Book Review: Myth=Mithya: – “Decoding the Hindu Enigma”

vishwaroopam
Lord Vishnu’s Vishwaroopam Form

“Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata…..”….the song would start,and I would be at the edge of my seat, this was my favorite part of the show (BR Chopra’s Epic “MAHABHARAT”),it’s starting song, I was 11 and all I wanted to see chanting along as the song progressed, increasing my pitch, was the God with endless faces,it was exciting I would get goosebumps, I didn’t know that that form of ‘Lord Vishnu’was called the “Vishwaroopam”, didn’t know anything besides that it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. My mother tells me that I like mythology and stories from the Indian epic’s so much because she used to watch a lot of them when she was pregnant with me. That like “Abhimanyu”(Son Of Arjuna, an Indian epic hero) who learnt the art of war and ‘Chakravyuh’ in his mother’s womb, I had kind of the same effect.

Whatever the reason, I have always admired myths, and I have always questioned them, my why’s and but’s irritated my parents to no end.My grandfather used to show me an old version of ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ ,written in Sanskrit,bound by wires on hard horizontal pages, I used to be absolutely stunned seeing him read it flawlessly. Then came the phase of belittling everything,my wonder was replaced with doubt, I had a thousand questions, these couldn’t have happened,Many of them were too fantastic to be true, I felt betrayed, lied to.How could a 10,000 year old civilization actually believe this, were they that stupid, but they invented so much, they endured and survived for so long in such hardships ,HOW could they believe it all. The realization that the purpose of these epics, these hundred thousand stories and myths was to TEACH, to GUIDE, to ENLIGHTEN,to IMPART the philosophies of life, death, creation, civilization, purpose, karma, duty, responsibility,’Dharma’ came much later, and I fell in love with them all over again.Oh the sheer simplicity and brilliance of them all.

mithya

This was my second book by Dr.Pattanaik, The first one that I read “Jaya” was absolutely brilliant.And although ‘Mithya’ predates ‘Jaya‘ ,which could be felt as you read his later works, I found this too to be absolutely marvelous. ‘Sanatan Dharma’ or ‘Hinduism’ is not only the oldest but it is also the most complicated religion there is,was or perhaps ever will be.It is filled with paradoxes and symbolism ,complicated rituals and narratives,mixed with all kinds of superstition that all of it just boggles the mind.In the midst of all this Dr.Pattanaik’s work is a brilliant attempt to find logic in this chaos, to follow the bread crumbs and lead to the crux of it all. I admire this a lot about him.

The book is designed cleverly too,he has used the Hindu trinity to divide the book, ‘Brahma-Saraswati'(Nature of the universe) as the First, ‘Vishnu-Lakshmi'(Cultural codes & Natural laws) as second and ‘Shiva-Shakti'(Soul & Matter)  as third. To anyone jumping right in, the myths might seem randomly all over the place, I would encourage the readers to read the intro and all the tid-bits too, they are not to be skipped. Although a lot of the stories were familiar to me, the associations made and explained, with a lot of visual flow charts and tables were quite refreshing and intriguing. This book deals with a lot of core Hindu ideologies, our idea of Rebirth, Creation, Afterlife, Heaven and Hell, Justice, Samsara, Moksha, Sex, Nature, Culture, Civilized and Uncivilized practices,etc etc.And on almost all accounts I was in agreement with Dr.Pattanaik save few, like his idea of ‘Caste system’ and the fact that if followed as per ‘Family’ legacy there stays harmony in the system,although some do say such a thing, couldn’t it have been the ‘High Caste’ Brahmans who started this just to keep the knowledge to them the select few, because as per my knowledge there is a para in Rig Veda (IX.112.3), where the poet refers to his diverse parentage: “I am a reciter of hymns, my father is a physician and my mother grinds corn with stones. We desire to obtain wealth in various actions.”So, the ‘Varna’ system was initially not meant to be hereditary, though it later became as such, so did a lot of ideas,mutated into something they were not supposed to.So, the stories in Ramayana promoting ‘Varnas'(Castes) as per birth didn’t sit well with me, Dr.Pattanaik should have mentioned the other side of the coin as well.

