Shakuntala—The Play Of Memory
By Namita Gokhale
Pages: 208; Rs 300
Namita Gokhale’s Shakuntala reminds me of Alistair Cooke’s description of Marilyn Monroe: "a woman of tragic integrity". Over and again, her Shakuntala stresses that having been named after Kalidasa’s heroine, she carries within herself the samskaras of abandonment. So we meet a woman who’s always seen herself aloof from her life. As a girl, she’s "restless to see the world, to wander with the freedom of birds and clouds". She is wed to a much older man but their marriage is soon addled by the appearance of a handmaiden. Shakuntala then moves on; a straw in the ocean of her compulsions. From a wife, she now is little more than a whore to a Greek traveller. They reach Kashi, the destination Shakuntala has always ached to arrive at, but now they have to stay in the foreigners’ quarter.
Shakuntala, the eternal outsider. The little girl hovering by the door as her brother is being taught grammar. The wife who doesn’t belong. The whore ruled by shame. Eventually Shakuntala seeks redemption. And it is here that I have a grouse with the story line. Almost lovingly written all through, in its finale, the story suddenly acquires the leanings of a morality tale.... Shakuntala—forlorn, bewildered woman of tragic integrity—deserves better.