Interview: Kavita Kané, Author of ‘Tara’s Truce’

In an exclusive interview with renowned author Kavita Kané, we delve into the captivating world of her latest literary masterpiece, “Tara’s Truce.” Set against the backdrop of Ayodhya’s temple consecration, the novel offers a refreshing perspective, centering on the enigmatic character of Tara amidst the intricacies of Kishkindha’s political landscape. As we unravel the motivations behind choosing Tara as the protagonist and the challenges of researching her role, Kavita Kané unveils the complexities of her narrative, where characters like Vali, Sugriv, and Ruma play pivotal roles alongside Tara. With insightful reflections on feminism in ancient texts and the humanization of deities, Kavita Kané provides a glimpse into her evolution as a writer and the future of Indian fiction writing across diverse genres.

Taras Truce by Kavita Kané Book Cover

1. Experiencing Tara’s Truce during the consecration of Ayodhya’s temple adds an exciting dimension. What motivated your choice of Tara this time, and were there any particular reasons behind it?

Frankly, it was when I visited Hampi a few years ago and the stunning landscape blew my mind. Then I realized this was Kishkindha and this place deserves a story to be retold and who better can tell it than the queen of Kishkindha herself? A story of two brothers who became rivals told through the eyes of the woman they fought for. Hence Tara became the protagonist. Kishkindha too develops into a palpable character, a silent witness to the love and betrayal, war and violence that erupts in this land. It becomes a parallel character in the story, with both Tara and Kishkindhaeach having their story to tell.

Kavita Kané

2. Tara’s character in “Tara’s Truce” is portrayed as a courageous woman managing the kingdom amidst ego clashes between the Vanara leaders. How difficult was it to carry out research on Tara and her role in the intricate dynamics of Kishkindha?

As mentioned earlier, I have intertwined the characters of Tara and Kishkindha together, their trials, triumphs, tragedies. Tara is the daughter of a physician and her character arc from a caring healer to the girl who becomes a prize trophy to be wooed and won by two rival brothers, how she becomes Vali’s wife, then Sugriv’s queen and finally the grieving widow who curses Rama. The research material on her was very limited except for she being one of the five panchkanyas and the two instances in the Ramayana where she is mentioned. Yet she remains the force and reason behind all the action which occurs in Kishkindha be it the animosity between the brothers, the political intrigue or the final decision she takes to save her family, her kingdom at a personal cost. Her unique sagacity against senseless violence is what distinguishes her from all the other people in the narrative of the Kishkindhakand.

3. The complexity and grey shades in the personalities of Vali and Sugriv are beautifully depicted in the book. How challenging was it to navigate through their backstories and present both brothers as flawed individuals?

It is the greys in an individual or a character which makes that character more interesting, more complex but unfortunately, we tend to see characters as either black or white. Vali becomes the villain and Sugriv is often seen as a victim but there was more to this than the stereotype of the good and bad brother. If anger and arrogance were the flaws in Vali, the fault in Sugriv which is strangely not registered is his relentless desire. It is Vali’s Krodh and Sugriv’skamaversus Tara’s sense of reason and struggling between the conflict of the two is Tara.

4. The book sheds light on the roles of both Tara and Ruma in managing the bureaucracy and dealing with the egos of their respective husbands. How did you approach bringing forth the inner strength of these women, and what significance do their conversations hold in the narrative?

The intermittent conversations between Tara and Ruma hold the course of the narrative. They carry the words of two women both condemned to be with men who were not the men they were in love with once. Worse, both become objects of desire to be won and used as weapons of revenge against one another in the subsequent sibling rivalry. Yet these women remain together, holding each other, supporting one another in the true spirit of sisterhood. This entire narrative of women being a woman’s enemy is a convenient narrative, a decisive strategy to cause strife between women. Tara and Ruma are cases in point as were Saraswati and Lakshmi in my previous novel Sarasvati’s Gift: that the different dimensions of solidarity, unanimity and harmony can exist among women; a loyalty, a connect greater than friendship which is unconditional and forever. Their conversations are a glimpse of the very feminine camaraderie between women. Their voices, speaking to one another, powerfully reinforce a spirit of sisterhood that contrasts from the rivalry and revenge of the two brothers or the grand symbolism of brotherhood which is more easily recognized in the epic.

5. The pre-climax introduces Lord Ram, and his interactions with Tara are mesmerizing. How did you incorporate Ram’s godliness, stability, and humility into the narrative, especially in his dealings with Tara’s curse and Lakshman’s anger?

This was the most difficult passage while writing the book. At this particular juncture emotions run high: Tara is the mad with grief widow, Rama is the desperate husband searching frantically for his wife and Lakshman is the angry man of action who is overly protective about his brother, broken in his grief. In this episode, we see all three at their most vulnerable yet none is weak but struggles to be fair and measured in a volatile situation. Moreover, we see Tara in two different moods yet in both she rises above the others with her words and decisions. Therein lies her immense strength, fortitude and sense of sacrifice.