‘Nature’ And ‘Culture’ are the two pillars of the Vedic ways, often at odds with each other striving for that perfect balance, this idea is thoroughly researched and explained in this book.This was perhaps my favorite part. To explain the difference between ‘Vishnu’ & Samsara and ‘Shiva’ & Sanyasa. That too with his brilliant depictions and illustrations. pattanaik_hari-haraThe relevance of ‘Soul’ and ‘Matter’, of even the color ‘White’ and ‘Red’. There is just so much that you can take away from this book.To anyone remotely interested in Hinduism or Philosophy or Symbolism or even in Myths in general I whole heartily recommend this book. To any guy with an urge to make sense , this is a must.

I rate it 4 out of 5 stars. Goodreads  rating system.

To end with a quote from the book :-

“Within infinite myths lies the eternal truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes,
Indra has a hundred,
You and I, only two.”

Book Review: The THC:- “live love lose learn”

the-thc

2.5/5 Stars

My first ever ‘giveaways’ book, Received a signed copy from the author on 18th Jan.

I have always had a skeptical view when it comes to love. It always seemed somewhat fantastical, and alas that view hasn’t changed much despite my close brushes with it.That is what seemed to be the theme of this novel, ‘love in the elite world’. And when the author says ‘Uncomfortable topics that are swept under the rug’ he isn’t kidding, the novel gives you things to mull over like,impotence (uh huh, you read that right), addiction (‘Cigarettes’ and that too not focused upon much , I thought there will be junkies shooting up crack all over the place for a moment after that description,but we seemed to have been pardoned that unpleasantness.),  but most importantly relationships and the toll they can take on someone. And oh, lot of sex, I mean Mr Jain could have given Chetan Bhagat a run for his money in some of them I bet.

I was in a dilemma as to what to make of the book, it is essentially a collection of stories narrated by the three main characters in the twilight of their lives, Samar (The man with performance issues), Sanjanaketan (The woman cursed by fate) and Varun (The dude with old man issues and unresolved dude-dude issues) all trying to regain their peace and conquer their demons through a ‘Getaway therapy’ kind of a institute The Total Holistic Center (because the rich can always throw money to cure their heart burns) . Now to be honest, I felt a certain obligation to like this book because I got it for nothing,with an autograph no less. img_20170126_182048

But in good faith I just couldn’t love it all too much,that’s not to say it’s not good, for a second book by any author Mr Jain has done a splendid job, but maybe not my cup of tea.To read about someone else’s life story ,their problems, circumstances gives the reader a reference point, with which consciously or subconsciously he/she will relate and try to draw parallels.Such markers are aplenty in the novel.It makes you sympathize with the characters and hope that they might get closure. Mr Jain has used this aspect well, although the novel do lack a lot of finesse. It shows troubles which might get enacted in a serious version of ‘Sarabhai vs sarabhai’ or maybe an Indian ‘Sex and the city’,couples bored and cheating on each other, bachelorette party with stripers, Gay guy looking for his ‘Beard’  and so on which really doesn’t appeal to me all that much. ‘Varun’ was the only character I might have befriended if he was real among all three to be honest,The father son dynamic narrated in the book is the only thing that I could genuinely appreciate (that too from the son’s perspective). There was just too much that this book could have done without and less of what could have gone right for it. To show the whole curve of loving someone ,then losing that love then learning from that through much sadness and finally finding a way to put the hurt in its place and looking forward to life takes a special kind of tale, and even though I highly appreciate the attempt, it could have been better.

I rate it 2.5 out of 5 stars as per the goodreads rating system.

Book Review: The MONK who should have kept his FERRARI

monk-who-sold-his-ferrari

2 out of 5 Stars (Goodreads Rating System)

Come to me ohh you all ,who seek the path to meaning and happiness and let me bestow upon you the ANCIENT SECRET of everlasting happiness and fulfillment. And you know what the BIG SECRET is ,instead of ‘Wanting’ to be happy, just ‘BE’ happy.

