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: