Jaya – An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


JayaCover

Goodreads blurb: High above the sky stands Swarga, paradise, abode of the gods. Still above is Vaikuntha, heaven, abode of God.

The doorkeepers of Vaikuntha are the twins, Jaya and Yijaya, both whose names mean ‘victory’. One keeps you in Swarga; the other raises you into Vaikuntha.

In Vaikuntha there is bliss forever, in Swarga there is pleasure for only as long as you deserve. What is the difference between Jaya and Vijaya? Solve this puzzle and you will solve the mystery of the Mahabharata.

In this enthralling retelling of India’s greatest epic, the Mahabharata originally known as Jaya, Devdutt Pattanaik seamlessly weaves into a single narrative plots from the Sanskrit classic as well as its many folk and regional variants, including the Pandavani of Chattisgarth, Gondhal of Maharashtra, Terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu and Yakshagana of Karnataka.

Richly illustrated with over 250 line drawings by the author, the 108 chapters abound with little-known details such as the names of the hundred Kauravas, the worship of Draupadi as a goddess in Tamil Nadu, the stories of Astika, Madhavi, Jaimini, Aravan and Barbareek, the Mahabharata version of the Shakuntalam and the Ramayana, and the dating of the war based on astronomical data.

With clarity and simplicity, the tales in this elegant volume reveals the eternal relevance of the Mahabharata, the complex and disturbing meditation on the human condition that has shaped Indian thought for over 3000 years.

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For somebody who is as interested in Indian mythology as me and more so in the Mahabharata it took me an awfully long time in getting around to reading Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik. In fact the blurb above is so comprehensive and contains all the various aspects that the inimitable Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group has covered in the book that this review will probably be the most personal one I have ever written on the blog.

I have read enough and more portions of the Mahabharata in recent times when having to come up with posts for the mythology section on the blog, I also recently read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Palace of illusions” which is a retelling of the great epic from the viewpoint of Draupadi. I also just finished reading Sharath Komarraju’s “The Winds of Hastinapur”, book one of his proposed trilogy retelling the story from the viewpoint of the female characters. And I can safely say that Devdutt Pattanaik’s Jaya is probably the one book which stays close to the ‘original’ Sanskrit version (I say ‘original’ in quotes as the first written version of this great epic is also a ‘hand me down’ version in the sense of it being passed from guru to shishya by oral verses for quite a few centuries before it was actually written down).

I have been a huge fan of the wonderfully aesthetic yet simple illustrations that the author uses to get his point across and this book is strewn with them all over the place. Each and every one of them is apt, relevant to the context and provides a good point of reference for readers trying to visualize the events in the book. While most of us would probably use the BR Chopra TV series of the 1990s as a reference to visualize the events, these illustrations go a long way for any new readers of the great epic.

And then, there are the foot notes at the end of every chapter where the author brings in his own perspectives to the events, narrates the same events referencing other sources such as Kannada, Tamil and Oriya retellings of the epic, discussing new characters not present in the Sanskrit translation, opining about events on the basis of other famous retellings. More often than not, for people as familiar with the epic as I am, these foot notes make for more interesting reading providing otherwise unheard of and unknown insights into some of the events in the story.

And quite unlike most popular retellings of the Mahabharata, the author does not seem to suggest that the Pandavas were the wronged heroes, the Kauravas were the wrathful cousins, Krishna was the savior of the Pandavas and dharma, but takes absolutely no sides in his retelling. He stays true to the ethos of the original Sanskrit version which at its very core is just a narration of what remains probably one of the greatest stories told of the Bharata clan, hence the popular name, Mahabharata. Almost all the lessons that this epic strives to teach its readers, Devdutt Pattanaik has succinctly summarized and presented in his foot notes. While not being preachy, he manages to get his points across and in my opinion, the great sage Veda Vyasa, the original author of this epic would have been proud of the foot notes quite a bit.

If you are looking to be introduced to this great epic in its purest unbiased form, then look no further than this book. If your interest has already been piqued by the ongoing TV series and you want to learn more about the story, don’t think beyond this book. If you are already a die-hard fan of Indian mythology in general and the Mahabharata in particular, then this book is a ‘must read’ as far as you are concerned.

What are you waiting for? Click on this link to purchase the book from Flipkart or alternatively this link to purchase it from Amazon. Yes, I will make a small commission if you purchase the book from here, but rest assured, it doesn’t increase your purchase price in any form or fashion.

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Name Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata
Author/s Devdutt Pattanaik
Publisher Penguin
Year published 2011
ISBN 13 9780143104254
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Bankerupt – Ravi Subramanian – Book Review


Bankerupt

Quick blurb from the author’s website

A university is an institution for higher education and research.  It can also be a place where academic brilliance leads to overinflated egos, bitter politics and finally, murder. Cirisha Narayanan, a professor who has risen meteorically stumbles upon a cryptic message. Aditya Raisinghania, her banker husband, sets up a highly innovative financial hoax. Her profiteering father harvests Australia’s largest bird—the emu—in India. The US elections are on and the debate on gun control has reached a fever pitch.

Set in Mumbai, Coimbatore and Boston, Ravi Subramanian creates an impeccably researched world where everyone has a motive to kill.  Nothing is as it seems in this cunningly vicious thriller where the plot turns on a dime.

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By now all readers of Indian writing must be familiar with Ravi Subramanian’s plot setting, the financial services industry. However, with Bankerupt, the author delivers quite the googly with the additional settings of academia and also throws in some elements of the anti-gun control lobby in the USA as well. For fans of this author this is a triple whammy of sorts, more so because true to his style, Ravi has researched the other two fields quite well and manages to educate readers adequately on the nitty-gritty’s of the lives of research scholars quite well by making it an integral part of the plot of this book.