What! you don’t get it.Okay let me put it in a very annoying cliched story of 200 pages in which a spiritually dead hotshot lawyer burned out of his wits has a life threatening experience, renounces everything and goes to THE ANCIENT HOLY LAND of spiritual searches ,INDIA, to find MONKS clad in crimson teach him the way and transform him into a SHITTY MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER.

I appreciate what Robin sharma is trying to do,breathing encouragement into people so that they could leave their past behind, live in the present, have confidence and a fulfilling life experience, is a noble venture indeed. Specially if you get paid to do it ,have seminars and clients for the sole purpose of giving reassuring taps on their shoulders. But I didn’t like this book. Specially because he kept trying to convince the reader that the philosophies and exercises that he is prescribing are some noble secret of the ancient yogis of India. DUDE!, I live here ,everybody knows these things ,every parent of every child has given them the same lessons throughout their life. So, instead of bullshitting and showing a yogi teaching all this ,just be practical and straightforward about the whole deal.

The whole book reminded me of another that I read a long time ago “The Secret by Rhonda Byrne”. The power of positive thinking was the main concept highlighted, in that one too. The old dialogue “If you really want something from the bottom of your heart then the whole universe will conspire with you to make it yours”.  Yes, a worthwhile thing to consider, Think positive (Don’t let a single negative thought in…if you do then its the naked penance below freezing waterfall in the freaking Himalayas for you). Again noble thoughts, but not I repeat a bigggg secret. This whole book seemed like someone cheering from the sidelines of a marathon “YOU CAN DO IT!!!”. Specially if that some one is an old monk in crimson robes. And the only old monk in crimson opening up its secrets that I am interested in is :-

old-monk01

Honestly, I have great respect for motivational speakers and a lot of inspirational programs like “The Art of living” but I don’t think they are for me. The importance of time management, living in the now, positive thinking, family is apparent to me without a book telling me so. Meditation and yoga calms the soul and should be regularly pursued is also very clear.”Will power” is the key to it all , never ever give up, now all of this is not new, see any Reebok or Adidas commercial and they will tell you the same thing. So, purchasing this book and spending the time to read it all just to know that you should be setting clear goals and pursuing them with rigor and enjoying the process is all well and good but not really worth it.This all boils down to common sense and I too am lost like any other person out there despite knowing all this.

All in all, if someone really followed this diligently then I have no doubt that they completely transformed their life, that is what the book says in retrospect “Get it together and Go for it,For GOD’s SAKE!”. A great pep talk, not a great book in my unworthy opinion. But still 2 stars for the message alone.May the force be with you.

 

 

Book Review: Time to Murder and Create : – “A filler turned Savory mystery”

time-to-murder-and-create

I can literally burn through a Block novel within hours, this is one of the best quality about them that I like. After some serious novels like “Karmbhoomi” which make you contemplate some pretty heavy shit you want a refresh,a reboot ,something to pick you up and remind you that you started reading because you enjoy it, so what do you do,you pick up Block again, I thought it would serve as a good Filler, it turned out to be a very enjoyable and engrossing read indeed.

Scudder is a badass, he has grit, he has moves and he has a drinking habit.A murkily stained past and a weird sense of morals.What more can anyone possibly want in an anti hero. He can forgive almost any crime but not murder, and he has no problem helping a lowlife ‘Spinner’ even after the guy bites it because He just does.

In the second installment of Matthew Scudder series, we witness ‘Matt’ helping avenge a guy who by all standards of morality and justice belongs in the grave.But that doesn’t mean the guy who helped him get there deserves freedom ,no sir, enter Scudder, a man true to his word to keep secrets sealed until its time to rip them open and dive into something he otherwise could have lived without, a word is a word after all. And so spans the novel with its twists and turns, I didn’t even try to figure it out this time, what was the point I told myself,there is no definite bad guy here,no definite good guy either.Its a block novel for god’s sake everyone is a piece of shit. And voila so it was, Scudder has a conscience ,well, enough of one that he quits his job after a mishap but apparently not enough to not meddle with shit that can cause more collateral damage.As long as it was not intentional and there’s bourbon in his coffee ,he is cool with it, and you know what so am I.

