suited their own purposes. I can’t believe they made it my fault. No wonder nobody will name their daughters after me anymore!” She is pained that her strength, courage and sacrifices in the face of challenges remain unappreciated. On careful thinking, we realise that not only Draupadi but Kunti, Gandhari and Amba also have no girls named after them as their destinies are dreaded and pitied in spite of them having committed no fault of their own. The central male characters (Yudhisthir, Bheem, Arjun, Bheeshma), on the other hand, even after having faulted and behaved in questionable ways are held in high esteem. Till this day, young boys are named after them. This deep-rooted gender disparity is glaring and provides food for thought.

           The characters are divested of any stately dignity and pride and are depicted as ordinary human beings with familiar emotions. They bristle at being slighted or rebuffed, feel attracted to those who make them feel special and suffer agonising dilemmas. This makes it easy for the reader to identify with them.

            Humour is suffused throughout the text which makes the reading entertaining and enjoyable. Gandhari and Draupadi get into a preposterous catfight, and later we see Goddess Saraswati in the avatar of Shashiben – a decrepit old woman with a sarcastic tongue and wry humour. There are also other instances of comedy such as the women’s concoction of their identity on the spot and Draupadi’s jocular tone in teasing Amba that bring a lopsided smile on our faces. The tool of humour is a good choice by the writer, given the book’s sensitive topic of religion and mythical characters.

           Overall, Das tries to reinstate the reader’s faith in humankind in the contemporary era, despite the challenges that beset it. Draupadi and the others realise that they have the power to exercise their choice now in a way denied to them in ancient India. Not everyone has that privilege though (as seen in the street urchins and Vaishali, who was forced by her husband to satiate the desires of other men as a means of earning money) but the writer implies how those who have it can use their decisions to bring about a positive change in the world around them.

           However, there are certain aspects that border on the improbable. Zafar, a total stranger, being warm and friendly towards the women to the extent that he abandons work immediately and takes them out to lunch is hard to believe. His invitation to them to his home the very next day and him showing Draupadi and Amba around his TV studio add to the absurdity. Also, the group seems to be always surrounded by good people who, though at times sardonic or overbearing, have no malice in their hearts. Indeed, they have no ulterior motive on their minds and do not attempt to swindle or embroil any of the women. Only on two occasions does Draupadi see men heckling women in public. She hears about the brutal exploitation of Vaishali but does not have to witness it unfold in front of her. Thus, the dangers and violence of the present day world are truncated and distanced in a way such that these are not disturbing. The unsettling elements are somewhat underplayed. As women who are utterly oblivious of the evolution that has taken place, it seems implausible that they can navigate their way with relative ease.

            Certain illogical sequences also jar the reading. For instance, while at a fashion show Draupadi tells Gandhari that hailing an auto-rickshaw at that time of the night to reach home would be unsafe but a few hours later, she walks down the deserted streets with Kunti, rouses an auto-rickshaw driver from sleep and even persuades him to take them to the station. Anything untoward could have happened to Kunti and Draupadi in such circumstances but they incredulously have their way and remain unscathed. Again, the ending appears to be too dramatic. Such episodes bear a resemblance to commercial Bollywood movies and fail to appeal to those looking to read something beyond the well-worn clichés.

            Though the book follows American English spellings for the most part, at times there are lapses into British English. An example of this is the British “Ms” used to address Draupadi instead of the American “Ms.” Inconsistencies such as these show a discordance, the absence of which would have contributed to a more professional book.

            The illustration on the cover page, though well-done, fails to sync in with the content of the novel. It shows the four women wearing clothes of yore and riding in a car, with one of them behind the wheel. Though we read about Draupadi, Kunti, Gandhari and Amba travelling in a car, it is always driven by Zafar and never any of them. It is also worth noting that the women are at first dressed in loose skirts and blouses that later give way to more trendy garments. But  nowhere are they described to be in the clothes seen on the cover page on Earth. These contradictions pale the book’s impact.

            Nevertheless, Ms Draupadi Kuru is good experience, given the novelty of its concept in the Indian milieu.



Ananya Sarkar is a short story writer, book reviewer and poet of sorts from Kolkata. Her work has been published in The Times of India, Woman’s EraNew Woman4indianwomanChildren’s WorldKidsWorldFun, Muse India, InduswomanwritingConversations Across Borders, Indian Ruminations, Earthen Lamp Journal, Spark and The Hans India. Ananya won the first prize in both the Story Writing Contest by the American Library, Kolkata as part of the Fiction Festival 2008 and Induswomanwriting Poetry Contest, 2012. She was also a prizewinner in the LoudReview Review Writing Competition, 2012 and Writers’ HQ Story Competition, 2016. Reading books, watching sitcoms and going for long walks are her favourite hobbies.