First 100!

It brings me immense joy to know that my blog A year of reading India is now followed by more than 100 followers across various parts of the world with close to about 1000 readers and  viewers from about 24 countries. As a new blogger, this is really overwhelming! I am happy that the readers love the content and are interested in the books I blog about.

One thing which I really did not want was to convert it into a conventional Book Review Blog. As many of you might have noticed my reviews of the books I read weave around a particular story theme or concept , and I try to provide information, ideas and views not only related to the book but try to paint a picture on a wider canvas.

I have loved writing Mythology, Philosophy, Fiction, Non-Fiction by an array of Indian authors, and I still feel a lot more needs to be written about. Of my earlier posts I have written, my top five personal favourites are Jaya, which is a beautiful modern redering of the Mahabharata. Followed by Shantaram, which gives a vivid description of the Mumbai city, which now I call my home. I have loved Palace of Illusions, surely the fastest read I have undertaken in one sitting. Sita has been a very touching book for me personally and finally Gita which was very enlightening.

There are so many communities, cultures and vivid people all in this one small subcontinent in Asia. I am reading an array of books by Indian Authors and myself am intrigued by the variety of categories. Surely Indian writing is taking over subsequently, be it in a regional language or English.

I do have a few books lined up for upcoming posts, but I urge my readers to suggest books they would want me to write about pertaining to India or written by Indian Authors, and continue inspiring me in this journey of reading India.


Cover Photo by Vicky Roy

Devdutt’s Gita!

My first tryst with books written by Devdutt Pattanaik started with this particular book called My Gita. A bright yellow coloured cover with an beautiful illustration of Krishna adored with a peacock feather caught my eye at the bookstore. I had not read any version of Bhagwada Gita before, as the mere complexity of it never motivated me to pick it up. But I finally did, and was glad that I picked it up because this book marked my entry to the world of Hindu Philosophy.

Gita means song and Bhagwada means God, and the literal translation comes out to be the Song of God! It was called the song of God as Gita was the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Song which Krishna sung to his favourite friend, and brother in law, right in the center of the battlefield before the war of Mahabharata started.

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There are numerous other Gitas apart from Bhagwad Gita. There are various other Gita’s in Mahabharata itself,  Pingala Gita (prostitute’s song), Sampaka Gita (priest’s song), Manki Gita (Farmer’s song) among others, and outside Mahabharata as well there is Ashtavakra Gita, Vashishtha Gita and many more. But Bhagwad Gita remains to be the most popular as well as most widely read one of all times.

From now on I will be referring to Bhagwad Gita just as Gita for ease and simplicity.
The final form of Gita has has 700 verses split into 18 chapters, divided into three broad themes of which 574 are spoken by Krishna and 84 by Arjuna, 41 by Sanjaya and 1 by Dhritrashtra.

As I mentioned earlier the Gita is divided into three major themes or Yog’s, namely Karma Yog, Bhakti Yog and Gyana Yog, wherein each theme focusing on Work, Worship and Wisdom respectively.A lot of concepts like darshan, atma, deha, dehi , karma , dharma, yagna , yoga deva, bhagwana ,maya , moha and moksha are expained along the way. With each chapter dedicated to one of the concepts as mentioned above.

Mahabharata which tells the story of a war between brothers fought over eighteen days involving eighteen armies, indicates that the core teaching of the Gita has much to do with relationships.Any study of Gita has to take into consideration Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Puranic, Bhakti and orientalist ideas.Screenshot_2016-07-09-09-24-18

Devdutts style of writing this book is very impressive. Simple and easy to comprehend. This kind of simplistic writing style is necessary for such a complex subject. In fact because of this book only, I eventually picked up his other books and developed a liking for his style which renders to the modern era.He has explained each concept backed by a lesson in history and a story to support it along with a paraphrased quote from the Gita.

Now, My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik is not a translation of the original Gita, but an explanation of it in the authors own words. Its his interpretation to the existing Gita and an addition of his thoughts on every concept. Even the chapters in My Gita are explained at different locations as per the authors whims and fancy. The chapters are staggered and not sequenced according to the original Gita but it definitely does not break the flow of narration.I think the idea behind was to acquaint the reader slowly with the book, one step at a time. This can be an excellent book, if one wants to pursue reading the original Gita further after this.

So basically the Gita is focused on an individual’s psychological expansion, mentally physically as well as emotionally. As mentioned in the book, the Gita does not speak of changing the world. It speaks of appreciating a world that is always changing. It says unless the heart feels secure, the head will never receive new ideas. one of my favourite verse by Krishna in the book is ;

“Arjuna you wear fresh clothes at the time of birth and discard them at the time of death. You are not these clothes” – Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 22 (paraphrased).

