Shikhandi and Other Tales they Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Zubaan and Penguin Books
ISBN: 9789383074846
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 176
Source: Pubisher
Rating: 5/5

There is so much to Indian Mythology that remains hidden. There is so much which no one speaks of. Of hidden desires (maybe), of stories that somehow do not surface, because we are too civilized for our own good. We are full of shackles and intimidation and fear and to top it all ego, which do not let us realize our true selves. Somewhere down the line, perhaps, we have also been too apologetic of our traditions and culture – first to the British and Europeans and then to ourselves. The stories need to be told to change perspectives. The answers need to be out there with the questions, so people can decide for themselves without being brainwashed. “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t Tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is one such attempt.

“Shikhandi” is a book of stories. Stories that have been forgotten – mostly intentionally I would think. Stories that celebrate the queer, the ones that do not differentiate between the masculine and the feminine, where form does not matter as much, where it is about fluidity and not rigidity of gender and where clearly it is about celebrating life. Devdutt tries to uncover stories in mythology about men and women, about gender bender, about situations where roles were reversed for good reason and sometimes for no reason at all.

To me, “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” is all about liberation. While reading it, I felt liberated and maybe that is the purpose of this book. From Narada who forgot that he was a man, to Indra who took the form of a Brahmin to make love to his wife when he was away, to Krishna who cross-dresses in time of war and peace for various reasons to more Gods and Demons and Kings and Queens who are not rigid about sexuality and gender, “Shikhandi” is a work that transcends orientation and gender.

The writing is precise and concise. The stories can be read in a day and yet how can one understand Queerness for all that it is, in a day or a week or even a fortnight? To then connect it to mythology is another matter altogether. To then not be judgmental about it is far beyond another issue. Devdutt’s stories are not about intrigue. They are not about provoking for the sake of it. They are provocative because it is time we drop the blinders and look at the world different, away from our myopic vision and conditioning of what is wrong and what is right. The illustrations and foot-notes are trademark Pattanaik and work wonderfully in this book.

“Shikhandi” is a paean to the marginalized, to the differences (seemingly so), to the unseen and the not spoken about tales. After interviewing him for Jaya and after reading Jaya, I thought there was nothing like that book. I was wrong. In my opinion, it is “Shikhandi and Other Tales they don’t tell you” which is his best work. Go broaden your thinking. Read this book for sure.

Here is the book trailer:

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387 Short Stories: Day 216 to Day 226

Here is a round-up of 387 short stories from Day 216 to Day 226:

Day 216: 13th of July 2014: Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
Day 217: 14th of July 2014: Pork by Cris Freddi
Day 218: 15th of July 2014: The Sisters by Amy Lowell
Day 219: 16th of July 2014: Wild Winter Love by Anzia Yezierska
Day 220: 17th of July 2014: Women by Louise Bogan
Day 221: 18th of July 2014: Her Kind by Anne Sexton
Day 222: 19th of July 2014: Seventeen Syllables by Hisaye Yamamoto
Day 223: 20th of July 2014: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
Day 224: 21st of July 2014: A Maiden’s Story by Popol Vuh
Day 225: 22nd of July 2014: The Image of Misfortune by Juan Carlos Onetti
Day 226: 23rd of July 2014: Meat by Virgilio Pinera

Mumbai Confidential by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde

Mumbai Confidential by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde Title: Mumbai Confidential
Author: Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde
Publisher: Inked, Penguin
ISBN: 9780143333357
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What better way to depict the dark and gory underworld and cop politics of Mumbai, than through a graphic novel? The underbelly is fantastically done with shades of brown, black and grey. Sometimes it also may happen that some graphic novels fail to convey what they want to, but that is not the case with “Mumbai Confidential” by Saurav Mohapatra and Vivek Shinde.

The book is set in Mumbai (but of course). It is the story of a cop, rather an ex-cop, Arjun Kadam who had it all going for him, till it all fell apart – both personally and professionally. He is no longer the man he used to be. He is addicted to heroin. He somehow has no will to live. There is the ACP who used to be his mentor and still considers him to be his protégé. Another cop is after his life. To top it all, there is a hit and run and Kadam survives, but a young urchin loses her life and Kadam will do all it takes to bring her justice.

