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Book Review: Storywallah by Neelesh Misra

Neelesh Misra is a name to reckon with in radio. The Neelesh Misra Show on Red FM is immensely popular among the masses, and people long to listen to the tales narrated by Misra in his inimitable style. He is also a celebrated writer in Hindi and an acclaimed lyricist.

Neelesh Mishra has spearheaded a project called  the Gaon Connection, India’s biggest rural media platform, and is also the founder of Mandali, which provides platform to emerging writers in the country. The book ‘Storywallah’ is a collection of short stories, penned by the writers belonging to Mandali.

I must confess, I agreed to review this book, smitten by the beautiful cover of the book. Translated for the first time in English, this collection represents the best of Mandali writers. Often, when stories are translated, the basic emotions behind the words get lost in translated. This has been true for many Bengali stories I have read in English (barring a few notable examples). However, these stories strike a chord, may be because I have not read the originals.

These stories, 20 of them, tell the tales of modern India, as well as Bharat. From the small towns and rural settings, the stories move to the hustle bustle of big cities like Mumbai and Delhi. They introduce us to ‘homesick yuppies’ who long to reconnect with their hometowns, old lovers who reconcile against all odds, parents who learn to adjust with their grown-up children, or the mother-in-law who uses questionable tactics to bond with her distant daughter-in-law. There is a story involving a war widow who learns to stand up to family, and also how fate brings two strangers closer.

While we empathise with the divorced girl as she confronts her dilemma, we also appreciate the bonds of trust and friendship in together. Then, there is the unconventional take in ‘The Overcoat’ where a girl finds the true meaning of life, through someone else’s life.

There is an undercurrent of love flowing through each of these stories. Relationships dominate the narrative. The conventional disdain of anything out of the ordinary is questioned. Ties are tested against the changing tides of time. Love is an experience, which no matter how much you wish to ignore, will always be a part of your existence. Credit goes to the Mandali for taking us through the various facets of it.

While some of these stories could have been written (and edited) better, the effort and initiative is highly commendable. And the credit, for sure, must go to Neelesh Misra, for without him the Mandali would not exist.

My Rating: 3.5/5 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: 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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