Disclaimer – No offense meant to anyone through this post. If it struck you as negative or outrageous, please turn the other way and know I mean no harm. This is not some rant about how silly/bad the Indian epics are (because they are not!) but a general wondering about why people do what they do.
Now that we have gotten to a point where we don’t need to be apologetic for questioning everything we’re told, I’d like to pose a question – What’s with the numerous Indian epics and the series of mind bogglingly daft decisions that propel the story?
We are not mindless fools and we are allowed our follies, but some of the courses of action chosen by renowned characters in the epic tales makes you wonder about their logic. Their sense of reasoning is excruciatingly frustrating, to the point where yelling at the book or TV renders you the mad one. Why in the world did the cultured, familial Pandavas (of Mahabharata) think it was okay to wager their own family members for a game? And when an entire court didn’t raise an objection to Draupadi being abused, the brothers got all riled up about their lack of “righteousness”. On the other hand we have King Bindusar of the Maurya Dynasty who, for a majority of his life, lived under the influence of his multiple scheming wives, ministers and others. He was a king loud in voice but not bold in opinion. As chance would have it, his beloved wife Dharma a.k.a Subhadrangi was estranged from him because of the looming threat on her son’s and her lives. Enter the Great Emperor Ashoka who, courtesy of his mother and Chanakya’s plotting, doesn’t know he is royalty for the longest time. Don’t you think that a lot of lives would have been saved had Dharma/Chanakya decided to come clean to Bindusar and Ashoka? Trying to protect a loved one is not silly, but when that introduces detrimental complications, its better to stray away from the “highway”.
Then we have Kunti who gave up Karna, her first born son, because of the illegitimacy situation. All his life, he was faced with challenges that could have been kept at bay had society known the truth about his biological parents. Heights of injustice are crossed when towards the end, she beseeches him to not kill her other sons (the Pandavas) and so he sacrifices himself for brothers who don’t know of the shared lineage. Whereas the banishment of Sita by Ram based on the word of a fisherman appears to be ridiculously inconsiderate when compared to his natural personality which is a lot more genteel and loving. Quizzical, isn’t it!
It’s not that any of the above mentioned characters are actually incapable of rational thought but the fact that, at a time of dire need, reason seems to evade them – just wooshes past their head. For some incomprehensible reason, withholding information seemed to be the way they rolled. That was their ultimate solution to all problems. And no, the excuse that it is all for the supposed “betterment” of their loved ones/ the kingdom is rubbish. These actions/decisions were expedient if nothing else.
I haven’t read up on all of our Indian epics. And despite the fact that such instances are nerve-grating, I absolutely love the Epics – not only because they convey our Indian sensibilities but also because they propagate values like reverence, unconditional love & friendship, immateriality, determination and conquering all evil. Reading books based on these epics and then having them brilliantly recreated into a TV series has been a boon. If you haven’t watched/read any, I suggest start with Mahabharata. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book for review :)
Camp Green Lake is a juvenile detention center situated in a deserted landscape in Texas. Stanley Yelnats, under a case of mistaken identity, is imprisoned at the camp and must dig holes everyday to complete his sentence. The Warden at the camp is a threatening entity – to be feared and avoided at all costs. Her motives behind making the kids dig holes seem to be fishy. Stanley soon realizes that the Warden is not the only person he needs to please in order to survive at the camp. The kids (X-Ray, Armpit, Squid) already serving their terms, also demand great compromises. Somehow amidst all the frenemies, he finds a companion in Zero. Their connection is deep rooted, only Stanley doesn’t know that yet. Holes is a fantastic tale of adventure, camaraderie, ancestral connection and fate.
This is a middle grade book that is sort of timeless in its quality. Some stories go way beyond their age barriers and become more meaningful. From a bullied kid who felt inferior to a confident braveheart, Stanley’s encounters at the camp bring out the best in him. We are witness to the gradual change in his disposition. The military rule enforced at camp is infuriating. The kids live under harsh conditions and become tough through experience. Perhaps because of the estrangement of the camp from the outside world, the Warden was able to dominate everyone to her liking. There was no legal force stopping her. Digging holes as part of a punishment seemed awfully suspicious. So we begin suspecting the Warden of having ulterior motives. The characters of the children are etched out to be independent and bold, cut off from the innocence or playfulness of childhood.
