Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel – A travesty of a retelling

Book: Kaikeyi
Author: Vaishnavi Patel
Format: Audio Book

I enjoy mythological retellings. I am tolerant, appreciative even, of the authors’ varied interpretations. I loved Amish’s warrior Sita almost as much as I love Divakaruni’s strong but silent version.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel, however, is a whole different story, quite literally. So preposterous is it that no part of me wants to revisit it even for this review.

Like the name suggests, Kaikeyi is a retelling of the Ramayan from Kaikeyi’s point of view.

What attracted me to the book

…was its gorgeous cover. Kaikeyi’s silhouette looks absolutely regal. Plus, like I said, I enjoy mythological retellings.

As one of the few dark characters from the Ramayan, Kaikeyi intrigues me. How did she go from being a loving mother to Ram to being the cause of his exile? I was hoping to find some answers, uncovering some of her grey shades and perhaps some whites too.

The first part of the book that talks of Kaikeyi’s growing-up years was enjoyable

Early on, Kaikeyi’s mother is banished by her father. With help from her trusted maid, Manthara, Kaikeyi, as the only sister to seven brothers, fills in the role of her absentee mother as well as that of an indifferent father.

While Manthara coaches her in palace politics, her twin brother Yuddhajit helps her learn the art of charioteering and warfare. 

Despite her siblings, she is largely left to her own devices and often wanders the palace halls. During one of her wanderings she chances upon scrolls that teach her to see and influence her connections with people around her. She learns to use them to get her way.

Though the descriptions are a little too long and detailed, I was with the author till she talked of Kaikeyi’s marriage to Dasharath and her growing camaraderie with the two older queens. 

After the birth of Ram and his brothers, the book goes downhill very very rapidly

The last few hours are unbearable. The author takes the characters and situations from the Ramayan and weaves together an entirely different tale out of her own imagination imbuing the characters with absurd motivations, completely upturning the good and the evil.

So Kaikeyi is a wise and righteous feminist fighting against a misogynistic, manipulative, selfish, controlling, power-hungry Ram. 

  • Ram, who has no respect for women (in one sequence, he calls his mothers ‘whores’), 
  • Ram, who has a ‘stranglehold’ on people around him including Lakshman and all the subjects of Ayodhya.
  • Ram, who plots to ascend the throne while Kaikeyi isn’t around to stop him.
  • Ram, who threatens Sita with violence.
  • Ram who wilfully sends loved ones into danger to ‘teach them a lesson’.

This Ram is unrecognisable.

Since I am not given to book-rants I’ll stop here. I am more than aware of Ram’s many failings and yet the book made me angry as no other book has done.

I get that writing from a negative character’s point of view is never easy, specially when they’re pitted against an incarnation of God himself. However, that’s not to say it cannot be done without entirely killing the spirit of the original narrative.

The Audible version, in an American accent, did nothing for the story. Each time the narrator said ‘Radni’ for Raani it made me cringe.

Last thought: You can read this one as a fictitious story and may (?) perhaps like it if you have absolutely no idea about the Ramayan.

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