Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shikhandi and Other Tales Mr Pattanaik Tells You

The book was marketing so vociferously in the social media that I had to get a copy. Apparently, the book is about the queer retelling of Indian myths, by India’s bestselling mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. The bestselling mythologist part of the title should immediately make you alert and question your judgment. And when the font-size of the author’s name becomes bigger than the title, you know the publisher is trying to sell the book by the name of the author, not by the content.

I ordered the book, nonetheless. I had to see what India’s bestselling mythologist is up to. I haven’t read much of his work, except his retelling of The Mahabharata, which I thought was brilliantly done, especially the second part of his chapters where he explains the actions of the story, like a highlight, or like a moral of the story, if you like. And I like the way his draws. And I have heard that he is a nice person.

I liked the book. And at the same time it left me angry and frustrated. The approach to the subject and the entire execution is so puerile, so superficial that you wonder for whom the book is meant to, not surely for people who can spare some thought on the subject. This is book for the Facebook generation perhaps, “stories of gods and supernatural deities in drag”, to like it and to forget it completely. Because, to begin with, the way the stories are told, without depth and feeling, they are quite forgettable. What surprised me was the matter of fact of tone of a stern school teacher. Was Mr Pattanaik worried that the government would seize the copies of the book if he showed emotion? And his usual footnotes, his morals, don’t get me started on those.

What's sad is that Mr Pattanaik knows his mythology. He could have written an in-depth retelling, he could, like he did in The Pregnant King. Instead, he decided to write this, a catalogue of cross-dressing Gods. Sad, really.

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