Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You- Devdutt Pattanaik :44/52

Mind fu.. oh wait.

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This may be politically incorrect, multi-religiously blasphemous and all that jazz, but seriously what were our ancients smoking? It takes truly brilliant  minds to come up with such fascinatingly kinky, twisted stories, attribute it all to gods and goddesses and have centuries of humankind unquestioningly believe in them . To be safe, let me clarify that I say this in a positive sense.

‘Queer’ is a term I absolutely detest, because the very definition of the word defeats the purpose of creating an all inclusive, tolerant society. I don’t know if the purpose of this book was to say that ‘queerness’ has the blessings of the gods, be it Hindu, Roman, Greek, Assyrian or Egyptian. Or whether it is to convince the upholders of present day morality to look within before they judge. Or to say that it has existed over several millennia so let’s not be hypocrites about it. Or to  say it happens, deal with it. Or whether it is  just another book on Indian mythology for contemporary readers. But I’ve loved every one of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books and I did like this one too.

Most of these  stories aren’t new to me. I’ve known many of them since I was a child, thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. But reading them again through adult eyes and from the perspective of  ‘queerness’  is what makes this almost mindblowing. Take Karthikeya for instance. From ACK, all I remember was babies born through a spark from Shiva’s head, floating in a river and six beautiful celestial mothers adopting them. These babies then go on to become one baby and is the much loved, much revered god. A heartwarming, beautifully illustrated tale. But now, reading about it from this ‘queer’ angle, I’m sorry to say, I find his actual conception (if you can call it that) plain creepy. Shiva shoots his seed into the mouth of Agni, it is cooled by Vayu,  it goes on to impregnate all the male Devas, then finds its way into the wombs of six totally clueless women who are so angry that they discard the foetus in the river. The baby(ies) survives inspite of that, a custody battle follows and in the end we get the god we know and worship as Skanda-Karthikeya-Muruga . How crazy is that.

The last time I read about Aravan, after maybe an ACK comic, was in Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya. All I felt then was anger towards Arjuna for being so callous and unfeeling about his own son, one whom he didn’t even remember and was ready to sacrifice. I was irritated with the son of Uloopi and Arjuna for wanting to help the father who had no clue about who he was. And the unfairness of it all.  But I didn’t give much thought to the queer angle of this tale. And the lesser said about what I think of Krishna the better. I can’t  bring myself to justify anything which that god has ever done ever.

There are thirty such stories in this book, twisted stories, stories of gods and men being castrated for showing restraint, for not showing restraint; men turning into women, women turning into men; deer eating human seed and giving birth to humans with antlers; crossdressing gods, sons of gods and mere mortals; men taking the form of animals and sneaking into unwilling women’s beds; Bhagirath ,whose very name means what it means, born of two ladyparts; men giving birth to men, men giving birth to women, men giving birth to iron maces. There are also tales from Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and other ancient civilizations where Things happened.

Maybe these stories started off with the good intention of encouraging ancient societies to embrace all kinds of people. Or maybe these stories were all made up by cunning men  to justify their kinks. (I won’t say women, it was a male dominated society)  Or maybe these stories were just versions of pr0n or fantasy fiction back then.

But whatever it was meant to be, then and now, this book left me totally mindfucked. And looks like that was one bodypart that our gods or our ancestors didn’t actually do.

Disclaimer: 

Let me make some things absolutely clear about where I stand on the LGBT community. I fully support them, their rights and their lives. I believe that it is natural.  Natural because it is part of nature. You even see such orientation in the animal kingdom. But normal, I won’t say. It is not normal. Like say a birthmark is natural, but not normal. I also believe that this is not a disease and it is not something that can be or needs to be ‘cured’.  I am totally in favour of scrapping Sec 377. The government has no right in anyone’s bedrooms, they can’t dictate whom people should love or how. I try my best not to use the word gay as an insult (though I sometimes do). I’ve been brought up to call the saree wearing eunuch who used to deliver the newspaper as  ‘aval’ or ‘her’ and not ‘adhu’ or ‘it’. But I also believe that the LGBT community does not need our condescending and patronizing support, they need us to just let them be. So I won’t be seen sporting the rainbow colours on my Twitter or Facebook DP.

And then, on the other side, in Oct 2009, sometime around  when Sec 377 was decriminalized, I wrote a blogpost titled ‘377=666?’ and was all judgy about a picture of a famous fashion designer in an open liplock with his (then?) boyfriend. This was what I had written. And I hmmm to myself about it. And cringe.  But then, this was five years ago. And I was stupid. Kindof.

I pride myself in being extremely broad minded. I always support everything that society frowns upon.Sometimes because I really mean it, and sometimes just to go against the grain. But anyway, I always ask “Who made up the rules?” If something happens it was meant to be that way. So just let it be.

