Publisher: Penguin Publications
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“Her left hand rests on her hip,
the bangle motionless at her wrist while the other arm falls freely like a fig branch.
Lowering her eyes to the tiled floor,
where her big toe caresses a flower,
her curved body is more beautiful than her dance.”
This beautiful retelling of Kalidasa’s Malavikagnimitram by Srinivas Reddy, is yet another proof of India’s rich literature.
Considered to be Kalidasa’s first work, Malavikagnimitram is the love story of King Agnimitra, the Shunga king of Vidisha and the beautiful dancer Malavika, who is a resident of the Royal Harem. The story takes place in the royal palace with the king falling in love with this enigmatic beauty where he needs to face the conflicts of his mind as well as the queen’s, and many more who are definite from stopping him from attaining his desire. The tale unfolds through humorous palace interludes, vivid descriptions of fine arts and the cunning machinations of court players. The other main characters in the story are Queen Dharini, the perfect Queen who falls prey to jealousy, her counterpart Iravati, who schemes to separate the King from Malavika, Gautama the court jester with some mischievous plans and Kaushiki, the reverend nun who has her own secret. The unexpected twist in the climax will leave you a fan of Kalidasa’s writing. The air of the play is light-hearted and has quite some amusing scenes that make the book thoroughly entertaining.
The author, Srinivas Reddy, needs to be applauded for his artful translation of this great play. With a well written prologue where he explains Kalidasa’s writings and the play itself, this book is a perfect example of a work well translated. The little verses inserted in the dialogues are pure joy to read, especially for someone like me who can be pretty dense when it comes to Poetry! Though the plot would not really convince the modern readers, it has to be read with the mindset of the ancient times, when polygamy was widely prevalent. But some things felt like they didn’t really add up like age differences between Malavika and the Queen who has a son in the army, who are matches to the same king, the arrogant Iravati’s instant submission in the end etc. But nevertheless, these things don’t hamper you from enjoying the play.
Malavikagnimitram, gives its readers a peak into the lives of the Royals in 5th century AD. Though, this book is one of Kalidasa’s lesser known and celebrated works, it has its own flair and is a must read for all Indian Literature lovers.