Book Review: Anansi Boys :- “The Crack Jacks among Demi Gods”

Anansi Boys

4/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

Books that can make you chuckle, snort out water or tease out warm smiles are ‘absatively’ the kind of books that you should bother people to pick up, because you know, everyone can use little smiles. This is one such book. This lighthearted and humorous story, of the West African Trickster Spider God ‘Anansi’ and his sons, was fun, the tickling kind of fun and this is what makes it different from “American Gods” ,the first book in Gaiman’s “The Gods walk among us” world,  which was comparatively a bit serious, dark, brooding and somewhat intense.

Neil Gaiman’s books have a dreamy world, and coming from a country and community which is high on myths and epic stories about gods & demigods, this particular dreamy world was all too familiar. In this world Gods exist,and they not only exist but live with and among us everyday, the old gods of Norse, or of Vedas, or of the African jungles, all of them, they live, they love, they die (well at least for sometime). The story starts with ‘Fat Charlie’ a simple accountant, quite average in every way, who had been embarrassed countless times by his father during childhood, and for whom ‘Sorry’ has now become a default reaction. But his carefully set mundane life gets tossed upside down, when his father dies on a Florida karaoke stage, you see, nobody told ‘Fat charlie’ that his dad was a God or that he was not his only son. He has a brother, Spider, who is more like his dad than he himself ever was. And thus starts a story that will leave you grinning, I love stories like that, Stories that don’t take themselves too seriously even when they are being completely serious. You would chuckle at Spider’s slyness, you would laugh at Fat charlie’s misery without feeling too bad about it, you would roll your eyes at Grahame Coat’s (Fat charlie’s boss) delusions. Mr. Gaiman’s wit is marvelous, so is the character development and the funky plot of the book. This was in all sense a feel good book, it says a lot with good old proverbs bundled anew. The stories of Anansi (Well technically every story is an Anansi story, apparently) were a great addition,  Mr. Nancy with his green fedora and lime yellow gloves, strike as a jolly good God if you ask me. And so is ‘Fat Charlie’s’ story, his discovery of himself, a jolly good story indeed, worthy of an Anansi’s son.

The book is wonderful, I really liked it, to all the myth hunters and humor suckers out there, pick this one up, take a load off from that Shakespeare, or from those realistic war tales, put your feet up on a table, sip a glass of lemonade and read this, possibly with a green fedora on your head if you can manage it.

 

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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: 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).