Name of the book: The Daughter from a Wishing Tree: Unusual Tales about Women in Mythology
Author: Sudha Murty
Illustrator: Priyankar Gupta
Reading Level: 10+
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I don’t know what kind of rock I’ve been living under, because for some reason THIS is the first Sudha Murty I’ve read and she’s been around for ages! When I started reading this book, I had no preconceived notions or expectations. Now that I’ve finished the book, I realise that was a good decision.
The Daughter from a Wishing Tree is a collection featuring stories of women – many of which are not popular. Some are little incidents from great epics like the Mahabharata, and some are completely new and unheard of, at least for me. It starts off with stories of different forms of Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, and Parvati, and moves on to stories about women – some strong and amazing, some proud and selfish, which made for an interesting mix. Goddesses slaying asuras, swayamvars, wars, love, curses, regrets, honour, sacrifice – you’ll find all that and more in the 24 stories that are in the book.
Two of my favourite stories were those that did not involve any wars or killing, but only use of wit, wisdom, and words to solve problems were the stories of Arundhati and Vasishtha, and that of Vasavadatta and Udayana.
1. Two Stars of True Love (Arundhati and Vasishtha)
Now technically, this story wasn’t sans bloodshed, but Arundhati and Vasishtha didn’t go to war. They used words. What I loved the most was how they were partners and equals, and worked together for a common goal – knowledge. Their selflessness, moral compass, and devotion to the pursuit of learning are worth emulating and remembering.
2. Soldiers in the Elephant’s Stomach (Vasavadatta and Udayana)
Another story about two kingdoms where wit was chosen over war to get desired results. How the young king Udayana came to find the love of his life – Vasavadatta, the sacrifice Vasavadatta made for the good of the kingdom, and Udayana’s love and affection for Vasavadatta are all things that touched my heart.
There were some repetitive themes in the stories like the women being beautiful and how that led to the men falling in love just seeing their beauty or sometimes, even just hearing about it. But I guess that how those times were. Even today, if someone is really beautiful we do become enamoured, don’t we?
Written in a simple and easy to understand language and along with beautiful illustrations, this book had little pieces of information that connected the story with today’s world and times.
Here’s an example:
“The point where other rivers meet the Ganga is termed ‘Prayag.’ For instance, you will find Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag and Devprayag in Uttarakhand. Ganga also merges with the River Yamuna in Allahabad, and this point of conflunce is known as Prayag Raj.”
Page 61, The Maiden of the River (Story of Ganga)
What irked me about the stories itself was how, in many instances, people have reacted without thinking. “I’m insulted, I will teach him/her a lesson. How dare someone do this to me? I will curse them,” was another recurring theme in the stories.
When I first read it, I thought, What kind of stories are these. Such weird people who are so full of themselves that they think cursing is the first and most appropriate reaction to things not going their way. What’s the learning in this?
Well, there is. The lesson here is that reacting without thinking has consequences too, and they can be worse than the original offence and even permanent, because in some stories, when, after calming down the offended person realised they had been too harsh with their curse and wanted to take their words back, they couldn’t. For instance, When Shukracharya, upon his daughter, Devyani’s request, cursed Yayati to lose his youth, he had to modify the curse because he felt sorry for the king. And even though the curse was modified, it could not be rescinded. And that’s something that holds immense importance in our everyday lives too. We have to choose our words wisely, especially when we are ‘reacting’ in anger or unhappiness, because there’s no way we can take them back.