Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: The Birth of Kali by Anita Sivakumaran

Title: The Birth of Kali
Author: Anita Sivakumaran
Publisher: Juggernaut

Anita Sivakumaran’s The Birth of Kali is a collection of nine oft heard stories with a twist that are in turn subversive, thought provoking, and sometimes even disturbing. These nine stories are retelling of popular episodes or characters from Mahabharata and Ramayana — the two magnum opus Indians swear by.

Through these stories Sivakumaran has tried to give to her readers a change in perspective and a glimpse into a world that could have been but never materialized. For generations, patriarchal traditions have managed to control and mute women’s voices in our country. It has been the men who’ve written about women, put words in their mouth that they’ve deemed fit. In this collection, Sivakumaran gives voice to some of the female characters from myth and epics, women who were denied their say by the male storytellers. As such, the book basically inspects mythology from a feminist gaze.

Sivakumaran writes about Sita, Kannagi, Ahalya, and Kali among others, adding a modern twist to all that we have known for ages. The first story is titled Lakshmanan’s Circle. In this version, Sita befriends Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister. She feels that she needs to be free of Ram. Her new friend helps her and asks Ravana to kidnap Sita and give her protection in a grove. In Sivakumaran’s recounting, Sita walks out of the famous circle on her own will. In Kannaki’s Anklet, we have Kannaki, a stoic lover, waiting patiently for her wayward poet husband. While Akalya’s story tackles the maze of morality and sexuality, in ‘The Making of Avvai,’ the author alludes to the tradition of solo female poets in Tamil literature. The other stories too will leave their own mark on the reader’s mind no doubt.

No words wasted, lines crisp and short, yet so powerful — it’s difficult to say whether this compendium is prose or poetry. The fact that this is a part of the author’s thesis makes it a little on the scholarly scale. 

A penetrating, spirited recounting of compelling elegance.

Anita Sivakumaran is the author of The Queen, a novel, and the poetry collection Sips That Make a Poison Woman. Her work has appeared in anthologies from Virago and Bloodaxe, among others. She was born in Madras and has lived in the UK since 2004.

I'd like to thank the publisher for letting me review the book. I do hope you end up liking the book when you read it. Thank you so much for stopping by, and happy reading! 

* I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** Picture courtesy:,

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