There is everything in this graphic novel. It is fast-paced, riveting and has Bollywood with doses of underworld and suspense. However, the personal tragedy that occurs with Kadam should have been brought out well in my opinion. It was too rushed. The illustrations are terrific. They bind you and make you spend time on every page than just flip them soon enough.

The blocks and the blurbs are uniquely done. There is an effort put here to tell a story, to see it through from start to finish in a well-coordinated manner. The graphics depict the city’s dark side brilliantly. Vivek Shinde’s art and Mohapatra’s storytelling goes hand in hand quite well, providing the reader with a rollercoaster of a ride, laced with delusion, despair and some hope.

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Hang Woman by K.R. Meera & Translated by J. Devika

Hang Woman by K.R. Meera Title: Hang Woman
Author: K.R. Meera
Translator: J. Devika
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin
ISBN: 9780670086542
Genre: Literary Fiction, Indian Writing, Translation
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Some books are just not an easy read. No matter how hard you try, you cannot skim through them. Neither can you dismiss them. They demand complete and total attention. They will not rest till you give it to them and neither will you. “Hang Woman” by K.R. Meera is one such book. It is no doubt a complex read, given the subject and yet I did not feel like letting go of it, at any point. A book can be gripping in many ways, sometimes the traditional route of suspense and sometimes in the not-so-traditional sense of strong writing and ideas presented in a manner unlike any other.

“Hang Woman” is a translation from Malayalam to English. On this note, I hope there are more such translations. We as a country have a lot of offer in terms of literature and most of it goes unnoticed or hidden. Perhaps that will change. And it is essentially up to publishers to change that and I know for a fact that Penguin and others are trying hard to bring about that change. Many say that translated books do not or may not have the same impact as reading the book in the original; however, the translator for this book, J. Devika has done a spectacular translation.

“Hang Woman” is a book of executioners or rather a family of executioners. The Grddha Mullick family has witnessed almost every single important event that has shaped the history of the subcontinent. It is a lineage of executioners, dating back to before Christ and there is immense pride in that they take. Cut to present day, where twenty-two year old, Chetna is the first lady executioner of India and with a family tradition to take over. Of course, that is where the title comes from, but there is more to it than the obvious.

The layers and stories come out gradually in the book. K.R. Meera does a splendid job of mixing the past and the present and weaving it to create a story of love, loss and violence. There is a lot of juxtaposition of beliefs and also confusion to a large extent in the book that lends it its unique voice. What I liked personally in the book is the subtlety – of Chetna’s feelings, her life and her choices. Like I mentioned earlier, the translation is easy to read and lends imagination to the reader at almost every page. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for someone who is searching for that book that he or she can mull over and be entertained at the same time, then I would say, read, “Hang Woman”.

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The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunninghamm Title: The Snow Queen
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374266325
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that charm you from the first page. That take your breath away and you know you are in love from page one. There is nothing you can do about it. You give in to the book’s beauty and hope and pray that you savour it and not devour it. You must as a reader respect the delicacy of words and sentences, of emotions that strike you, that jump, unbeknownst at you, changing some perceptions, making you question your life and such books will be gone back to, in time, for sure. “The Snow Queen” by Michael Cunningham is one such book.

I always thought that “The Hours” was his finest work. I was proven wrong. It is not “The Hours” but, “The Snow Queen” is probably the best till now in his line of works. I was aware that the book will be good, but not aware that it would completely take me by storm. The book is about everything I guess – the way we live now, the way we love and the way we die, and almost forgot about the way we believe and what we believe in or not, at the core of the novel.

The book starts with a vision which one of the main characters Barrett sees in the sky, as his boyfriends breaks up with him over a text message. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother Tyler and Tyler’s ailing girlfriend Beth, who is dying of cancer. This sets the pace of the book. In this, new characters are introduced – Liz, the common friend of Beth and the brothers and how she brought them together to Andrew, Liz’s much-younger lover and some more. Essentially, the book is about Liz, Beth, Tyler and Barrett.

There are so many moments in the book that stun you and take you on a whirlwind. Sickness is also spoken of graciously in the book. I have yet to come across another writer who can do this. Cunningham takes topics are difficult to tread on and sails on them, with grace and ease. The city of New York is another character that is in the background, silent and watching over all the protagonists.

