Shakuntala: The Play of Memory

Shakuntala: The Play of Memory

In this hauntingly beautiful book Namita Gokhale plays with memory and desire by invoking the name of Shakuntala. Just as a musician tosses a phrase and lets it shimmer and flourish on a cascade of sounds, Gokhale discovers an entire world of meaning in her exploration of what the idea of Shakuntala can open up.

– India Today, 2005

On the ghats of Kashi, a sightless priest directs a young woman to come to terms with an earlier life that binds her in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. In the life she recalls, she was Shakuntala—spirited, imaginative and adventurous, but destined, like her legendary namesake, to suffer ‘the samskaras of abandonment.’

The first time Shakuntala runs away from home, she finds refuge in a cave with a woman who introduces her to the mysteries and powers of the mother-goddess. ‘Remember,’ she is told, ‘that in every one of her forms the goddess is always Swamini, mistress of herself.’ It is a valuable lesson, Shakuntala discovers, as she navigates the startling twists her life takes.

Driven by suspicion and jealousy when her husband brings back a handmaiden from his travels, she assumes the identity of Yaduri, the fallen woman, and deserts home and duty for the company of a Greek traveller she meets by the Ganga. They journey together to Kashi, and there Shakuntala surrenders to a world of pleasures, revelling in the complete freedom from rules and bonds that she has always desired. But restlessness soon compels her to forsake this world as well . . .

Original and heart-rending, Shakuntala enthralls in its vivid portrayal of the tragic life of a woman whose desire to live on her own terms is thwarted at every turn by circumstance and the age in which she lives. Namita Gokhale combines her extraordinary gift for storytelling with history, religion and philosophy to craft a timeless tale that transcends its ancient setting.

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