The story of Rukmini is often overshadowed by the glorious exploits of her charismatic husband, Krishna Vaasudeva. For the very first time, however, Rukmini gets her due in the book Rukmini: Krishna’s Wife. Written by Saiswaroopa Iyer, the book highlights Rukmini as the feisty bride who made bold choices not only when she eloped with her beloved but also all through her life as she became a resplendent goddess, a fitting partner to the most beloved god of the land.
Talking about her inspiration behind the book, Saiswaroopa says, “Rukmini Kalyanam is a very auspicious episode of Bhagavatam. Unmarried girls are traditionally encouraged to read this episode before they or their families start looking for a suitable groom for them. The story is not is not only a landmark development in the story of Krishna but also changes the macro political scenario of the Mahabharata.”
And indeed so, for Rukmini is the Princess of Vidarbha who is betrothed to Shishupala the Prince of Chedi. But she makes a choice to wed Krishna, fights her own family all by herself and finally elopes with him. “The personality of such a feisty and strong character itself was an inspiration to me,” affirms the author.
The challenges of plenty
Writing a book like this requires a lot of research. What was the extent of the research that went into this one, we ask her. “Mahabharata and allied texts have been a favourite of mine since childhood and I’ve been reading various versions and editions for a long time. So the research part was fortunately ready by the time I technically started writing and it took me about 6–7 months to complete the draft,” says Saiswaroopa, who has written five books, four out of which dwell upon Mahabharata and related topics.
However, the author cautions that writers of this genre have to thoroughly read the source texts as the typical readers of the genre are well-read. “It’s also a creative challenge to explore the world of Veda Vyasa and still arrive at a novel perspective. In his corpus, he’d have portrayed every perspective we’ve thought of in the past and will think of in the future. My research actually dwells upon the world of Mahabharata and visualises it happening. It was a delightful journey,” adds Saiswaroopa.
Saiswaroopa also uses the book to explain various facets of female power. “Rukmini's life starts as a personal journey, an individual one. But throughout her choice-making, we see the perspective grow socio-politically, macro-politically and even spiritually, leading to her divine origin as the avatar of Goddess Lakshmi. It is an upward spiralling journey of a mortal, realising her divinity alongside her divine spouse. And the journey has its ups and downs. What I find intriguing is the anomaly of her poise and feistiness.”
The author believes Rukmini, as any woman from ancient India, is not one-dimensional. “My writing journey started from exploring lesser known women to exploring forgotten narratives of popular ancient women too. It felt natural to connect to and understand their journey while finding personal inspiration from each of my heroines, be it Abhaya or Avishi or Draupadi,” elaborates Saiswaroopa.
She points out how the source literature and the rishis who composed it have given a lot of importance to the feminine. “But somewhere in the later and popular renditions, the narrative became a male-dominated one. It was a personal ambition for me to look at every story from the feminine perspective,” says the author, adding that as a creative challenge, she would very much like to explore a male protagonist now.
Clocking it and saying it right
Another challenge Saiswaroopa faced while writing was time. “I never seem to have enough of it,” she states. “But then the sheer nature of time encourages us to prioritise better. I’ve learnt to separate my thinking and visualisation time to my actual writing time, which is often a continuous spree of typing!”
Then there was the challenge of rendering philosophical content. “While keeping its content intact I had to make it easily understood by the reader,” she says. “The key, I realised, is to surrender to the characters rather than trying to control what they talk.”
Apart from the source literature, which takes up a huge portion of the author’s reading time, Saiswaroopa loves Indian language (mostly Telugu) poetry and the ageless philosophy that comes with it.“I am also a guzzler of self-help books that focus on personal productivity. I also like to read books on Indian history that dwell upon the forgotten kings, queens and leaders.”
According to the author, the pandemic period was a challenge to creatives. “While on the face of it, it looked like we had extra time, we were eaten up by anxiety, which is a huge obstacle to the creative process,” she explains her thought. “I’ve learnt to acknowledge smaller breakthroughs and recognise progress over perfection. Progress leads to perfection and we need to consciously nurture the creative self, gently nudging it out of comfort zones but not beating it up with self-doubt.”
Saiswaroopa also thinks she is fortunate that a world of online events opened up for her. “Everyone started being innovative in their own ways. And I am proud of this one characteristic of our country. I strongly believe that the learning and honing that we were subjected to during this period will turn out to be a great asset in the future,” states the Bengaluru-based author who is currently exploring the historical period of 1400-1700 CE, especially the dynamics in the southern part of India during that period for her next couple of books and also working on a series of books aimed at writers.