The whole story seemed like a good written episode of a crime & mystery TV show, which is really not as bad as it sounds. “Shit happens” is the only lesson that I have taken home with me after reading 3 of Block’s countless novels. And so what, my dear friends , isn’t that the only useful lesson we need.I rate this novel 3 out of 5 stars. And I hope to curb my urge to pick the next in line immediately, delayed gratification is much more potent or so people tell me.

Book Review: कर्मभूमि (Karmabhoomi) :- “cuz classics never go out of Style”

Okay,before even attempting to write about Munshi Premchand who is quite rightly dubbed as “The Shakespeare of Indian Literature” , let me just put it out there that i sometimes,during this gem of a novel, struggled  with my mother tongue . There!, I said it, there were oh so many words which gave me pause, which i looked up as I rekindled my relationship with Hindi in these past 2 weeks.Or wait, i should say ‘Hindustani’ rather than ‘Hindi’ because Premchand wrote ‘Karmabhoomi’ in 1930, What’s Hindustani ? You wonder, well i did too, It is ‘Hindi’ & ‘Urdu’, this novel used so many Urdu words so flawlessly with Hindi that it was an absolutely amazing albeit mind boggling experience.

premchand

One of the main reasons for my pathetic command of my own language aside from my blatant disregard for even attempting to read its literature in my foolhardy childhood days , is ironically enough, the very education system which the novel critics in its beginning. Premchand would have been absolutely horrified if they could see the state of the Indian readers today,specially people like me, and i consider myself well versed in Hindi as compared to my friends ,Go Figure!, ‘Angreezi’ ki gulami , i tell you..Uff..!

And now on with the show.

karmbhoomi

Every Indian in one way or the other has read at least one of Munshi Premchand’s stories, for me it was in School, his stories were part of the curriculum, just like Shakespeare is for the Europeans i imagine. My favorite among them were “Heera and Moti” the story of two Bulls and “Panch Parmeshwar” ,both of these short stories were absolutely marvelous.My first serious Premchand novel was “Godaan” (NO, not Goddamn, its GODAAN), which to this day remains my favorite Hindi novel.

And though “Karmabhoomi” can’t replace ‘Godaan’ from it’s place which it doesn’t need to, it stands apart in a class of its own. The novel has very complicated characters, and though the ‘Realistic’,’Day to day social life and norms’ and ‘Authentic’ feel which is Premchand’s signature aspects in writing are present, the ‘simplicity’ is absent.This is truly a magna carta of Indian literature, not because of its size but due to the wide range of issues social ,Religious and the Human psyche conundrums covered in the book. Again , this was written in 1930’s,to write about these topics (like Untouchability, Hypocritical religious practices, Inter faith love interests,Women empowerment,corruption among the ruling classes)  then would have been like living in a kerosene soaked house and attempting to cook.That too under British Raj, oh so many times i wondered why has the author not named names when it came down to assign responsibility for the pain caused to the people, specially the farmers, but of course he didn’t name names, they would never have allowed it to be published.So, Premchand had cleverly used other tools at his disposal, linking greed, hypocritical laws and lawmakers and pointed in the general direction.

The story had a lot to it,’Amarkant’ our main character is a son of a well to do Brahman father, married to a beautiful wife and has a loving sister.But not everything is working in this garden of Eden, Amarkant has different views on how a man should go about his life than his father, these philosophical differences between the two are source of great tension, this was the time of ‘Revolution’ in the Indian subcontinent ,Amarkant,wanted to live a selfless life serving the greater good , where as his father and his wife want him to take more interest in the family business,earning and behaving as per his station in life.

