Tag Archive | mythology

One Part Woman- Perumal Murugan : 4/52 (Translation)

tl;dr : Vyasa- Ambika-Ambalika.

What better way to make a book popular than to demand a ban on it. This isn’t a book that I would have picked up if it hadn’t been for the whole controversy around it. I’m not sure whether I got the sanitised version or the original ‘scandalous’ version of the book. I would have loved to read it in Tamil, but it would have taken me much longer to finish the book and my curiosity got the better of me. But the translation is quite good. And since those of us from Tamilnadu can relate to the overall setup, it worked for me. (Note to self: Stop picturing every book you read as a movie these days)

Kali and Ponnayi are a childless couple living in a society where the taunts, insults and innuendos are free flowing. Help and advice come in many forms to them, some well intentioned, some plain sadistic. Ponna is made to drink bitter infusions made with neem leaves that are handed to her by an ‘auspicious’ widow. (Isn’t neem a contraceptive?) She has men making not-so-subtle suggestions offering their services. She does a Fear Factor level walk on a dangerous rock near a temple to bribe the gods. She is deemed unfit for motherhood because she found the stink of a baby’s feces repulsive. Surprisingly, she isn’t the only one to be ‘blamed’ here. Though Kali is constantly under the pressure to take a second wife, he is also equally taunted for his ‘impotence’. He has everyone from cousins to random neighbours hoping to dip their fingers into his heirless property after his death. More than his love for Ponna, it is the fear of confirming this impotence that doesn’t allow him to marry again. Afterall, it was his ancestors who raped a tribal girl and incurred her curse. Yes. It is a difficult life being childless in such a society in that era. Any society in any era actually.

So what does one do when the gods want more than rooster blood and arrack? What does one do when the gods want more than a dangerous walk around their temple? What does one do when the gods want more than your prayers? You have to look beyond god. You have to look at man. Another man. Do it with him thinking of him as god. Kunti did that, Madri did that. Oh wait. That was vice versa. But anyway. Apparently, the results are guaranteed here. And this is what Ponna’s mother and mother-in-law finally suggest.

Does she do it? On the fourteenth day of the temple festival, that day when all married women above thirty get the sanction of the gods to lay with random strangers and bring forth ‘god’s children’ into the world. Does she do it? Does she manage to look beyond the face of her husband, look beyond her fears, look beyond society’s taunts and find a god to do it with?

Since I was waiting for the ‘controversial’ part, I did not take the time to savour the book as much I should have. The narration went back and forth a lot, sometimes confusing. Characters like the bachelor uncle Nallupayyan who gave the whole drama the much needed sane voice and Muthu, Ponna’s brother, who took Kali to the same temple festival years ago to ‘offer their services’ give you an insight into the hypocrisy of it all. Small but sharp references to the caste equations in that society add a dash of sting. During the build up to the climax, when Ponna sits in the cart looking at the Chakkli man’s baby with so much longing, I hoped that the story would take a more ‘scandalous’ twist. But I was disappointed.

A good book. Not a great book, and in my opinion it was not a shocking book.  But a good book, so read it. If not for anything else, atleast  for the sake of supporting freedom of expression. Because is a thing these days.

‘Whenever I pass a temple, I touch my throat and then touch my lips with my index and middle finger. That is how my two babies were born’ I just remembered someone tweeting that long ago.

And whenever a topic about childlessness comes up, I can’t help but remember We Need to Talk About Kevin. Unrelated to this book, but the thought just crossed my mind.

There are two sequels to this book. Would love to read them soon. Someone please translate.

 

 

 

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7 Secrets of the Goddess: Devdutt Pattanaik- 54/52

Godesses 101

I’ve never had the opportunity to sit at a grandmother’s feet and listen to stories; stories that I would have listened to in wide eyed wonder at the age of 5, stories that I would have listened to,rolling my eyes in unbelief, at the age of 10 and beyond. Devdutt Pattanaik takes the place of that grandmother in my life. I think he is the only person who can actually get me to sit through a whole book on gods and Gods, goddesses and Goddesses, without waking up that mocking non-believing cynic in me. His books always make me see things from the larger perspective. Nothing is thrust in your face and it is upto you to interpret things the way you want to. And while this book isn’t exactly a page turner, it is an extremely interesting read. I wish I had this book in an e format for easy reference because this is a book that I will revisit again and again , maybe to pick up a tidbit to win an argument or just to reread a story so that I can look at some tradition through less judgmental eyes.

The book starts off with Gaia, but that section somehow felt obligatory. It felt like it was just added to make this book more ‘inclusive’. But once we move on to ‘our’ goddesses, it is familiar territory again and the book picks up speed. Again, these are all familiar stories that we’ve heard over the years, but they are put into neat logical sections. The wild Kali vs the domesticated Gauri. The richposh Lakshmi vs the humble Saraswati. The pure women gods vs Vitthai. The book explores the playful side, the sensual side, the generous side, the benevolent side and the angry side of those women who were created by the gods,  those women who married the gods, those women who gave birth to the gods, those women who are the actual gods. The subtext of the whole book is that Goddesses rule. They are the mothers, the consorts, the sisters. They are the ones who keep the Man Gods under control, the Man Gods who come running to them for help in times of trouble.

I somehow didn’t like the huge font, it made the book seem childish. Also, the pictures on every single facing page seemed a bit distracting. I had to read the text first and then revisit the whole book to study the pictures. It wasn’t possible to do both without breaking the flow. Though every single one of those pictures had a whole story of their own to tell, I somehow couldn’t multitask. And since there was so much, so many names, stories and references, it did need a bit of concentration to keep up.