Barrett’s religious turn to the dilemma of a sighting to unrequited and requited love. Tyler’s conflict, using Beth’s illness as a crutch, the marriage in the wake and a song that he must write and the strong connect he shares with his brother. Beth, at the center of the brothers’ guilt, love, and affection. Liz, almost the crux of their relationships and trying to struggle with her own.

Michael Cunningham’s writing is sparse. He does not need to run into pages to say what he wants to. He follows the lives of Meeks brothers and everyone is searching for their own meaning to survive and understand the human soul. The writing as I have mentioned a number of times is just marvelous. It is heartbreaking, tragic, moving and above all just about the human soul.

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Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet Title: Beautiful Darkness
Author: Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1770461291
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had been waiting for the longest time to read, “Beautiful Darkness”. The minute I heard about it, I knew I would love it. It is a dark take on the fairy tale world. It is nothing like what you would expect and it is nothing like what you think it will be. It is a strange graphic novel. It is a graphic novel that shows you the way humans are, the way animals are and the way it really is. There is no happy ending. So you better be warned before you decide to read this one.

Beautiful Darkness - Image 1

“Beautiful Darkness” is about a strange kind. I am inclined to believe that it is a fairy-tale world and maybe that is what it is. It is an anti-fairy tale as the book suggests. It is the pixie land of Lord of the Flies. It is violent and head-snapping and decays at its best. The book is about Princess Aurora, her Prince, a fine setting to begin with and how all if it only starts getting bad to worse. The book begins with globs of blood, with the body of a girl – once alive, now dead and her flesh decaying (sort of depicting what is going to happen next in this strange land) and how she permanently rests there, and how the world around the body changes drastically.

Beautiful Darkness - Image 2

Vehlmann poses a lot of questions during the entire book. Who killed the girl? Why this world the way it is? Why is Aurora trying to help everyone, when everything around her is falling apart? Animals are trying to survive. Pixies are doing their bit. This tale is not for children. There is gore, a lot of it. There is darkness, which the creatures get used to. There is survival of the fittest and sometimes a whole lot of betrayal and shocks that come to fore.

Beautiful Darkness - Image 3

Beautiful Darkness - Image 4

Vehlmann explores the dark side of humanity. He gets into the skin of it and exposes it, for all to see. The maggot eating, the haphazard cruelty, the cannibalism, and more are for the reader. Like I said, you were warned. At the same time, don’t forget to go through the lovely illustrations.

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline by Rainbow Rowell Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250049377
Genre: Fiction, Domestic Life, Women’s Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Rainbow Rowell is the new favourite amongst both, teens and adults. I had heard a lot about Fangirl and Eleanor and Park from a lot of friends and other people. I even bought Eleanor and Park and never got around to reading it. Till “Landline” reached me and I thought of giving it a shot and I was so right in reading it.

“Landline” is about adult relationships, a marriage gone wrong and yet it will also appeal to teenagers, given that most part of the book is about Georgie McCool and Neal’s teenage years. Georgie McCool and Neal have been married for fifteen years and have two daughters, Alice and Naomi. Neal is a stay-at-home Dad and Georgie is a sitcom writer, working crazy hours. She tries to make time for her family, however she is much focused when it comes to her work and perhaps has been losing perspective of the larger things in life.

She skips the Christmas trip to her in-laws in Omaha and her family leaves without her. Neal does not say anything. She is left behind alone in Los Angeles. She feels that her marriage is on the rocks. Till she goes to her mother’s house and life takes a surprising turn when her old landline becomes a way of connecting with her past and with the Neal in the past. Georgie feels that she has been given a chance to fix her life, to fix Neal’s life, to maybe fix their marriage.

“Landline” is a fast read and at the same time, it makes you question your relationships as well. The book is funny as well, more so when it comes to Georgie’s friends and partners, Seth and Scott. I liked the pace of the book and also the way the book is written. The chapters are short (which I personally love) and the pages turn at a very fast pace. Rowell brings to life regular slice-of-life situations with her spin to things. I mean, who could have imagined a story about a relationship and a Landline as the communication means to fix all follies.

“Landline” is a book meant for all – for those who are just starting out in a relationship, for those who are a couple of years in a relationship and for ones who are on rocky road. “Landline” will just make you want to grab the phone and tell your loved one how much you love him or her.

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