Devdutt Pattnaik’s Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you (2014)

shikhandi & other tales

It is funny how the title can itself lead to so many readings of what the book entails…”Other Tales they don’t tell us…”

The stories in the book retold by Devdutt seem to be stories that were always there. But at least the title seems to tell the readers that they were somehow not actively passed on. it is as if there was some restraining order on these stories.. stories withdrawn from the larger public for some reason, and these reasons make them all the more mysterious and therefore, the demand to read 🙂 Even though the book is not part of the genre of mystery and thriller, the title kind of gives it that edge of mmm what is it, if not a whodunit 😛

Therefore, I feel the title invites the readers to explore the seemingly unexplored, of the suppressed, not talked about.. in addition to think about how certain stories are there and some are not.. it is about what trickles down as history, stories, what all gets to be talked about and circulated….

Writing about myths has its good and bad.. and the good is, that it is in the realm of the familiar.. Devdutt need not explain a lot to his readers, if they are Indians or well read on Hindu myths.. most of us would have heard these stories over and over again from some source if we live or have lived in India… it is difficult not to come by or ignore them.. they are so in the face every where.

the bad is, exactly the same familiar, which makes it difficult to make the stories interesting ..One of the ways he works this out is by giving additional background and context. The very act of pooling together stories from different mythological sources on a given theme , here the third gender, makes it a new collection.. we may have come across these stories, but reading so many of them together in this given context gives it a perspective..

The very title of the book seems to be an invitation to enter a room filled to the brim with stories.. we are familiar with most of them, it could be even in a scattered kind of way, at some level, we all know the story of the Pandavas, our Gods and goddesses… If not grandparents and parents, we had our B R Chopra with his tales on national television and the the 90s

I think it is because of this Mahabharata, this programme used to be aired on Sundays, that I can only think of Mukhesh Khanna as anyone but Bhishma. and that too, the image of him in his silver coloured clothes on the bed of arrows. It is curious that I don’t remember him at first as his later avatar of the first televised Indian superhero, Shaktimaan. If it is a coincidence, the image I have of Khanna- Bhisma is brought about in the tale by none other than Shikhandi..

“Drupada was happy to finally get a son, but then, to his dismay, Shikhandi in a rather cavalier moment placed around his neck Amba’s garland of ever-fresh lotus flower that for years had been hanging on a pillar of his palace. ‘He will kill Bhisma,’ moaned Drupada, ‘But I need a son who will kill Drona.”(Devdutt Pattnaik, Shikhandi & Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, pg 43)

The title of the book says, “Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you” .. and quite aptly, we all seem to know about Shikhandi.. Devdutt begins his set with the story of Shikandi..and then he goes on the tell us other tales of transformation and births.

The book was recommended to me by Uma.. in passing, during our conversations in the Jsquad 🙂

Cross posted as part of Teaser Tuesdays on pins & ashes


I stopped at Pinkerton

to write this post 😛 on collective Memory … about collective memory while reading books or texts of any kind or while in a conversation…. especially books located in other countries away from ours….

I think Indian Writing in English is easier to read and understand without an encyclopaedia near at hand or open in a browser because many of the references are part of our collective memory 😀

For instance, for most of the Indians, Independence Day is August 15 every year. With it as we are a part of a more or less, a similar school curriculum, many details rush in beginning with this date, the month and the year 1947, the 12 o’ clock speech, Nehru, Gandhij, Satyagraha, Partition, Pakistan, Cricket, the Subcontinent, British, Colonial, Commonwealth…. may not be in this order, it could be any… the point is all this information can be encapsulated with that one date.

Let’s take the Taj, it may refer to the one at Agra, or the tea company, the group of hotels spread all over India, the stories as to why it was established in the first place,  after 26/11 we have some painful new memories, Kasab’s face looms (may be/may be not)… TATA can refer to a variety of products…to Titan to steel.. to Nano..

Delhi, is always the Capital with a ‘C’ and some may also remember its architect, Luyten, a mention of Ayodhya or Ram or Babri Masjid can bring to mind so much reality and myth, the boat races or the durga pooja fills us with everything from the huge sets, to art directors to processions to sweets, energy, relatives, food, lights… same with sabarmati, golconda… rasgullas… Marine Drive…modak 🙂 🙂

A passing reference without an explanation about any of these will immediately open a truckload of associated memories or instances. They could be at the level of the personal, private, secretive, familial…….public, cultural, collective …….

