Jaya – Mahabaratha [Book Review]

Mahabharatha

Fragments of fragments. That is what every information that pass through our hands, eyes and ears are. We might read hundreds of blogs and pages but what we really take away from them are only very little. And what actually reaches our conscience is even lesser. Like the sands that reach home from the beach. But what we make out of those information is solely on the person’s perceptions. Likewise the great India epic, Mahabaratha, a Pandora box of insightful tales offer us myriad perceptions on worldly living. The epic originally named Jaya and dated around 10 BCE (Before Common Era) has undergone numerous retelling over time through literature, folklore and arts, with pretty & some petty modifications along the way owing to writers imaginations or succumbing to the social norms of the time. It narrates the tale of the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas of Kuru clan, the rift arising out of greed between the brothers and the great battle of Kurukshetra, where the God himself sides with the Pandavas to establish dharma (Justice/Eternal laws of the cosmos) on earth, which he does time and again when there will be decadence.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s “Jaya An Illustrated Retelling of Mahabaratha” is a refreshing account of the epic directly in line with the original – Sage Vyasa’s Jaya. That is, just concentrating on what the epic narrated without losing into one’s own impressions and imaginations about the epic. Rather than just telling a story he explores the origins (lineage) of the characters, some mythical some human, in parallel provides a brief account of how parts/sub-plots of the epic have transformed in time across the country and beautifully draws out the underlying messages behind what might be perceived as a simple tale. And the simple pencil drawings in each page adds a comical touch picking up the readers interest by surprise.

The story of Mahabaratha is grand with unimaginable twists & turns and at the same time a great learning if one cares to look a bit deeper into it. It talks about karma (our actions and it’s reactions), relationship between Nara & Narayana (Man & God), desire & destiny, the laws of the Jungle and how it doesn’t apply for a Civilization. It is even said that, if it is not found in Mahabaratha then where else. Such is the vastness of knowledge the epic embodies.

Driven by greed the Kauravas trick the Pandavas to exile stripping them off everything they had. Thus the Kauravas’ might is right ways led to their vanquishment, by the God himself breaking the codes of war. Whereas the impoverished Pandavas in exile lived midst threats of numerous hostile beings, learnt from sages they met and the stories they heard. This made them much more stronger and wiser than they were. Thus a seemingly unfortunate situation is a blessing in disguise that could transform one for the better. In one of the stories the Pandavas hear, Savitri who is destined to be a widow follows Yama, the God of death, determined to get back her husband’s soul. Tired of her reckless and determined attitude Yama offers three boons which she uses cleverly to retrieve her husband’s life, altering her destiny. Through this story the author highlights how both destiny and desire are equally-able forces in shaping the future and it is only a matter of choice to act on one or the both.

At one point in exile Yudhistra the eldest of the five Pandavas is confronted by a magical Swan. It offers to return the lives of his four brothers, who just died drinking the the water from the Swan’s lake despite it’s warning, on a condition to answer it’s questions right. Yudhistra being the most righteous and honest man on the earth provided the simplest of answers that are only the eternal truth. Contented with the answers the Swan without another word returned the brothers back alive. Following are some of the exchanges between the Swan and Yudhistra.

“What is more valuable than Gold?”
– “Knowledge.”
“More desirable than Wealth?”
– “Health.”
“Most desired form of Happiness?”
– “Contentment.”
“What measures a man?”
– “Conduct.”
“What is mercy?”
– “Wishing happiness to all.”
“What is simplicity?”
– “Equanimity”
“What is the only thing man can conquer?”
– “Mind.”
“What is the most amazing thing about the world?”
– “Everyday creatures die, yet the rest live as if immortal.”

Indeed these are simplest of answers but within which lies great wisdom. But the human mind naturally would not take in the simple plain truth and keeps looking out for more complex answers. And so our quest to wisdom remains incomplete while the answers lie naked in front of us. Pattanaik’s Jaya is a great book to start with on our journey towards wisdom the path illuminated by the greatest epic Mahabaratha.

Three Men in a Boat [Book Review]

Hanging out with friends could be the most pleasant and interesting times one can have. Of late, on one such gathering I met four of my friends at my place for a wedding. By the end of the long day, after a good meal, we sat up for coffee to ease down the tiredness, at a lesser known but cool & silent cafe in the the neighborhood of  our Alma mater. While any of us hardly knew anything about these  trendy coffee spin-offs in the A-la-Carte, being the host kind-of, it came upon me to order something for us. J who felt achy much wanted something really hot. I ordered hot cafe latte with cream or caramel sorts. And without much attention to the menu descriptions I ordered Affogato for J, who expected something just out of the cauldron. Well Affogato sounded fancy! When we were served our steaming big cuppa coffees, J’s face drooped, his puzzled eyes widening upon me, ‘cos technically Affogato,

“takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso”

Just only a small shot of hot espresso!

Be it 19th or 21st century, friends are always the same. Jerome K.Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” is a classic British comedy accounting the adventurous or rather hilarious trip over river Thames by three friends – Harris, George and the first person narrator (the author himself). To whatever tasks these guys are on, the author easily laces ’em up with a natural sarcasm fitting the characters and that would very well resonate among our friends too. More than the trip itself Jerome – like an old-man’s never-ending anecdotes, backs every episode with a prologue that would almost put you ROFL.

