Asuras and Acid Attacks @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 7)

Image result for asura anand neelakantanAnshuman is a mythological history buff, so he had high hopes when he picked up Anand Neelakantan’s Asura:Tale of the Vanquished: The Story of Ravana and His People.

The story is one among several that incorporates the tradition of retelling stories. Anshuman enjoyed the introduction- Ravan is multilayered and not evil incarnate. “Instead of Ramayana, you could call it Ravanayana. There are quite a few glimpses of brilliance in the portrayal of this ruler. He displays great desire to do something for his people,  he sets up his kingdom, meets Mahabali…his flaw is his temper but then why should he control his temper? Why should he become perfect? Why can’t we accept his ten imperfections if he has? What hurt the book would be the editing and the way Ravan becomes the villain that he always had been in more popular versions of the Ramayan.”

Image result for you beneath your skinI read You Beneath Your Skin, a socially relevant book by Damyanti Biswas. The whydunnit takes the reader on a journey through smog-filled Delhi and explores the lives of Anjali Morgan and Jatin Bhatt. Damyanti deals with hard themes with so much panache.  Acid attacks, corruption, poverty, inequality, patriarchy and so many other issues that malign the fabric of the ancient city come into the fore. All author proceeds from the book go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party in October 2019.

Short Book Review: The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane

The Fisher Queen's Dynasty by Kavita KaneSBR: Upfront confession. I somehow slogged through the first few chapters of The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty, but could not get myself to finish this book. So, you may think it unfair that I am harsh on this book. But I saw no indication that it would get better, which is a pity. Because Satyavati’s character from Mahabharata holds great potential for making of an interesting grey-shaded protagonist. That’s what the book seems to be about. But it is a bit too true to the popular version of the Mahabharata mythology. Why would I want to read the same again in a rather uninspiring language? The book just doesn’t seem to be able to do anything interesting with the story or the characters.

Some negative reviews on Amazon seem to hint that other books for the authors were better. So, perhaps one should try one of her other books first.

To read or not to read: No! What for?

Short Book Review: Shiva to Shankara and Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shiva to Shankara: Decoding the Phallic SymbolSBR: I am reviewing two books together because I read them not more than a month apart and they are both about Indian mythology from the same author. In both the books the collection of mythological stories are good. If you have grown up hearing Indian stories, some of them will be familiar. But Dr. Pattanaik, true to his vocation as a mythologist, collects them from many different sources; so you are likely to find stuff that’s new to you, or at least a variation on what you have heard.
What doesn’t work in both the books is the part that I expected to find scholarly. In Shiva to Shankara: Decoding the Phallic Symbol,  the historical changes happening in the society and the stories being added to the Shiva canon are treated equivalent. It is good poetry and makes for a nice read, but doesn’t help in “decoding the phallic symbol” in a satisfactory fashion. The author’s philosophy is to treat mythological truths no different from other kinds of subjective truths (historical truths, for example, which can’t be always accurate, but which historians and archaeologists go to great lengths to try to prove or disprove). I appreciate the sentiment, accept the importance of mythology, I know the truth is almost always subjective, but don’t like the conflation of the two kinds of truths (if I am allowed to have different kinds that is).
Shikhandi and Other TalesShikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You has to be appreciated simply for its subject matter. The author has drawn attention to the issue of queerness through the Indian mythological stories where gender and sexual identities are often fluid, without any apparent discomfort to the society. It points to a much more liberal tradition in our country than what we have today. But in the introductory chapters and in the footnotes after each story (which are sometimes longer than the stories themselves), he gives scholarly inputs and interpretation, which are often careless generalizations and simplifications. Having read about some of them from other sources, I know that I can’t trust him to even try to be objective there or to not twist perspectives to fit his pre-decided, resonant narrative.
To read or not to read: Read for the stories, but keep your judgmental antenna up on the parts that deal with history, philosophy or interpretation of the stories.