Stanley teaches Zero how to read and write, which I found to be really sweet. He gets into trouble for it too, but it remains an anchor that tethers the two to surviving the difficulties they face. The book switches back and forth between the past and present. We learn of Stanley’s ancestor and other individuals who play an integral role in the current nature of events. In the end, it all makes perfect sense. The switching of perspectives is not overwhelming but not simple enough either, that you see the ending. At times I wished that Stanley wouldn’t be as submissive, but the climax makes up for it. I really liked this book and at no point was I getting bored or feeling disinterested. Recommend to those who enjoy camp stories or adventurous ones.
Titu Mir, son of a farmer Nisar Ali is a righteous and willful lad. Since childhood, he has been running wild, helping others with no regard for the danger it might put him in. His family’s expectations of him carrying forward his father’s legacy are crushed when he chooses another life path. Titu goes on to become the voice of the poor folk in Bengal during the time of the British Raj. His valiance exudes the motivation needed to urge the farmers and vendors to take a stand. Soon his sons, brothers, nephew and friends joins him in this patriotic cause. He gathers courageous men from different communities and trains an army to revolt against the corrupt landlords and British authorities. Many planters, landowners and goons stand in his way, underestimating the strength of a lathi-wielding vigilante. They learn their mistakes the hard way. Mahasweta Devi captivates us with this historical tale about Bengal, the riots, the peasant community and the diktats of the British.
The setting of the plot is mostly rural Bengal and focuses on those subjugated by the Britishers. I found it a little difficult to keep track of the multiple villages and towns that were featured in the book. Nevertheless, the story is easy enough to understand. The unfair settlement laws held in place are upturned when Titu Mir takes matters into his own hands. Titu Mir has a family of his own, whom he leaves quite often to train individuals, meet allies, procure necessities etc. It is understandable that a soldier of the nation makes tons of compromises, so expecting him to devote time to his family would be a little unreasonable. The first few chapters involves major time leaps. We read about Titu as a kid and soon after as a teenager and then as an adult. There were many people who were instrumental to his achievements. Something I found to be enlightening about this book is that it clears certain misconceived perceptions about Muslims which gets added to, by the enemies, to portray the Muslims as being aggressive and against other religions. Which is far from true. This book offers a lot of detailed information but not so much so that it becomes a history textbook. It addresses social concerns like oppression, vandalism, theft, arson. The story pulls you in and instills in you a sense of nationalism. I loved the book so much. It is a fulfilling account of the Wahabi Movement and how our countrymen dealt with the British. MUST MUST READ!
“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away. You must want it just enough, and you must be very tactful with the Gods.” – John Steinbeck, The Pearl
Kino, a Mexican diver is the protagonist of the novel who being subjected to social injustice, comes to learn the repercussions of greed and foolhardy behavior. His aspirations are big but means are limited and so he is left to wonder what future beholds for his family. When his son Coyotito falls ill and the town doctor refuses to treat him, Kino and his wife Juana look to pearl mining to solve their problems. As chance would have it, Kino comes in possession of The Pearl of the World – a rather chunky pearl meant to shower riches upon the family. But at a time when wealth and power bred frauds of the worst kind, the family only encounters more fallaciousness every step of the way. As readers, we witness an individual’s struggle not only against an apathetic society but a grapple with oneself to not let the inner demons reign.
I was a little apprehensive picking up a John Steinbeck book. Would I be able to grasp it? Will the content be interesting and not puzzling? I always have these questions when reading literary texts. And much to my surprise, Steinbeck’s writing style is direct and easy to get into. No overuse of imageries or overwhelming content. He weaves a story, uplifting a character from the lower section of society and helps us to understand how greed and ambition can change the mien of a person. We get a sense of Kino and Juana’s simple lifestyle from their attire to their meager corn-cake meals to their bare minimum household. Their people are demeaned by the upper caste in society and despite having some money to provide for the services of the doctor, they are turned down simply for belonging to the lower caste. But when they find the pearl, everyone suddenly becomes so amiable and generous towards the family.
Kino’s character, though very fierce and protective of his family, is a bit proud and unthinking. He doesn’t understand Juana’s POV and takes rash measures at times. If only he hadn’t done certain things, maybe they wouldn’t have had to flee. Juana is a commendably strong character. Not only does she stick with her husband throughout, despite his brashness, but also displays a clarity of thought and action, astounding in association to the situation. Throughout the novel, we grow to empathize with Kino and Juana as they are undoubtedly pushed to extremes by the insolence of several beings. Steinbeck mixes the concept of music with feeling to establish the atmosphere. I found that idea to be splendid and the Song of the Family is something we all can hum to. This book is a quick, touching read that throws light on the plight of divers in 20th century Mexico. The ending was a bit disturbing but apart from that, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I recommend it to everyone who loves reading.