Premchand , has highlighted the  age old dilemma ‘Self preservation’ vs ‘The right thing to do’,every character in the novel be it ‘Salim’ Amarkant’s fun loving best friend who just wants to have a good life or his teacher ‘Shashikant’ who has dedicated his life to the service of the underprivileged or ‘Smarkant’ Amarkant’s father representing the status quo and justifying every hypocritical decision a man has to take as a householder,goes through life altering experiences which transforms them from something to something absolutely different. Unlike, every other novel that has a ‘Hero’s Arc’ for the main character, in this book every character has a ‘Hero’s Arc’.

Premchand’s stories are always a window into the life of the common man, in 1930’s the life of the farmers was specially dreadful but all of them had a heart of gold, the people who have absolutely nothing were the most generous in this story, they followed the real ‘Dharma’ and not those pretentious asswipes who had taken it upon themselves to subjugate and belittle others in the name of Religion.Love has been defined and portrayed in such a ‘Sufi’ way, unadulterated and clear hearted approach that i wondered if this line of thinking is ever possible now or even if it was possible then, whether all of this isn’t just an optimistic take on human psyche by Munshi ji. Women, were the recurring theme in this novel, Sukhda, Naina, Munni,Sakina, all represent different aspects of being a woman in the pre independence era at the start of the novel, with different stations in life,different situations,perspectives and options,and everyone of them comes out of the whole deal as a true ‘Goddess’ , which is how Premchand revers them as well. This novel was a great tribute to the sacrifices women make in the service of others.

All in all, this novel was the amalgamation of every aspect of the Gandhian ways, a family’s struggle to finally finding in each other the very comfort that they had craved all their lives, a true companionship and sense of peace brought by the services of others.As always it was a pleasure reading one of the most celebrated authors in all his glory. A must read for any Indian lit enthusiast.

 

 

Book Review: JAYA:- “Mahabharata for the fast track 21st Century”

jaya

I love the Indian epics, I have loved them since childhood, and Mahabharata is my absolute favorite. My love for fiction, fantasy, and complicated grey characterizations and dark humor can be traced back to Mahabharata. It has everything, EVERYTHING that a story should have.

But wait; don’t get me wrong these 5 star words are not for Vyasa’s epic, I am too lowly a man to even think of judging that. These 5 stars are for MR. Pattanaik, he has done great deal of research and although many stories differ, he is right, there are so many versions, even contradictory accounts of the tale that to compress them all and validate them in one version is impossible. But he has done a remarkable job, i specially enjoyed his notes and his PICTURES ( I know sounds ,CHILDISH!, right!), but I maintain there is no better way to tell a tale than with depictions and his were spot on.

jaya3

The book is great, to distill Mahabharata in 350 pages is no small thing, his anecdotes into the story, attempts to dwell in the deeper meaning, understanding the characters and symbolism, to attach the references to substance are very enlightening. We all know from experience in Social science classes that there is no better way to teach morality and philosophy than by storytelling.
I was very pleasantly surprised when i found that this was what Mr. Devdutt’s intention was all along.

To connect Sanatan dharma teachings, to link the logic of Karma, and core Hindu philosophies , even admitting, which tale got joined maybe when and because of what social change is truly refreshing.

I specially loved the book because it went beyond the story and Myths, which Mr.Pattanaik, have not simplified however ludicrous they might sound to a foreign audience, he has kept the wonder in the story intact and tried to decipher the ancient lessons of the Vedic teachings this tale was meant to impart in the first place.

Every man woman and child in the Indian subcontinent is aware of this great epic, like the ancient Greek heroes, who have enthralled the European public, every child in India dreams of being one of the Pandavas, the stories themselves are fantastic and unlike Ramayana, in Mahabharata it is very difficult to pick a favorite character, My personal favorite are Karna and Krishna , and yes in that order. Might sound like blasphemy , but in this tale, i find no greater character and warrior than ‘Dan-veer’ Karna.

This book should absolutely be read by people who are not familiar with Mahabharata, though the writer has distilled the stories many times over, condensed them and confined them within a few pages, I could find no fault in his attempts or intentions. This is a wonderfully written book, i am glad i got to finish it on a Sunday (in one go I might Add, such is my love for this epic).

