Fascinating Story Of A Woman Born To Command


In Avishi, Saiswaroopa Iyer has returned with resilient characters, powerful weaving of text and ambitious story telling.

By Mayuresh Didolkar

The great late Nelson Mandela once said ‘there is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.’ In reimagining, one returns to puranic stories in order to find out what has changed. In that light, Saiswaroopa’s Avishi: Vishpala of Rig Veda Reimagined, is a thoughtful and entertaining journey of self discovery for its readers.

Reimagining an epic, in many ways, is a daunting proposition. There is a risk of not telling the reader anything new on one side and the risk of subverting the narrative to (mostly) suit the writer’s ideology on the other. It is reassuring to see that the author deals with this problem as skilfully as she did while narrating Bhagwan Shrikrishna and his 16000 wives in Abhaya. Like management guru Robert Townsend once said, “getting there is not half the fun, it is all the fun”, even for readers who know the story of Vishpala, the journey that the author takes us through, is literally, all the fun.

Avishi, the protagonist of the story, is a strong and independent woman, who was literally born to command. Her journey from a lost child rescued by a kind-hearted man, to the warrior princess who stands up for her people and their rights in face of tyranny, is fascinating and all too believable. While Avishi is out slaying dragons, her lover Satya, a brilliant surgeon, has his own fight in the form of discovering prosthetic limbs for amputees. This is one of the most fascinating parts of the story that combines a quest (a heroic figure setting out for an uncertain journey) with a modern day invention at its heart, and to me, that alone was worth the price of admission.

As the large cast of characters faces challenges, ranging from an attack by wild animals to crops getting destroyed, and from love triangles to tyrannical emperors of neighbouring state, we keep finding more about the characters. At times, their past shapes their actions and at other times, they heroically overcome their past to do the right thing.

Neither the path of love nor the quest of greatness is without its pitfalls, challenges and moments of self doubt. Sai’s main characters are all resilient yet human, as they go through moments of self doubt, whether Avishi’s thoughts about her relationship with Satya or Shula, the commander of Avishi’s state or Satya’s failure to guard the medicinal crops that could spell doom for his people — the reader instantly empathises with the struggle. These are not the puranic characters of TV serials, mouthing long-winded platitudes with their backs turned to the person they address, but real human beings, from a different era, whose inner struggles we are privileged to read about.

Steeped in true tradition of an Indian mythological, Avishi is full of stirring sword fights and wars. The descriptions of duels and fights between beasts and people are well-written and they build towards a truly high-octane climax that brings the narrative arc to a satisfactory conclusion.

Once again, this is not a read you can complete in ‘one sitting’ and readers who enjoy nuances and development of characters over a breakneck speed are likelier to enjoy it.

I had mentioned in my review of Saiswaroopa Iyer’s debut novel Abhaya the unique aspect of endowing puranic characters with modern day sensibilities. It is a difficult trick to pull, which Sai did successfully in Abhaya. With Avishi: Vishpala of Rig Veda Reimagined, she has continued to build on her storytelling prowess in a more ambitious manner. This is a book by a writer who feels confident about her own writing and it shows.


— Mayuresh Didolkar is guest editor, literature. His second novel, The Dark Road, was published by Juggernaut.