In a country where the Goddess has so many names, so many faces, so many temples, so many forms, this book should be made mandatory reading. And after this book, I have the urge to watch some of those numerous Amman movies that were a thing in Tamil cinema some years ago.

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The Rise of the Sun Prince- Shubha Vilas :46/52

Another Ramayana.

I’ve never been much of a Ramayana fan. I’ve read several versions right from ACK to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita and The Book of Ram. Asura too, if it can be counted as a ‘version’ of the book. But somehow The Ramayana has never fascinated me as much as The Mahabarata. Maybe because it is too goody-goody for my liking.

This version is a seven part series (phew!) and this book is just part one. So the narration is detailed and unhurried. Unhurried, but fast paced because I finished the book in two longish sittings on the train while going on my holiday and getting back. It starts off right from the very beginning with how Valmiki got recruited into writing the Ramayana with the background story of his transition from Ratnakar to Valmiki.

This is the Balakanda section and the real hero here is Vishwamitra rather than Rama. But ofcourse, Rama overshadows everything and everyone as he is meant to. Tadakka is killed, Ahalya is ‘restored’, Subahu is burnt to ashes, Maricha is sent flying 800 miles away. Vishwamitra tells the boys stories about Ganga and other rivers and his and their ancestors. Mantras and weapons are shared, wisdom passed on. Moral science lessons are imparted. Rama, of course, is so good and obedient that it almost hurts. Gaah. If a god is born human he should exhibit some human characteristics. A couple of shades of grey won’t hurt, Rama. Lakshmana is just a faint shadow, he does nothing much in this book other than stop a baby Rama from crying.  Ravana and his family get their due mention. Still fresh in my memory as the ‘good’ people from Asura, they are once again painted with that black tar brush here. Dasaratha is the scaredy cat who keeps marrying women to avoid a Kshatriya hating rishi from destroying him. 353 wives and no sons. Serves him right for giving away his only daughter. (Again, Shanta is fresh in my memory after I watched Vaisali last week and read up more about her)

I’ve always been a sceptical semi believer and so I read this book as mythological fiction rather than as The Ramayana. And since I didn’t read it with any reverence, I found the capitalizing of letters when referring to Rama and Sita distracting. This book is pure prose, simple prose and so I felt that the gushy descriptions of  the beauty of Rama and Sita were bit funny and out of place. Moon, sun, lotus blossom beauty. All this works better in poetry or poetic prose. So were the exaggerations such as Ayodhya having twenty million palaces and a moat so large that clouds mistook it for the ocean.  And referring to Dasaratha’s council of ministers the Big-M was simply hilarious.

The footnotes on every page were extremely distracting  and so I stopped reading them after a point. Again, I am forced to draw comparisons to Devdutt Pattanaik’s style of afternotes in each chapter. I prefer trivia tidbits rather than blah in the footnotes. And moral lessons and rules to improve the quality of my life? I’ll give that a pass please.

But yes, I enjoyed the book a lot. Nothing new here, but it was a good read. I’m not eagerly looking forward to the next six parts, but when they’re out, I will most certainly read them. ( Also, there’s some rule and order in which The Ramayana should be read. And if you start one kanda you just have to finish the rest or you’ll get seven rebirths of bad luck something.  I hope Shubha Vilas isn’t bringing bad luck to us)

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Asura-Anand Neelakandan : 36/52

The other side of The Story

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I’m always on the Other Side. I’ve never liked that goody two wooden slippers Rama, selfish guy. This book is from Ravana’s side. No, he doesn’t come out as the hero here, not even the anti-hero. He is still the bad guy. But when the sole purpose of someone’s birth was to make someone a god, there’s no winning anything.

As Ravana lies on the battlefield, dying,  jackals feasting on his intestines, he narrates his version of the story. Shunned by his father, insulted by his half brother, with the responsibility of taking care of his mother and three siblings, he vows to restore the Asura supremacy. A meeting with Mahabali proves to be the turning point in his life and he declares himself king, gathers his army to overthrow his half brother Kubera and become the king of Lanka. Ravana comes out as a well meaning but extremely impulsive and immature person, extremely insecure. He makes a deal with a captured pirate instead of executing him and he rushes forward to reward a spy from the enemy side, not realising that such spies should be killed. He follows the rules and ethics of war and judges Rama for the way he killed Vali.  He is several shades of black and white.

In this book, Sita is his daughter, the one destined to bring about his downfall. His object of lust is Vedavati, the brahmin widow whose spirit enters the abandoned baby Sita. Slight Greek tragedy effect here. Mandodhari is the strong woman, educated, mature and independent. Soorpanaka is the silly, pampered younger sister who gets what she wants, be it marrying the revolutionary Vidyutjiva or the revenge she seeks for her nose that was cut off.

There is a  parallel narration by Bhadra, a low asura farmer who has lost everything to the Deva atrocities and swears revenge. I won’t call him the catalyst, but he is the enthu cutlet who is the reason behind everything. He poisons the army and wins Lanka for Ravana, he betrays the revolutionary leader Vidyutjiva, he abandons Sita instead of killing her and so he indirectly becomes the reason behind The End. He immigrates to Ayodhya and becomes that dhobi who plants the seed of suspicion in Rama’s mind.

This was a real story, everything magical and mythical was humanised and explained logically, be it the ten heads or the flying machine or the golden deer or Hanuman burning the city. There are terrible typos and grammatical errors , each mistake was like biting into a stone while enjoying biriyani. The book could have been crisper, there is a lot of rambling in both the narratives.

Makes me want Ravana to be reborn and win the story atleast once.