Kavita Kané

6. While the book is named after Tara, it gives equal importance to Sugriv, Vali, and Ruma. How did you decide on the balance between these characters, and do you think the lengthiness of certain descriptive portions affected the overall pacing of the story?

We can’t have Tara’s story without that of Vali, Sugriv or Ruma. They are the ones who make and break her although she is the one unifying as well as the reason of conflict between all of them. Making these supporting characters powerful against the enormous strength and intellect of Tara was necessary or they would have seemed weak and spineless which was certainly not the case! My male characters are always as powerful – and popular – as the female protagonist be it Vali in this book or Bhishma in The Fisherqueen’s Dynasty, Lakshman in Sita’s Sister or Brahma in Sarasvati’s Gift.

About the descriptive passages, I think they are as necessary as dialogues or conversations as they force a reader to read and imagine the passages – whether it be the description of Kishkindha, the palace, the tension between various characters or the inner turmoil within the said characters. They might be more passive than say active, lively conversations but they often are the backbone of the narrative.

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7. In revisiting the representation of overlooked women in Indian mythology, what factors may have led to their neglect in ancient texts?

I think we sadly stopped telling stories of women besides Yashoda, Draupadi and Sita, failing to realize that there are as many women populating the epics as there are men. Yet we see these stories having pronounced patriarchal domination and assumptions chiefly because these stories have been told and written essentially by men. Down the ages, they became increasingly gender discriminatory, bracketing women into conventional stereotypes with women characters like women in society were largely marginalized.

8. Additionally, Storizen is interested in understanding how the scenario might have differed if feminism had been present during that time.

Feminism was prevalent during those times but we often limit feminism to the Western construct. The fact that wealth, health, fortune, power and knowledge are all held in the hands of goddesses says a lot! Hindu goddesses can be seen as feminist icons too: the mild Lakshmi or the non-conforming, sharp-tongued Saraswati, the bloodthirsty Kali or a defiant Durga straddling misogyny and patriarchy. The goddesses are not just a symbolic resource, they represent the mood, manner and roop of every woman. Their range in diversity reveals the potentiality of every woman. Challenged, she will retaliate. Besides the great symbolic significance of the female and the feminine, the element of power, choice and freedom is incorporated in each of the women in the ancient texts, be it the most minor character. If Tara encapsulates wisdom, Mandodari is persevering. Even minor goddesses like Rati spell female sexual power or Ganga denoting the power of plenty and her ability to nurture while Radha speaks of her freedom and power to love or Sati employs her power of choice even in death. Power in all its hues is acknowledged, recognized and respected, sadly remains unrecognized even today by us, still unable to assimilate this feminist celebration.

9. How arduous is the endeavor of humanizing gods and goddesses with human qualities to make them relatable in the contemporary era?

Gods and goddesses have already been humanized in these stories, revealed to us in all their flaws and failures as much as their triumphs and glory. This is simply because again it is not the stories of gods and goddesses, apsaras and Gandharvas, rishis and asuras but they are all stories of us – humans or mere mortals in all our fragilities and folly. But yes, humanizing them from their lofty deified positions and making them more mortal, makes them more relatable, and immediately identifiable. Probably that’s why the epilogue, depicting Krishna’s death is one of the heart-wrenching moments in the book.

Kavita Kané

10. From your first book to Tara’s Truce, how has writing about women characters changed you as an author and a person? Did you anytime have conflicts with your characters?

I think I evolved as a person, as a woman, as a writer during this journey from the first novel to this one, through all the eight women who were the female protagonists. If not live, empathy with these characters -in fact, all the characters- shows the writer also a slice of life and experience.

The most troubled conflict with characters I had was with Surpanakha, Ahalya and Saraswati – all for different reasons. The darkness in Surpanakha was disturbing as was the desperate frustration and restlessness in Ahalya . Sarasvati was the most difficult to portray as she was essentially complex and unconventional in thought and action, representing the hidden intellectual and philosophical dynamism of the churning creative mind.

11. What are your thoughts on the Indian government’s scheme named ‘ Nari Shakti VandanAdhiniyam ‘ that is said to create an ideal situation for balanced policy making?

Anything that is pro-woman is welcome but the reality lies in the honest implementation of these policies.

12. How do you see the future of Indian fiction writing across varied genres?

Definitely bright with the readers now choosing the genres they want to read and follow. There was a time when `Indian fiction was barely read and this was just a few decades ago. Now the Indian reader wants to know more about all aspects of everything Indian be it literature, music, the arts, science, or anything affecting our today or our very past.

13. If not mythology, what genre might you have ventured into?

Probably crime thrillers for that’s one genre I devour greedily – daily!

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