Anita Sivakumaran On Her Book ‘The Birth of Kali’ And The Violent Conjugation Of Politics And Mythology
- IWB Post
- October 9, 2018
Of late, retellings from Hindu mythology as a genre has taken over the literary scene in India. Right from Amish Tripathi to Chitra Banerjee, everyone is busy re-exploring mythology and adapting the narrative to contemporary times.
Anita Sivakumaran has followed the same route for her second book The Birth of Kali, which she has anthologised into retellings from Hindu mythology. In her novel, Anita has subverted a lot of plot lines that have been handed over to us across generations. She has also invested agency in her women characters.
Published by Juggernaut Books, the book basically inspects mythology from a feminist gaze. In a recent interaction with The News Minute, Anita talked about the purpose of writing the book, investing agency in her women characters and the violent conjugation of politics and mythology in contemporary India. Here are the excerpts:
On deciding to retell mythology
Anita shares, “There are no feminist retellings that I know of that remake the truth within Hindu mythological stories, or get to the heart of human consciousness. They suffer from a lack of imagination or the writing’s poor, to say the least. This profound lack is what spurred me to write my book. To refresh these mythologies, which are, in fact, stale male tales.”
On her inspirations
A student of English Literature, Anita is deeply influenced by the contemporary feminist literary theories and writings.
Talking about her literary inspirations, she says, “Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which is a collection of short stories, and Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife, which is a collection of poetry, have made an impact on me, personally. These are from a contemporary feminist point of view. I also admire Roberto Calasso’s Ka.”
On investing agency into her women characters
Women who have always been helpless characters in popular narratives have agency in Anita’s stories. She sees it as something we didn’t see in those characters earlier because those who told their stories were mostly men.
Anita explains, “Human beings, past and present, male or female, have always had agency. You might know about Avvaiyaar and the woman who chased a tiger with a winnowing palette. If human beings didn’t have agency, the species would have died out long ago.”
On retelling Hindu mythology from a contemporary prism
Retellings of Hindu mythology are often eyed with a skeptical glance because the characters are assessed and judged froa contemporary prism, which is considered unfair because their actions should be judged within their context.
Speaking on the same, Anita says, “We can only tell the stories we want to tell. I’m looking at creating mythologies for the future, and that is done by remaking the stories of the past, and that is done by adopting a moral stance, contemporary prism, whatever you want to call it.”
On the appropriation of Hindu mythology by political forces in contemporary India
The political appropriation of the mythology and also the conflation of mythology with history is something that enrages Anita to the core. She says, “I suppose my feelings have resulted in The Birth of Kali! We need to fight them, these Fascists. What is disturbing is not the act of appropriation so much, as who don’t do it, including me, for reasons various, but the fact that they are destroying the pluralism inherent in Hindu myths, erasing contradictory versions and crowing that there is only one version. Also conflating mythology with history. That is dangerous.”
She adds, “Hitler tried to realise a mythical place where the pure-race Aryans lived, Lebensraum, and see what happened. The idea of racial superiority is a myth. Hitler tried to make that a reality. Horror followed. The Indians need to be told that those blue-eyed, blond so-called pure-race Aryans bear no relation to the Aryan progenitors of the Indian subcontinent. In Hitler’s mind, we were like the gypsies he exterminated.”
H/T: The News Minute