Avishi: Reimagining Vishpala of the Rig Veda is the second book of Saiswaroopa Iyer. As the title of the book suggests, the book is a fictional re-imagination of Vishpala, a female warrior of Vedic time. We find the reference of Vishpala in the hymns of the Rig Veda. These hymns are dedicated to twin gods Ashvinas, the divine physicians of the Vedic Pantheon. These hymns mention that Vishpala lost her leg in a war and the twin deities gave her a leg of metal so that she could fight yet again when the war starts once more. Saiswaroopa Iyer expanded these few hymns into a full-length novel in the form of Avishi.
Writing a full-length novel on the basis of just a few hymns is not an easy task but hats off to the author who accomplishes this difficult feat with ease. There was so little for her on which to expatiate intellectually, evaluate, illustrate, and fathom the depth of. And yet Saiswaroopa Iyer appears to succeed. Meager means and scanty resources did not stop her pen to produce a brilliantly written novel.
Avishi is the central character of this novel. She, as a child, finds herself in a forest ashram after a disaster hits her. This ashram is run by rishis and rishikas. In this ashram, she learns the art of Warcraft and leadership. She has no idea about her native place; neither has she any recollection of her family. And, strangely, every now and then, she wakes up right out of a nightmare. This nightmare rattles her. Who is she? How did she turn up in the Ashram? Why is she having regular nightmares? Read the book to know the answers of these questions because I am not going to spoil the story.
The character of Avishi has been placed very carefully in this book. There are a number of other major and interesting characters in the book but this is Avishi’s story. She remains at the centre of the story. You will definitely fall for her.
The book takes the readers into a world where the institutions of marriage and cast were nascent and non-existent. The initiation of the concept of marriage and the struggle by society to accept the same is presented very subtly and delicately. It is presented by giving a series of counterpoints between man and woman. It is also presented through a series of symbols which reflect or suggest the inner conflicts of the main protagonist of this novel. Avishi of this novel stands both for change, and for resistance to change. We find the face-to-face encounter with new notions of selfhood and particularly of womanhood. Through Avishi, we see an early testament of the Women’s Lib movement. In other words, while this novel deals with the re-imagination of Vishpala of the Rig Vedic period, this novel also deals with the philosophy of marriage in the background. The author had a very clear idea of what she wished to achieve in this novel and she has achieved the same with great success.
As was the case with Saiswaroopa’s first book Abhaya, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book too. As an author, she is definitely establishing herself very fast. However, there are a couple of things that I would like to bring to notice. First, I found certain portions of the book slow-paced. And, second, some more pages could have been devoted to the element of the prosthesis. This was one of the central points in the novel and could have been developed further. Having said that, I would like to emphasize that Avishi is definitely a worth-read. Go and read it. You will not get disappointed.