I used to think people who love listening to and reading Indian mythological were very spiritual, folks lost in tales of lore that are no longer relevant. Where was the place for chariots and Brahmastras, djinns and Nagas in today’s world?
Until that was I read Iravate Karve’s brilliant Yuganta: The End of an Epoch. This slim volume of essays contextualises the characters of the Mahabaratha to today. Their intentions understood from social, political and anthropological perspectives. Reading it, one feels the millennia melt away. Here we come face to face with Krishna the person and strategist. Draupadi’s inner turmoil and her failure as a dutiful wife unravel. The essays gently prod us to think and identify with truly timeless voices.
The Mahabharatha, in particular had me hooked. I may not have gathered to read the full script of the many versions of it, but I was willing to make do with nuggets. The followers of the epics I realised definitely loved stories; some used it as a reference code to lead their life, others to untangle questions that stood in front of them. Still others like me read it, to slowly comprehend that in this ocean of life we are unique but insignificant specks. What is there really not to get wrapped in the stories of princes snakes, speaking trees, elephant gods, capricious creators, and destroyers of the universe, scheming uncles and palace courtesans?
I was keen to introduce my daughter who was into Thea Stilton, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the like to this epic. She looked completely disinterested even as I goaded her to read some Indian stories. Sulking and pouting followed. In the midst of this, a reunion with dear friend Mamtha my daughter found herself being gifted with the wonderful Pashu-Animal Tales from Hindu Mythology. Drawing from the Hindi word for animal Pashu tells tales about animals and animal mutants in this superbly written book by Devdutt Pattnaik.
She sat to read one and did not get up for the next hour. Later that day, as I stood dicing vegetables in the kitchen she retold me the story of Garuda- he of the eagle head and human body- and how he liberated himself from the Nagas and lorded them, through bravery and guile. Soon I was listening to the story of Kama-the lord of love being burned by just a look of Lord Shiva.
Dinnertime discussions were about the Pandava’s son Parikshit, his frog wife Shushobana and Arjuna’s adventures with the cursed Apsaras in crocodile form. Equally interesting were the drawings by the author in black ink. I read stories to my little one, whose eyes widened in wonder when she learnt of the four young parrots that heard conversations in the battle Kurukshetra, protected under the bell of a war elephant.
The questions soon followed. Can animals think? Is the snake bad? Can there really be an animal with an eagle’s head? The questions became more profound this morning at school time, with the two sisters wondering who were more lucky animals or humans? As parents, we each had our own response. To engage and discuss with our children and to see them wrestling with these questions has been wondrous. I leave you with a nugget from this must have book.