Or sometimes a joke we shared at school… Q: Why did Rajiv Gandhi marry Sonia Gandhi? A: Because… all Indians are my (his) brothers and sisters 😛

So, Pinkerton!! that’s where I stopped reading…They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives (eat pray love)…

The very first image that came to my mind were those of the twin detectives in Tintin… but their names aren’t Pinkerton, they are Thomson & Thompson 😛 I don’t know why Pickwick Papers came to mind almost immediately, may be it starts with the same letter P… and then I was clueless because nothing else came to mind and… I had to look up and……… a whole history related to a country and why Pinkerton and not Holmes or the Ladies Detective Agency in that line…

Collective memory …

Writers are a lucky lot because they do not have to explain in a lot of words about a whole lot of things because  collective memory bridges the unsaid, the unexplained, the paragraph breaks, the ellipses ….

An old post this one, seemed to attract a lot of traffic on my blog today, thought I’ll post it here as well under pleasures of reading. Here you go for the original

The Mystery of Edwin Drood remains a mystery

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Dickens’ last novel | unfinished |

To spice it up, it is a murder mystery which Dickens left unfinished when he died! It almost seems as if, Dickens timed his death or timed the writing of this novel in such a way that it will be talked about forever.

So we have an incomplete mystery; it falls under the detective genre and makes life more interesting for the readers can speculate the course of events and debate on it 🙂  Too much to do from a book over 140 years old, some would feel; many writers on their own or commissioned by societies have read and re-read the available parts of the novel to make conclusions unofficially. The book is in news as an official end is being written which will be dramatized and screened on BBC.

The Plot: Set in Cloisterham | peopled by John Jasper, Rosa Bud,Neville and his sister Helena Landless, Rev. Mr. Crisparkle,  Mr Grewgious, Durdles, Mr Datchery and Edwin Drood| It starts off in an opium den| a murder plot, some scheming, a disappearance, accusation followed by an enquiry, formal and informal| and the mystery of the novel begins as Dickens died

This novel remained unfinished as it was serialized. It was written in installments and sent to the publishers for weekly/monthly publications. The Victorian years (1837-1901) were known for its serialized fictions in literary magazines, and Dickens was a champion writer.

Each part would end in suspense to create an interest in the readers to look forth for the next issue. The next issue would invariably have a summary of the previous parts so that even a new reader can continue reading from the latest part. The course of the story changed according to its reception.

Interestingly, these novels were accompanied by illustrations or a single illustration at the beginning of the first installment with potential clues to the entire story. Many Drood fans have re-read and carefully analysed the illustration/cover page to speculate what Dickens had in mind as an end. Have fun following their path, the illustration to the left was illustrated by Charles Allston Collins

Verdict: I’m a die-hard fan of some of Dickens’ work. At the same time, I do not like dark stories. This is not one of my favourite from him. Additionally, I read it as part of coursework this semester, a course titled, “Reading Fiction,” so you release how much I love this book by now 😛 Not a leisure read at all, take out some time for it.

Happy Reading 🙂

Cross posted at pins & ashes

The Illustrated Man|Ray Bradbury

Since I’m in a trance, it looks to me impossible to resist the urge …”It was a warm afternoon in early September when I first met the Illustrated Man. Walking along an asphalt road, I was or the final leg of a two weeks’ walking tour of Wisconsin. Late in the afternoon I stopped, ate some pork, beans, and a doughnut, and was preparing to stretch out and read when the Illustrated Man walked over the hill and stood for a moment against the sky..

Vaayadi Pennu

I would say, the preface/prologue/introduction piece of Ray Bradbury’sThe Illustrated Man (1951) is one beautiful piece of writing.

It could be that love is too generic a term to describe the fascination and attraction to something of this kind; add in the factors of transience, add in the fact that love is with the words on the page. But these strings of words create an urge and manipulates (there, it is ironical to use in this instance, but think positive manipulation, then it turns oxymoronic :P) the senses of a feel of what it describes… I could see his plate, while reading about it.

It was love alright last night. And you have seen me post these bits on FB… Some of you have even started on the same path I’ve walked through since last night ….

Since I’m in a trance, it looks to me impossible to resist the urge …”It was…

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Memories of my School Library

How did we start reading.. there would be somebody there in our past who initiated the habit, if not a person, it could be a book that caught our interest…

The mention of the school library promptly brings back the picture of a grey-haired, dignified, serious-faced and petite Martha Ma’m – Martha Alex. She was the permanent figure there, the Head Librarian. The library and our reading habits grew under her supervision. Her assistants changed almost every year. They were mostly candidates preparing for their civil service exams, determined to make the cut, doubling up as our reading guides and friends. A job as the Assistant Librarian was near perfect for them at the time as the place gave them all (to be fair, most of) their study material, discussion groups, experts to clear doubts with and a quiet corner to recollect all what they had gained.

Initially (that is for the majority of my 14 years), our school library was on the topmost-floor, near the old auditorium (old because we had a newer one built beside the school’s main building a few years before our batch graduated). The entrance was at the corner where the steps came to an end. It was an exercise to climb all the way up to that floor when the bell rang for the Library Period introduced in the school time-table when we are in Class III. 45 minutes when we had to give that restlessness a slight nudge to be quiet.

