Every time I go to Senthil Lending Library – my library of choice for more than ten years now, my friend, the librarian, enthusiastically directs me to one of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books! எடுத்துக்கோ மா! ரொம்ப நல்லா இருக்குமாம்! There is a waiting list for all of his books (but I can get them as I am being shown favouritism). Who can ignore advertising? I read as many as four of his books.
Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology, The Pregnant King, Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana.
And then I decided I’ve had enough.
I was mildly interested in the handbook, slightly enjoyed the travails of the pregnant king, made my way through the life history of Pandavas and Kauravas, and completed my learning of the miseries of Sita with indifference. The first two books read well – there was a flow to them, and as the story moved along, we turned the pages to find out what was happening. But with his take on the two epics, it felt as though the author seemed unsure of the tone he wanted to use. There are sketches, and there are plot points, and then there are boxes containing information (which reminded me far too much of NCERT science textbooks – when the teachers told you that information given in the boxes was optional, but you could never be sure of what the final exams would test you on). He does not want us to dismiss the stories as mythology separated from fact, which could probably explain the presence of nuggets of historical data scattered throughout the book. He wants the reader to visualize these books as an engaging retelling of the grand epics, while simultaneously offering commentary on how ancient Indians led their lives and what we could learn from them to enrich our own modern lives (including some important lines on empowerment of women, and how Sita might have been wronged, and how the feminists might be wrong in declaring Sita to have been wronged, for she is not defined by her body). Maybe this is a new genre in itself – that is aspiring to be C. Rajagopalachari, A.K. Ramanujan and Amar Chitra Katha all rolled into one. Devdutt Pattanaik’s books seem to want to take over all the domains – that of the non-believer, the practical person, the historian, the believer, the one who believes as well as questions.
There is an influx of these books now, with various authors attempting to teach the young Indian a thing or two about tradition, while trying to be as fast paced as the screenplay in Director Dharani’s movies. Of course, Devdutt’s books are infinitely better to read than the Meluha trilogy (which is poorly written, to be kind). For me, though, there is nothing more magical than Uncle Pai’s immortal illustrated stories – Amar Chitra Katha. 🙂