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Book Review: Shyam by Devdutt Pattanaik

When it comes to mythology in India, Devdutt Pattanaik is a name to reckon with. In times like these, when history (and religious texts) have become tools of political power play, and mythology is being sanitised and re-imagined to propagate a narrative that suits a certain belief system, Devdutt Pattanaik’s works help set the record straight.

India is a land of diversity. It is but natural that the ancient texts – the Vedas, Upanishads, and even our epics – would have diverse interpretations across the subcontinent. Even as some attempt to reposition (or repackage) ‘Hinduism’ as a monotheistic, toxically masculine religion (like the Abrahamic faiths), Devdutt Pattanaik relies on, and puts on record, the various narratives centred around the same characters, and stories.

In his latest book, Shyam – An illustrated retelling of the Bhagavata, Devdutt weaves together the tales of Krishna. It is the “story from Krishna’s birth to his death” and chronicles his transformation from “his descent to the butter-smeared world of happy women and his ascent from the blood-soaked world of angry men”. The title of the book, as the author explains, can be attributed to the colour of Krishna’s skin, which was dark (but has now been sanitised to blue).

There is no single source chronicling Krishna’s story in entirety. It has been narrated in fragments in various scriptures – in the Mahabharata (where we learn about Krishna’s adulthood and his relationship with the Pandavas), then in the Harivamsa (that speaks of his pastoral foster family). It also finds a mention then in the Vishnu Purana (where he is described as one of Vishnu’s avatars), and of course, the Geeta Govind of Jayadeva (that is a tribute to his love story with Radha).

Shyam, the book, comes in eighteen chapters (16 chapters and the prologue and the epilogue). Krishna’s life story is narrated sequentially – from the circumstances that led to Vishnu’s eighth avatar till Krishna’s death, and subsequent description of Goloka – a heaven for cows. The author has been politically incorrect, and presented facts as they stand. Krishna’s story has been dissected in great detail, and his persona explored in all his forms. Devdutt minces no words when he laments the current trends of portraying Krishna only as a ‘masculine, war hero’. This is a great disservice to Shyam, who is incomplete without his androgyny. In fact, his feminine self is worshipped in many parts of the country.

The life of Krishna has been narrated in various stages – the infant, the son, the lover, the cowherd, the warrior, the king. Anecdotes have been cited from different sources. like the Bhagavata Purana, the Harivamsa, Geeta Govinda, the Greek mythology as well as Buddhist texts. References have been drawn to traditions prevalent in south India, Rajasthan, Bengal or Odisha. No one interpretation of Krishna has been declared superior (or real) over the other. Krishna is a complete figure, only when we accept all the facets of his personality in entirety.

Anyone with interest in mythology – and also thanks to Amar Chitra Katha – may know most of the stories that Devdutt Pattanaik shares in this book. What sets this book apart are the myriad factoids that he presents, in an illustrated presentation. And he also shares new information with us, which spikes your interest in the subject. Like, the paradise for cows or the references of Krishna in Buddhism, the two Bhagavat Gitas, the interpolation of Krishna and Kali, and so on.

Unlike Ram, who is now a political icon because he was ‘maryada puroshottam’ (the ideal man) and exemplified masculinity, Krishna is as human as much he is an avatar. His ‘colourful’ life comes with frailties. And that’s why his story needs to be told more and more. For Shyam is the perfect epitome of pluralistic, multi-faceted diversity that our country stands for.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. This review is part of the Flipkart Bloggers’ Affiliate Programme

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights 

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Book Review: Work, Workers and Workplaces by Parthajeet Sarma

In his new book ‘Work, Workers and Workplaces’ author Parthajeet Sarma uses references from psychology, human evolution and science to give us an essence of this evolution of work and workplaces. He bats for a system which looks beyond textbook theories. He details how technology will be a major player in the days to come.

If one were to look up the meaning of work in a dictionary, the traditional definition would be ‘activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.’ I have been ‘working’ for the last eight years now and over the years, I have worked at different establishments – startups, big establishments and the media. ‘Work culture’ has undergone a sea change from what it was even a decade ago, and technology has played a major role.

One of the major disruptive factors in the past few years, in the sphere of business, has been social media. Innovation is the key word. Fresh ideas, new methods of tapping markets and a paradigm shift in services sector – all this has been made possible by technology. Brands now even look to social media for recruiting potential workers.

Disruptive technology is here to stay, and businesses will have to adapt to technology to stay relevant. The world is at a crossroads where we are slowly moving towards a technology-driven office space. The very meaning of work has changed for modern day workers where the workplace is no more a physical space. The new workplace is a blended space of the physical and the digital.

Company jargons like efficiency, productivity, targets are acquiring a new meaning with the passage of time. Focus of most companies is on ideas – the quality of work, instead of quantity. Blended workplace is the starting point of innovation for organizations that believe in innovation.

Today, businesses are looking to automate most processes. They don’t want to invest in getting people for performing repetitive drudgery, which can be done by machines. Humans are sought for performing tasks which machines cannot do, thinking for example.

The definition of a ‘job’ is thus changing, and those who fail to keep up with the ever-evolving ecosystem, will miss the bus.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

P.S. The review copy of the book was provided by the author.

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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