Ashok Banker specializes in retelling the stories of great Indian epics and classical works. In Shakuntala And Dushyanta, he tells the story of the couple whose son gave the country its original name, Bharata.
The story of Shakuntala herself is captivating. The celestial enchantress Menaka is sent to disrupt the penance of Rishi Vishwamitra. She succeeds and the latter lives with her for several years before he realizes that he has been deliberately led astray by the Devas. He does not curse Menaka in anger, but he walks out on her.
Menaka herself is anxious to get back to Heaven. But, she has a new born baby, a daughter. She leaves the little girl in the middle of a bush in the forest and goes back. The girl is found by Rishi Kanva who adopts her and names her Shakuntala. Shakuntala, being the daughter of an apsara, is enchantingly beautiful. The sage loves her as his own daughter and she grows up in the ashram, wild and untutored in the ways of humans who live outside her lovely forest.
One day, King Dushyanta of the Chandra dynasty comes to the ashram of the sage. But the sage is not there. Instead, he finds the beautiful Shakuntala and falls in love with her. She too is attracted by this handsome, royal guest. Soon, the enchanting surroundings work their magic and the king marries her according to the Gandharva rites.
After a while, he leaves her, promising to send a royal escort for her, to take her back to his kingdom. After his return, the affairs of his kingdom take up his attention. He forgets his promise to Shakuntala. As several months pass without any message from the king, Shakuntala and King Dushyanta’s love seems doomed forever. What happens when Dushyanta discovers he has a son?
The retelling in Banker’s Shakuntala And Dushyanta follows a middle path between Vyasa’s and Kalidasa’s versions. But Shakuntala herself, as in both the old versions, comes out as a strong woman, who stands up for what is right.