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Book Review — Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

“In the Veda there is a line ‘vikruti evam prakruti’ which can be translated as ‘all things queer are also part of nature’.” – Devdutt Pattanaik.

In Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, Devdutt Pattanaik brings to the forefront those tales from Indian mythology that point out our previously comfortable stance towards Queerness. He highlights even the most heard of tale in a way so us to grant us better understanding of how accepting we were at a point of time. Stories range from how Lord Krishna transforms into Mohini to how Mandhata was born of no mother. This book surpasses expectations and then some. It is so rich with characters known and worshiped by people from all over India. What’s more is that after every tale, the author presents a literary analysis from the perspective of Queer Theory. This book couldn’t be more appropriate in keeping with the problems of the present time.

I devoured this book in a day. It was so wholesome and fulfilling, particularly because I have learned literary theory in college. We had an entire section titled “Queer Theory” in the curriculum but for some ludicrous reason it was made “self study” and not discussed in class. Some of the stories in this book are ones that we’ve heard from our families like that of Bhasmasura, Shikhandi, Bhagirath, Ahalya etc whereas many others were new to me. The amount of information in this book is overwhelming in its entirety because there are so many names involved and versions to each story.

After a story, the author discusses the origin of the text, how it differs from place to place and even questions it from the queer perspective. But I couldn’t put it down and had to finish it, so a lot of the names may have flown over my head, nevertheless I can always go back and read random stories again. I’m certain I will. The book opens with two sections that are solely about understanding the Queer with examples from all over the world. It historicizes concepts like lesbianism, cross-dressing, hijras to throw light on their prevalence even in the time of Ram Rajya. This book prods us into questioning popular beliefs and not conforming to the society’s condemnation of anything that is beyond normal. It shows us that if Gods and Goddesses are accepting of gender fluidity or queerness than we shouldn’t be criminalizing and looking down upon those who do not identify with the two categories of male and female. I absolutely loved this book from the very beginning and am glad it remained wonderful till the end. Maybe this book should be incorporated into school and university curriculum. If you are the least bit interested in mythology or LGBTQ stories then please please read this book. It is splendid!

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera

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