Cirisha Narayanan is a research scholar working at MIT, Boston and keeps flying back and forth between Boston and Mumbai where her husband, Aditya Raisinghania is an investment banker at Greater Boston  Bank (GB2). And although their personalities are quite divergent, Cirisha being someone who believes strongly in the truth, integrity and uncompromising on these topics and Aditya being someone who is an aggressive ‘will-do-anything to be successful’ type of chap, they fall in love and get married to each other. While the usual travails of a long distance relationship does take its toll, more on Aditya than Cirisha, they still manage to retain some of their old romance in the marriage.

Events take a wrong turn when Aditya happens to bump into Shivinder Singh, his batchmate from B School and currently CEO of a footwear company in India. One thing leads to another and in the matter of a few months Aditya, of his own accord and due to his ambitious plans of making a quick buck ends up in a fairly complicated financial web of lies, deceit and fraudulent practices. As is the norm with this books, the author manages to explain in fairly simple terms how Aditya and Shivinder manage to beat the system and make a few bucks on the side. Running in parallel with this story line is the story of Narayanan, Cirisha’s retired father who is running an emu breeding business down south in Coimbatore. How Aditya ends up using this business also to his advantage forms a smaller part of the book.

In the meantime back in MIT, Cirisha’s guide Michael Cordozo refuses to take on a research assignment on behalf of the National Rifles Association as it clashes with his liberal outlook of being pro-gun control. However, when a fellow professor and his stated rival, James Deahl takes up the grant and the research assignment, this begins a proxy war of sorts between the two professors and their research associates. Being an integral part of Cordozo’s team, Cirisha gets drawn into this rivalry and her friend Richard Avendon is on the other side, actually performing research related tasks for James Deahl. Through the eyes of Cirisha and Richard, the author presents a fairly detailed view of the lives of research scholars and this part of the book provides a quick elementary education into how academia functions, at least in the US.

Somewhere around the middle of the book, the two worlds of financial services and academia kind of intersect and what follows is a fast paced execution of the rest of the plot. Events keep unfolding one after the other and they bring out the best and the worst of almost all the characters in the book. And the book draws to a nice conclusion with a lovely unanticipated twist right at the very end.

Suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the parts about the academia and the lives of research scholars. One complaint I have from the book is that at times I felt that the plot was somewhat contrived to force the intersection of the financial services industry and academia. And the inclusion of the emu farming angle and the gun control angle also seemed a little contrived. Having said that I am taking nothing away from the book, as I said before, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read nevertheless.

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Name Bankerupt
Author/s Ravi Subramanian
Publisher Penguin Books India
Year published 2013
ISBN 13 9780143421382
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The Edge of Reason – Book Review


For some funny reason I really don’t remember what prompted me to decide to read this book and order it online. Having said that I personally believe that buying this book and actually ending up reading it and finishing it in one go (ie, without putting down the book to pick up another book to read) has benefited me in multiple ways.

(1) This book has rekindled the interest in reading books by the dozen yet again and I have started making a list of the next 5-6 books that I want to read

(2) This book has rekindled the spark of curiosity in me which I believe had died down over the course of the last few years

(3) This book not only makes me want to read more, but also write more which I am hoping will end up in generating more blog posts such as this one and make me more of a regular writer / blogger.

To get to the book itself, it deals with Cosmology which Wikipedia defines as the academic discipline that seeks to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order. Wow, while I know that is a heavy definition with big words, big concepts, suffice to say that most of my understanding of the origin of our Universe began and ended with The Big Bang Theory (not the TV series, but the actual cosmological concept). And guess what it turns out that most modern cosmology is indeed dominated by The Big Bang Theory.

This book, The Edge of Reason (called “The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe” outside of India) is part travelogue, part documentary-style writing which takes the author Anil Ananthaswamy from the tip of Mount Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii to deep mines in Minnesota, from Lake Baikal in Siberia to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, from the underground Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to Mount Saraswathi in Ladakh. The author goes to these places to talk to the scientists, physicists, cosmologists and astronomers regarding to get more details regarding some of the experiments that they are conducting to answer questions regarding the origins of the universe.

While documenting his travels, the author describes in great detail the locations of these experiments, the rationale behind the choice of these varied locations, basic tenets of the experiments being conducted, descriptions of the questions that these experiments are trying to answer, as well as the history behind some of these questions themselves. This book manages to give us an insight into the brilliant minds of the physicists and cosmologists who asked these questions in the first place. In many ways, this book is a tribute to all those pioneer cosmologists who dared to ask the questions which nobody else asked, who dared to question the status-quo of existing theories regarding the origins of the universe, and some of the answers to the questions asked have the potential to radically change our existing knowledge regarding the cosmos itself.

It has to be agreed that this book requires a certain degree of knowledge of and interest in basic physics to be read. Also, the reader has to have the patience of actually slowing down, re-reading paragraphs and pages to put together complicated theories and concepts of cosmology. That being said, Anil Ananthaswamy manages to take the reader on a wonderful joyride around the world and also manages to paint quite a vivid picture of modern day cosmology. In fact, I would bet that more interest would be generated in this field if schools and colleges around the world made this book a part of their libraries and if possible, a part of their list of suggested readings in Physics.

A wonderful book which is a travelogue, cosmology reference guide (at a very basic level), introductory guide to some of the most profound ideas of cosmology and its propounders. A really good read.

Related links

Indiaplaza link to purchase the book in India

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Amazon link to purchase the book in the US

Name The edge of reason : Dispatches from the frontiers of cosmology
Author/s Anil Ananthaswamy
Publisher Penguin India
Year published 2010
ISBN 13 9780143066705
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