An interesting aspect of the book is the various illustrations after every few pages to support the texts , were provided, but this I feel could have been avoided. The diagrams are not so interesting as much the texts are and I usually skimmed through most of it.The illustrations in My Gita were not as captivating as the ones by Devdutt in Jaya or Sita.

Krishna1The book also excellently explains the concept of Gunas commonly known as tri-guna ; Tamas , rajas and sattva. The tendency towards inertia comes from tamas guna, the tendency towards activity comes from rajas guna and the tendency towards balance comes from sattva guna. In humans the sattva guna dominates , which is why only humans are able to trust and care for strangers , empathize and exchange.

Personally this book had a very strong connect with me. I was reading this at a stage where my personal life was going through a lot of troughs and crests. My Gita did help me find deeper meaning within myself and since then I have read the book numerous times. I think this is not a one-time-read-from-cover-to-cover-and-toss-it kind of book. I have referred to it now and then during turbulent situations and it has not failed me to find a bit of solace in it, thus helping me in my transition from the tamas guna to the sattva guna.

“Arjuna, one who gives up conceit and ownership and craving, in other words the sense of ‘I’, ‘Mine’ and ‘me’, will always find peace.” – Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 71(paraphrased).

Gita forms the  epicenter of Hindu Philosophy. Of course the Vedas and Upanishads are there and they contain more deeper philosophical knowledge, but Gita connects more easily to the people. Hence I was compelled to write about it here, as reading across India would seem incomplete if the roots of Indian philosophy were left untapped.


Quotes from My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrations by Devdutt Pattanaik from devdutt.com
You can read more about the author on devdutt.com

krishna

The Palace of Illusions :An artistic marvel

palace-of-illusions

“Through the long, lonely years of my childhood, when my father’s palace seemed to tighten its grip around me until I couldn’t breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story.  And though she knew many wondrous and edifying tales, the one that I made her tell me over and over was the story of my birth. I think I liked it so much because it made me feel special, and in those days there was little else in my life that did. Perhaps Dhai Ma realized this. Perhaps that was why she agreed to my demands even though we both knew I should be using my time more gainfully, in ways more befitting the daughter of King Drupad, ruler of Panchaal, one of the richest kingdoms in the continent of Bharat.”

And thus begins the story of Princess Panchaali, born out of fire , as it was prophesied, she would be responsible to change the course of history, and oh man how excited was she to hear all about it over and over again. This beautiful dark skinned princess was none other than Draupadi. As we all know her as the wife of the legendary Pandava brothers, the only women to have five husbands all at the same time.

I have read the Mahabharata a couple of times, and a couple of versions of the epic have surfaced before my eyes and through these very hands. Each time I have added something new to my existing knowledge , and each time I have read a new version by a different author, it keeps on getting better. From my early childhood days I have wondered that how ever all the Pandava characters have been given much importance in the epic, but not much has been talked about Draupadi, apart from the very fact being that she was responsible for the downfall of the Kauravas.

A story becomes powerful with every retelling, and so has been the case with The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. An enchanting retelling of an epic that is truly powerful. This book while painting a vivid picture of events leading up to the war at Kurukshetra also sinks in the realization of the imperfections of human nature.

The palace of illusions is a very different approach to the Mahabharata. It is narrated by Panchaali. It is Mahabharata through the eyes of Draupadi. From the time she was born until the end, its her take on the entire situation, and on the journey she mentions about her thoughts, her insecurities , her desires, her anger, lust, love, responsibility and her portrayal of courage.

Courage of-course. Courage to have five husbands. Courage to face shame in an assembly full of her husbands and their brothers. Courage to have Krishna as her best friend and comrade and courage to let go of her love, the person she admired the most, with whom she always wanted to be. As the author rightly mentions –

“Love comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you are lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have.”

The highlight for me has been the conversations between Draupadi and Krishna. How subtly Krishna explains Panchaali about things beyond her understanding. The way Krishna always talks in riddles, and how behind every conversation there is a deep meaning to the entire context.

One of my favourite quotes from the book, again a conversation between the duo, wherein Krishna says –

“Just as we cast off worn clothes and wear new ones, when the time arrives, the soul cast of the body and finds a new one to work out its karma. Therefore the wise never grieve for the living or the dead”

Draupadi’s character has been discussed in depth.To what lengths she can go to have her way, how she often dreams of living in huge palaces, and get adorned with the finest jewelry and be pampered at all times. Her character is buoyant, expansive and uncontainable, a side of hers which lot of people are not aware of.

The book is written in a very gripping way. Its simple yet beautiful. Its vivid and colourful. The details are very picturesque and the whole saga has been depicted in a very quaint style. I loved the book, and was hooked to it completely. It definitely features in my ‘Top 5 picks of all time’.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has done complete justice to the concept of this half mythical half fictional tale, which has turned out to be completely magical.