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Shakuntala: Namita Gokhale


Ever so often, I would raise my eyes from Namita Gokhale's Shakuntala and remember what Alistair Cooke wrote about Marilyn Monroe: To say that Marilyn Monroe was a charming, shrewd, and pathetic woman of tragic integrity will sound as preposterous to the outsider as William Empson's Freudian analysis of Alice in Wonderland. We restrict the word 'integrity' to people either simple or complex, who have a strong sense of righteousness or, if they are public men, of self-righteousness. Yet, it surely means no more than what it says: wholeness, being free to be spontaneous, without reck of consistency or moral appearance. It can be true of forlorn and bewildered people as of the disciplined and the solemn.

Over and again, Gokhale's Shakuntala stresses on the fact that having been named Shakuntala, after Kalidasa's heroine, she carried within herself the samskaras of abandonment. So we meet a woman who has always seen herself aloof from her life. As a girl, she is 'restless to see the world, to wander with the freedom of birds and clouds' and 'saw no error in disorder, it seemed to be the natural condition of life?. Shakuntala grows up and is wed to a man who is much older than her. Their marriage is soon addled when she discovers, she can't conceive and by the appearance of a handmaiden. Shakuntala then moves on; a straw in the ocean of her compulsions. She calls herself Yaduri and rides off into the sunset with a Greek traveler. From a wife, she now is little more than a whore. There to slake lust and perhaps listen to the forlorn ramblings of a man tormented by his own secret demons. When they reach Kashi, the destination that Shakuntala has always ached to arrive at, they have to stay in the foreigner's quarter.

Shakuntala, the eternal outsider. The little girl hovering by the door seeking to glean knowledge as her brother is being taught the rules of grammar.' The wife who does not belong. The whore who is ruled by shame. Eventually Shakuntala seeks redemption. Except that I fail to realize if it is in her own eyes or in the world's eyes...and it is here, I have a grouse with the story line. Almost lovingly written all through, in its finale, the story suddenly acquires the leanings of a morality tale.... Shakuntala- forlorn, bewildered woman of tragic integrity deserves better.


Publishers: Penguin Viking

Pages:208

Price: Rs 300

 

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