…..but ever since the great 377 floodgates opened up in the country, there has been a small chink in my armour and I have begun to rethink my “broadminded” stand

I slowly find my support wavering away from Celina Jaitely and moving reluctantly towards Baba Ramdev. I tried hard to sway towards Celina, but the wind kept whispering otherwise and kept pushing me away.

But yesterday two images from the Van Heusen Men’s Fashion Week sealed my resolve strongly and firmly, and now, I can declare with conviction that I wholeheartedly support Baba Ramdev and Co

But people change. Attitudes change. Opinions change. I changed. I grew up.

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11 thoughts on “Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You- Devdutt Pattanaik :44/52

  1. As a full-blooded, out-and-out heterosexual(unfortunately not actively ‘practicing’ … in case that’s a criteria for being bracketed..a host of reasons can be attributed to it, nothing related to change in mindsets or even asexuality..mind over biological urges, as other priorities take precedence), I am of the view that ‘queerness’ (or whatever label you have there) is certainly something that has nothing to do with me. I have absolutely no opinion on it. It’s not in my bedroom.

    With the contents of the book(which I haven’t read) in perspective, I just have this to say: to have anything perceived as kinky, you will need to have solid/iron-clad justification to benchmark this labeling against. Something that answers to being absolutely right. I’d go by what science has to say here. Solid, evidence-backed science that culminates into an answer that is as irrefutable as any other subject that goes under the scanner becomes. All other options could be figments of one or many persons personal imagination, opinion or experience. Once the absolute right is established, and whatever fluff is allowed(since the actual practice is not exactly robotic, or equal…and importantly, also evidence-backed), I guess the term kinkiness can be now be confidently applied. To books, myths, shows, actual practices etc.

    From what I understand, sensitization is high up there..I mean the author’s intention. Not just sensationalism. On subjects that are mostly swept under the carpet, so to speak.

    • Oh that’s fine. Hope you get practicing soon 😛
      Agree. One man’s normal is another man’s kinky. That’s just a label based on one’s own definition of normal.
      Yes, the author’s intent was sensitization and just information. Unfortunately, I sensationalized it because it did seem sensational to me. Thirty stories back to back (pun unintended) on humanly impossible ways of doing it was a bit overwhelming to me. Discussing a topic like this, one that usually gets filed under some kind of kinky fiction (I couldn’t get another word for it) from an Indian myth perspective is welcome.

      • Correct. And I want to clarify: I didn’t mean that you were sensationalizing it. I guess I’d have been just as effected with:

        Thirty stories back to back (pun unintended) on humanly impossible ways of doing it..

        given how we are conditioned.

  2. Not much to say about the book or the review – except that I will probably add Devdutt Patnaik to my list of authors-to-read.
    The post review self-realization bit is what caught my attention, the way one keeps changing over time.

    But people change. Attitudes change. Opinions change. I changed. I grew up.
    Yes, only thing is grow-up means different things for different people.

    @Arun

    to have anything perceived as kinky, you will need to have solid/iron-clad justification to benchmark this labeling against. Something that answers to being absolutely right. I’d go by what science has to say here.

    I wonder, if science aims to answer “moral” questions.

    PS: I wouldn’t make declarations / disclosures about my sexual orientation.

    • Devdutt Pattanaik – please read Jaya. Even if you’ve read a hundred versions of the Mahabarata earlier, you’ll still find it refreshing and informative. That’s one book I recommend to everyone.

      • Done.
        PS: My “to-read” list of books is now growing – Red (bought on an impulse), “The Illegitimate Happiness of Other People” (the book finally reached me) and “Jaya”.

  3. I wonder, if science aims to answer “moral” questions.

    not really, AFAIK. There are innumerable other issues out there. In mankind’s unquenchable  quest to know more and lay open anything shrouded in mystery or is open to examination. Morality, is more subjective and driven by other factors that science(not social sciences and similar humanities-based streams that loosely-ie not strictly scientific as we deem it to be- attempt at it) cannot really be intruding. Unless asked.

    I wouldn’t make declarations / disclosures about my sexual orientation.

    Nothing to hide here. No closets with anything that could tumble out. I chose to be upfront since the subject was veering towards something that I may not be fully qualified to opinionate upon. I just wanted to ensure that my comment is known to come from a particular drift, and so no loose ends. But otherwise, yes, these are generally not declared or disclosed.

    • @Arun

      I wouldn’t make declarations / disclosures about my sexual orientation.

      The above I is used in the first person and not as generic third person I. I have nothing against your disclosure. 🙂

      • I don’t think announcing sexual orientations (or not announcing) is a big deal. If a gay person can have press conferences to come out to the world, a straight person should have the same privilege. Waiting for the day when some random celeb would call the press to come out that he is straight.

  4. This is the 1st time I’am reading devdutt’s work and I have to hand it over for his research and the way he had coined the tales. Poignant, witty and sharp, this book will definitely change our perspective about gay ism and lesbianism. I will recommend this book for a light read.

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