Three-Men-in-a-Boat

The plot beings with all one of the friends anxious of having many illness or at least having a feeling of surely having the symptoms, even some that might not have been discovered yet. Thats kinda like obsessive googling in the present day. The protagonist browses all the medical illustrations in a library only to come to a conclusion that he had all sorts of illness. So the trio come to the simplest resolution of taking up a leisurely trip by the river that would relieve them of their mundane routines and of course get them rid of their medical paranoia. From starting to prepare for the journey jotting down the requirements, packing, starting off on the boat, getting up the canvas for camping, visiting tombs, towing the boat and finally to returning by rail owing to the worsening weather everything is a hilarious riot. For that was not enough, all the back stories and anecdotes that precede the events are hysterically funny. Utterly sarcastic at every turn of the page. Even a thing like a kettle that is nothing to be excited about becomes amusing in the below words of Jerome,

We put up the kettle on to boil and pretended to take no notice of it… That is the only way to get a kettle boil up… If it sees you are waiting for it and are anxious it will never even sing… It is a good plan, too, to talk very loudly to each other about how you don’t need any tea and are not going to have any… you shout out, so that the kettle can overhear you, “I don’t want any tea; do you George?” to which George shouts back “Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll have lemonade instead…” Upon which the kettle boils over..

 There is also some thing so obvious and default among friends. Friends always have their way of getting into the middle of matters, mess up and get cursed from within and outsiders. And this is how that happens in this travelogue,

… We had knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs… as they worked (sorting themselves out), they cursed us – not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future and included all our relations, and covered everything connected with us…

Though the book may be of comedy genre the author adds profound expressions at places most appropriate. About life, nature and as children of Mother Nature how we would communicate our sadness to her, just by a moan. No words would be necessary to talk to her. He also draws realization, upon packing, about keeping the life simple without adding the burdens of materialistic possessions – life packed light and how one would feel contented when one’s stomach is satisfied. True, “… a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quiet as well”. 

So, this is a must read if like your pass-time to be of bursting laughter that you would try to stifle often to the room. And finally, this sentence, just this single sentence, actually piqued my interest to read this book, “everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for the funeral expenses”.  Guess that would draw you too!

The God of Small Things [Book Review]

God-of-Small-Things-Quote

We wake up. We eat. We work. And we sleep. That’s how life has been for many of us, almost all of us, between any time frame.  But beyond the grey line there are lives that has seen the wicked turns of life. Being merely puppets that has lost the hang of the strings by their smallest actions, smallest words that were not really meant. Ammu too wouldn’t have meant when she said to her twin kids, “If it weren’t for you I would be free.. You are the millstones round my neck-“, in an outburst. But that’s what made them to “Prepare to prepare to be prepared” that changed their lives forever.

Reading “The God of Small Things” by Arundathi Roy is a total delight. This 1997 Booker Prize winner hardly needs any new adulation or critical review. The cover page covers that precisely,

“Intricately plotted, it captures to perfection the magical and anguished world of twins Estha and Rahel. Luxurious, tender and devastating”.

It is magical in the way the real world of  Ayemenem (Kerala), a green part of southern India, is brought to our minds unadulterated. Some might perceive it melancholic and that’s only because it lacks the conventional happily-ever-after ending. On the outset the book beautifully contrasts the death of two people.  Sophie Mol, the little white girl from England, who was loved by all and the other, the untouchable carpenter, who too was loved equally but secretly. But in the greater depths of the words there are many emotions than just sadness. The way Roy narrates the things will keep you holding the book in awe. Consider this, when Chako describes History to his young twin cousins,

“He made them imagine that the earth – four thousand six hundred million years old – was a forty-six-year-old woman.. It had take the whole of Earth Woman’s life for the earth to become what it was. The Earth woman eleven years old, when the first single-celled organisms appeared.. She was over forty-five – just eight months ago – when dinosaurs roamed the earth.. And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be – are just a twinkle in her eye..”

However the best thing about the novel is the way things are described, the way the events are drawn in our minds with utter sarcasm braced to metaphors. As the twins and their family wait in their Plymouth on a rail crossing,

“There were so many stains on the road.
Squashed frog-shaped stains on in the Universe.
Squashed crows that had tried to eat the squashed frog-shaped stains in the Universe.
Squashed dogs that ate the squashed crow-shaped stains in the Universe.”

And at a later point Joe’s absence becomes,

“a Joe shaped hole in the Universe.”

The pace of the story remains constant throughout, even though it jumps between the past and the present. Yes, this is one good non-linear fiction. It never rushes to meet a climax. Even at the penultimate chapters when the emotions pile up, the Kathakali (regional dance-drama) playing at the temple is a much needed respite for Rahel and the readers too. There we also get to understand the contemporary status of Kerala’s iconic art and its artiste,

“The Kathakali Man is the most beautiful of Men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument. From the age of three it has been planed and polished, pared down, harnessed wholly to the task of story-telling.. But these days he has become unviable. Unfeasible. Condemned goods. In despair he turns to tourism.. He becomes a Regional Flavor.”

In all “The God of Small Things” is a breezy read that might dishearten you here and there, but by the end you will find yourself at peace for the way the characters get on with their lives. You will feel a thirst quenched with every turn of the page.