Heroines by Ira Mukhoty is a concise compilation of the personal histories of eight powerful women in India, spanning across centuries, but with one distinct collective characteristic, which is the desire to live life on one’s own terms. The author gives a realistic account of the character of these women including Draupadi and Radha from Indian mythology and Ambapali, Razia Sultan, Hazrat mahal, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Jahanara Begum and Meera Bai from Indian history.
When you read history or mythology in detail, you come to a horrid realisation that the status of women has not undergone any substantial change from those times to the present day. Of course many of my ‘educated- well-settled- middle class- women ‘ friends might not concur to this observation because they choose to be ignorant and blind by refusing to open their eyes or hearts. Every single day at work, I come across women who are in peculiar life situations just because they are women. I listen to men and women talk about gender, sex selection, child rearing, marriage and reproduction on a daily basis, strengthening my impression that no paramount change has happened in the patriarchal belief system of our society from the time of Mahabharata. The position as the ‘second sex’ still undeniably belongs to women; of course, minor suppositious changes are all that have emerged.
Ira Mukhoty has not failed to bring out the humane side of emotions these heroic women had. For example, Draupadi questioned the right of a husband over wife in the King’s court; but the same woman was the one who ridiculed Duryodhana and Karna. Radha loved Krishna effortlessly but was jealous of other women enjoying Krishna’s company. Rani Lakshmi Bai, who fought valiantly against the British, did not hesitate to spend money on decoration of her war tents! These contradictions are what that make these characters more appealing and believable.
Even today, this book does not lose its relevance. People may argue maliciously about the need to rewrite such gallant stories about women. People tend to conveniently forget the stories and struggles of the weaker sections with ease because history is often narrated by the stronger and louder. To remind people about the past and to make them contemplate and reflect, repeated affirmations are necessary. Many a times, to be heard, you need to shout and be obvious. Ira Mukhoty’s effort in this direction needs to be appreciated.