Tag Archives: indian mythology

The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Girl who Chose - A new way of narrating the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik Title: The Girl who chose: A new way of narrating the Ramayana
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher: Penguin Books, Puffin
ISBN: 9780143334637
Genre: Mythology, Children’s Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So I was a fan of Devdutt Pattanaik’s books when I first read “The Pregnant King”. It was in 2007 or 2008 I think. I remember calling him and chatting with him for hours about it. Maybe that is also one of the reasons why we turned out to be good friends. But that has got nothing to do with the review of his latest book “The Girl who chose – A new way of narrating the Ramayana”. I was waiting for this book since forever. Why? Because I think if you are going to tell a mythological tale for children in a different manner, then I sure would like to know about it.

“The Girl who chose” is about Sita and her five choices and how they impact Ramayana and everyone else in the story. This isn’t Devdutt’s spin or take. It is just an interpretation given what happens in Ramayana. It is about sometimes things being planned out even before you can think about them or about the choices actually that you make and its consequences.

This book is about Sita for sure, but it is also about the other central and not-so-central characters of the Ramayana. The illustrations by the author himself make the book something else. Devdutt’s illustrations are simple. They are easy to comprehend and perhaps one doesn’t even need text while deciphering them. The illustrations speak a language of their own.

I also would like to add here that there is no feminist angle in this book, so don’t be fooled by the title. It is a given that like any other human being, Sita had the power to choose and she made the choices that she did. For a children’s book it perhaps may not come across so clearly, but the understated meaning can be inferred. The tale of the Ramayana always depends on Sita – on what she does, because it is ultimately she who leads the story. No one else has that kind of power in this Indian epic.

Devdutt Pattanaik does it again – simply and with a lot of brevity. He takes on portions of the Ramayana and serves it to you in bite-sized nuggets. The footnotes with additional information only enhance the reading experience. This is a great start for children to know and understand Indian mythology. I think it is the perfect book to gift a child to expand his or her horizons about Ramayana which has been passed down from generation to generation.

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Devdutt on “Jaya”

So I finished reading “Jaya” – The Illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik. The Mahabharata as an epic is as old as time. That’s my take on it. And here is Devdutt Pattanaik’s take on it in the form of an interview with me. It was an honour to interview him (though I have known him before he started work on Jaya). I personally for one prefer the Mahabharata over the Ramayana (look out for the review of “Jaya”), and loved to get his perspective on the questions in my head.  Hope you enjoy it…

From medicine to mythology. Any connection or beliefs that have crossed over in both mediums?

Medicine brought in a systematic approach to my study of mythology. I was better able to understand structure (anatomy), function of structures (physiology), aberrations in structures (pathology) and application of structure (pharmacology).

There is always this tug-of-war between the staunch followers of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. What side do you lean on more and why?

The tug-of-war comes from people’s personalities and not from tradition. Ramayana and Mahabharata are twin epics, complementing each other and cannot be seen separately. They stories of the same God, Vishnu, in two different contexts, the Treta Yuga in case of Ram and the Dvapara Yuga in case of Krishna, that makes the avatar focus on rule-keeping in case of former and rule-breaking in case of latter. So, the question is: which is right? One may lean this way or that way but the wise man will do the Indian Headshake.

 “Jaya” personally was an eye-opener for me in more than one way. Sometimes the book is also an eye-opener for the writer. Did that ever happen to you while penning this book?

The epic keeps surprising you as you keep discovering new patterns with each passing day. All this one realizes cannot be mere coincidence but patterns embedded consciously or unconsciously by generations of storytellers.  

There are so many intertwined stories, both in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. How does a writer cope with the intricacies? Did research get the better of you at any point?

But clarifying the soul of the two epics. Both epics deal with one simple point: dharma. And dharma is all about the journey to discover humanity. Humans alone, not animals, can empathize and exploit. What do we choose to do under different contexts (the yugas) transforms us from the human to the divine. Once one truly understands this point, the intricacies become merely myriad expression of one simple but very potent thought.

Which character from the Mahabharata is the closest to your heart and why?

Yudhishtira, because he transforms.

Aren’t there too many similarities between the Mahabharata and the Greek Epics?

All similarities are superficial. It is like looking at Americans and saying they are so similar to Indians – they also eat, they shit, the work, they sleep. But that does not explain the differences. Greek epics assume one life and hence the heroes are in a hurry to achieve. They have six-packs and are rather intense. Mahabharata assumes many lives; Krishna lived before and will again as will all the other characters. Only Krishna knows this hence there is no sense of urgency. No six-packs, no angst – just a gentle smile. They others do not know this and so they are worried and anxious.

Here is a quick rapid fire:

a. Karna or Arjun?

Arjun

b. Mahabharata or Ramayana?

Ramayana

c. Kunti or Gandhari?

Gandhari

d. Draupadi or Sita?

Sita

e. Abhimanyu or Ghatotkach

Abhimanyu

There is always the struggle between femininity and masculinity in the Mahabharata? Where did it all start from, though somewhere there is the balance which is maintained?

All struggles emerge from animal nature. Animals have to compete to survive. Humans do not have to. Yet, we do. This indicates that we refuse to evolve. We want to remain rats in the rat race even when the option to break free is there. We blame the world for it, when in truth it is a choice. The battle of the sexes is simply an alpha male or female assumes they are heroes, or victims. This is maya, delusion.

 I loved the way you contained, “Jaya” so concisely and without losing the elements. How did you manage to do that? Wasn’t it one mean task?

Excel sheets and clarity of thought helps as does recognising where the story is going. I fear most storytellers do not realize this. They see Mahabharata as an epic that is complete in itself. For me it is but one part of a much-larger framework. I contextualize Mahabharata in the grand design of call Indian thought.

What role do the illustrations play in “Jaya”?

Diagrams in a science text book. They convey what the written word cannot. 

Jaya – An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata; Devdutt Pattanaik; Published by Penguin; Rs. 499; Available at all Leading bookstores.

You can and must also visit: http://devdutt.com

Here is something else I found on You tube regarding the book. Please enjoy!