Martha Ma’m had the eyes of a hawk, ears of a dog, and her eyes sparkled whenever we made some noise beyond that pin-drop silence. It was always very quiet in there and mostly dark (of course, there was enough light to read the fine print).
We had a large seating area with long & heavy, polished brown tables that ran the entire stretch of the room (and the room was quite long, u know, half of that top floor corridor almost) with backless benches for us to sit on to read, write or even sleep on either side of the tables. One of the walls (the one on the side of the corridor) parallel to these tables was lined with cupboards. Their doors had small square glass planes so that we could see and read the titles of books stacked within. Reference only, it said in bold red letter, a stack of the big fat Britannicas, Collins and Americanas, 24 volume Oxford dictionaries and other hardbound heavy books, too heavy for a Class 3 standarder to lift. And from the opposite wall, lined with windows, light streamed in where dust particles played with each other in the air.. a phenomenon we were taught in STD XI.

The open bookshelves were behind the Librarian’s chair. It was a separate area, demarcated by a banister that ran along the breadth of the room to the right side of the door with a small opening for an entrance – a kind of rickety garden gate. The tables were on the left. When our names were called in the order of our roll number we walked up to Martha Ma’m to collect our abridged versions of the English Classics. In Class 4, she introduced us to Enid Blyton. When in Class 5 we were to write summaries (not copy from the blurb) of the stories of the books we read every week in a page of a 200-page lined note book. By this time, we were the envy of the junior classes. We were part of one of the four school houses, and in the library, we could go up to a shelf behind Martha Ma’m to select our 2 books for the week. One unabridged English Classic and one popular book. Here comes the best part we could sign our names in the library register next to our name :))

Like the old Christmas Card in that old dusty trunk the library brings back sweet memories for me…..and you ..

Pic Courtesy: LibrarianReading Habits

Initially posted at pins & ashes
I love to spread smiles… and that’s what I think I do best, can tickle the funny bones of more than a few folks.. can tickle their senses by creating some excitement with tales and pix of food and films, some material I read,  some games, a few pranks, and  a lot of chatter… Vaayadi Pennu aka Aswathi Jerome aka PNA, the ELT type according to a Menon girl & a Bawa boy is a true Aquarian, as crazy and creative as it gets.. and she talks & writes a ton when in the mood.. 🙂 & she blogs at pins & ashes

A Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C Morais (2008)

seasoningA Hundred Foot Journey first came to me as a trailer of a film, an FB post from Pixie a few days ago; then as a painted cover page of the book jacket of one of the few hard bound books on sale at a good prize shipped three days after I placed an order. To call it a perfect buy would be an understatement.

One of the first sentences Hassan the protagonist said was “If I close my eyes, I can picture our old kitchen now, the smell of cloves and bay leaf, hear the spitting of the kadai…” This picture popped up from memory, a picture that encapsulated a group cooking experience of a month ago.

I had already backpacked and was following Hassan on his journey from the time he was aware of “the smell of machli ka salan, through the floorboards to the cot in his parents room.”

I may have been this Hassan in a different age.. our tastes match.. more than the food on the plate, we love the places and people associated with it…… One of his favourite vacation pastimes, “was accompanying Bappu-the-cook on his morning trips to Bombay’s Crawford market …” I told him that although I’ve never been to the Crawford market to shop for food, one of my favourite vacation pastimes is accompanying DJ to the Thevara Market. As Hassan walked beside Bappu, I walked alongside DJ. We set out to the market around 6-6:30 in the morning, that time of the day when the auction began…

He went on to state that one of his favourite stops at Crawford was the fish market… I was absolutely thrilled at this piece of information. Because I love the part of the market where they sell fish. I go and stand near the stalls to watch the men in gum boots and waterproof black aprons cut up a fish; their sharp knives slicing it neatly to fit the requirement of a particular dish… cut, clean and parcel.. the cycle continues this time to another set of fishes and a different customer for a different recipe…

You tell me, what do I do with a book like this, if I could I would have just become one of the characters and lived the tale. What I can do is keep it by my bedside when I sleep, dreaming of some lovely memories associated with choosing, cooking, tasting and relishing food.

In conversation with Hassan Haji of A Hundred Foot Journey by Richard C Morais, a 2008 Harper Collins India Publication, on a food expedition from Bombay to Paris… 🙂

I love to spread smiles… and that’s what I think I do best, can tickle the funny bones of more than a few folks.. can tickle their senses by creating some excitement with tales and pix of food and films, some material I read,  some games, a few pranks, and  a lot of chatter… Vaayadi Pennu aka Aswathi Jerome, the ELT type according to a Menon girl & a Bawa boy is a true Aquarian, as crazy and creative as it gets.. and she talks & writes a ton when in the mood.. 🙂 & she blogs at pins & ashes