Translated by Dániel Balogh & Eszter Somogyi
While the other works of Kali·dasa are populated by supernatural beings and larger-than-life people, “Málavika and Agni·mitra” derives its plot from history and features thoroughly mortal characters. Its somewhat frivolous subject may have been the reason why it is sometimes considered to be the least significant of the author’s three dramas. Yet the play’s lively and playful plot more than makes up for its lack of deities, heroic prowess and pathos.
King Agni·mitra is past his first youth, but has his eye on a pretty doll of a dancing girl. Alas, his hands are tied by his obligatory courtesy to his wedded wife… and to his second wedded wife. He must resort to the help of his jester and play a game of subterfuge merely to look at the new girl. It takes a couple of convenient coincidences, a feigned snake bite, a victory in battle and a gracious twist of fate before he can proceed to add a third lady to his harem.
Kali·dasa, the poet laureate of Indian antiquity, probably lived and worked in the “Golden Age” of the 5th century CE, when sciences and arts flourished thanks to the prosperity brought about by the peaceful relations of the northern Gupta emperors with their southern neighbors the Vakátakas. Though King Agni·mitra had lived six hundred years before Kali·dasa’s time, his audience would likely have recognized the marriage alliances and power patterns of their own age in the play. But even without relevance to the politics of the day, the age-old story remains fresh and gives the modern reader as much delight as any musical comedy or Bollywood movie.
King: Comrade, When he imbued this innocent beauty with the discipline of coquetry, The creator fabricated a poison-smeared arrow for the god of love. What else to say? Make sure you have a care for me. Jester: And you for me, sir! To be sure, the inside of my tummy is burning like a saucepan in the marketplace. King: Kindly show the same drive in your patron’s interest. Jester: I shall grab the first opportunity for it. But glimpsing miss Málavika, like moonlight obscured by a bank of clouds, is controlled by other powers. While you, sir, are like a vulture hopping around the butchery, eager to snatch a gobbet but afraid. I’d much rather see you stop fretting and do something to achieve your aim.
c. 346 pp. | ISBN-13: 978-0-8147-8702-1 |
ISBN-10: 0-8147-8702-9 |
Co-published by New York University Press and JJC Foundation
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