Truly Wondering

Truly Wondering

So, a new year, 2017, and here i was sitting and wondering what exactly is NEW about it,then ‘smack’ comes the realization that it is ‘moi’,’me’,’Yours Truly’ who has the onus to make it new,to start something ‘new’ this year, but not very new , that wouldn’t work at all, something that is build on things that i already love to do, and after wondering for sometime i couldn’t come up with anything but “Reading”. I mean , of course i came up with a lot of stuff but could hardly build anything upon them, i love ‘Sufi’ music and drinking ‘Whiskey’ and Travelling (Well who doesn’t,and frankly this particular ambition is more in my dreams and fantasy than actual legwork travel, which i wonder and hope to change soon)but i can’t claim to be a singer or a mystic sadhu, far from it , and i can hardly be a wine taster or sommelier , never drank it for the Taste for God’s sake, never saw the point.And Travelling ,well i can boast about places i have seen yadah yadah yadah but to be honest i have hardly seen anything yet and the places that i have seen were in the spirit of superficial vacations than hardcore travel, i know ‘horrifying’ right,but lets not pretend that any of us are akin to legendary Travelers of old like ‘Ibn Baṭūṭah’; ‘Marco Polo’, ‘Megasthenes’ or ‘Xuanzang’, i hope i can change that some day.That in the future ‘Virat the Wonderer’ be remembered with fond words and reverence as a great adventurer traveler but not today and not yet, maybe soon.So,that left reading ,here’s the thing about me and reading, we love each other a lot, maybe too much, maybe not enough but we have had a long relationship,which to my great pleasure is yet to mature.I seriously believe that you can never ever read enough, Ever!, there’s just so much,and though i have always loved fiction and fantasy (Surprise surprise!, hence a lot of wondering about everything and anything on my part) i have never actually shared my thoughts about the stuff that i read with anyone.So, why not change that, why not Share the experience ,be it books, travel, even  music (i topped my High school 12th in music, don’t get your hopes up though, we had harmonium, and my ‘People’ are not known for their singing prowess).So , where to begin this exciting new imposition on the world by sharing my views on stuff   bwahahahahaha ‘>evil laughter<‘ and lo and behold i noticed “HITLIST” on my kindle, so why not start this year by sharing a little review cum thoughts on the book.And why not blog it, if not for anyone else than for myself at least.So here goes..

hitlist

You know the best thing about Lawrence, he is wonderfully engaging, his characters are an absolute delight to read and John Keller is my absolute favorite.I have read two of Mr.Lawrence’s wok before, ‘The sins of the father’-the first book in Mathew Scudder series,and ‘HIT-Man’ the first one in ‘Keller’ series.Between the two characters i like Keller better , just because he was more fun, and the book had wonderful dark humor.
Keller , a no regret, Professional Hit-man who is known to give in to amusing whims, is a real stand up guy, by any psychopathic remorseless standards. He is a model citizen who never shy’s away from his duty as a common man ,like, serving on a Jury.And who is a ‘Philatelist’ an enthusiastic stamp collector.
In this installment ,things get real interesting because Keller has an adversary which strangely enough he finds out in his “Star Chart”, “KUNDALI” for Indians. I mean really, the guy is an absolute enigma, many times in this book i found myself saying “OH FOR GOD’S SAKE” along with Keller. And another enjoyable aspect of this book is ‘DOT’, his ever efficient handler/God mother, i mean there conversations are amusing considering what they talk about is murder and mayhem like they are discussing the Sunday news or what is the best way to make pancakes.
The book is fast enough and each small story furthers the plot adds to the overall scheme of things little by little as well as give you moments to chuckle in between.Block is really gifted storyteller, and though his Keller series is light toned and not too dark or deep, it is most definitely humorous and enjoyable to the last word.I plan on reading more of his works and just hope, ‘as i am late to the ‘Lawrence Block’ party’ that his works remain this entertaining in the future too.