Thank you Saiswaroopa Iyer for writing this guest post and getting me more intrigued to understand the story of Avishi, the protaganist of her latest novel of the same name.
Saiswaroopa’s response to my query below :
Your novels are based on strong female characters. But, where and how did you find Abhaya and Avishi? How are they similar or different to Wonder Woman or any other super woman of today?
Strong female characters are something I relate to very closely. Perhaps, it was the result of having everyday ‘wonder women’ around me :). My mother, aunts, grandmothers, each of them left their influence on me in the way they handled tough situations. Each of them had their own unique strengths that made me stop and wonder as a child, as an adolescent and as a woman.
My first brush with strong voiced women in our scriptures was when I chanced to read about the true Shakuntala and Savitri from KM Ganguli’s unabridged Mahabharata. The popular narratives in Cinema as well as reinterpretations had made both these women appear much softer than they actually were! That was when I began to explore the unabridged texts and dwelt more on the feminine side of our ancient past cautiously disregarding the medieval and modern interpretations. These were the women who created history and the more I read, the more I realised that the conventional medieval/modern versions, burdened with eighteenth century baggage did very less justice to what they truly stood for.
Abhaya was a creative character that I imagined as one of the 16,100 women believed to be imprisoned by Narakasura. I could not picture any of them as mute dependants of Lord Krishna. As a result, Abhaya developed as a strong personal mirror image of my own curiosity about the times of Mahabharata. Her adventures and love for Krishna aside, she represented an evolving woman of those times whose world view and ideals shaped up as a result of continuous inquiry and discovery instead of static ideals.
Avishi on the other hand was a discovery I made while trying to work on a minor scene of Abhaya that sought to highlight a female warrior to inspire my protagonist. Vishpala, the Rig Vedic female warrior who was the basis of Avishi opened a more intriguing world of gender parity in my journey. She belonged to an age where gender biases were unheard of and presence of women was pervasive in all spheres of life from combative sciences to contemplative philosophy.
If I were to see the common strengths in both my protagonists as well as in other heroines of our past, their feminine strength was strongly coupled with their larger role. Both believe in going beyond just asking ‘tough questions’ and finding the solution (and thereby starting a new journey of discovery altogether). This rooted inclusivity in their thought process sets them apart from the conventional modern heroines.