Menaka’s Choice – Kavita Kane – Book Review


MenakasChoiceGoodreads blurb: We make love and leave. That is our motto. Live by it, Menaka or you shall suffer untold, unnecessary grief.

Born during the churning of the ocean, Menaka is the most beautiful of all the apsaras in the world, with quick intelligence and innate talent. However, she craves for the one thing she can never have – family. Elsewhere, after severe austerities, a man, now blessed with the name Vishwamitra, challenges the gods and dares to create another heaven. Fearing his growing powers, Indra, the king of gods, decides to put a stop to his ambitions by making Menaka seduce him.

What will happen when Menaka and Vishwamitra meet each other? Will Menaka finally find what she really wished for? Or will she again be forced to surrender to her destiny? Find out in this fascinating portrait of one of the most enduring mythological figures.

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Most of us know Menaka and Vishwamitra’s story only at a superficial level and I am sure all of you would agree when I say that the most we can come up would be the one line where we say that Menaka was sent down by Indra to seduce and disturb Vishwamitra’s penance when he had ambitions to become a Brahmarishi.  I confess that this was pretty much the extent that I knew of this story before I read this book. Blame popular media, blame my lack of insight into reading this particular story despite my interest in Indian mythology, blame whatever, but the fact remains that this one liner was what I knew about Menaka all these days. But this book changed all that and much more for me as far as this character in particular and apsaras in general are concerned.

As is the norm with all her books author Kavita Kane takes a slither of a story, a fairly unknown character, a lady perennially in the shadows, an actress in the wings, in Menaka and brings her to the centre stage and makes her the heroine of her story. And honestly, she does make for a good heroine as well, no two ways about that. Beautiful, smart, talented, warm, caring, elegant, intuitive, the list of positive attributes about her keeps going on and on. And as is the case with people who are blessed with such good things, the story of her life doesn’t quite mirror them. Being stuck in Indra’s court as an apsaras would be a fate that you wouldn’t wish upon even your worst enemy (at least as far as this book is concerned). And to be honest I found Indra’s depiction a little disturbing and distressing, more so given that this is the second book in recent times where his character has been written in a similar vein. I am guessing he is the favorite ‘bashing boy’ of all authors of Indian mytho-fiction books.

Coming to Vishwamitra whose story this book narrates as much as it does Menaka’s, I knew a little more about the man courtesy an old eponymous Doordarshan serial and his appearance in the Ramayana when Rama is a teenager. That being said I didn’t quite know his antecedents and his rivalry with Rishi Vasishta which spurs on the action in this book. Suffice to say he comes across as a man one could admire quite easily despite his obvious flaws. It isn’t quite hard to see why Menaka does what she does during the course of this story.

Although the genre chosen by the author for Menaka’s Choice would probably ‘officially’ be classified as mytho-fiction, I would probably be more inclined to put it squarely into the ‘romance’ or even ‘chick-lit’ genre (and I don’t use either of these words in a derogatory sense). My reasons for saying so would be the fact that at the heart of it, this book is the story of love, betrayal, redemption and so on and it just so happens that the action happens in a mythological setting. With Menaka and Vishwamitra, you have two protagonists who readers would ardently root for and you have an antagonist in the form of Indra who readers would love to hate.

In a nutshell, as was the case with her earlier books, this one too is a must-read for anybody who loves a good yarn with a strong woman as the main protagonist.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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My Gita – Devdutt Pattanaik – Book Review


MyGitaGoodreads blurb: In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies The Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach—thematic rather than verse-by-verse—makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams.

In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization—even selfies!).We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight.

So let My Gita inform your Gita.

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Despite reading a fair bit of Indian mythological tales and assorted articles on the same, the Bhagvad Gita remained one of those formidable tomes which I was even scared to touch with a barge pole. However, numerous conversations with my wife on various aspects discussed in the Gita and the fact that my all time favorite mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik (www.devdutt.com) wrote a book on the same, My Gita meant that it was finally time to put aside all misgivings and doubts about my ability to assimilate the vast volumes of learning from the Gita and get myself introduced to it formally. And believe me when I say this, it has probably turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I have taken in recent times.

In his own inimitable style, Dr Pattanaik takes on a subject (which in his own words has been dealt with in greater detail and better style by people more knowledgeable than him) as complicated as the Gita and goes ahead and makes it ‘his own’, quite literally given that the book is called My Gita and not The Gita. As the title suggests, the author is of the opinion that the Gita is not thematic, it is not subjective and it is not obsessed with the self. He feels that everybody reading this verse, this rhyme, this song, will do so and end up taking learnings from it which might just go on to be entirely different for the next person in line reading and studying it. Simply put, that is how powerful and life-changing this subject is.

Breaking away from the usual norm of translating the verse from Sanskrit in which it is originally written and providing his interpretation of the words and the flow of the verse, the wise Dr Pattanaik takes an entirely different approach to the Gita. He goes on and makes the book his own take on this immortal song. Instead of approaching it by chapter by chapter in a linear manner, he divides the book into various sub-themes under the overarching three main themes, viz, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Gyaana Yoga.

Peppered with various insights into his vast pool of knowledge in Indian and Abrahamic mythologies, the author manages to draw various parallels and analogies between various verses in the Gita and makes things extremely easy to understand, more so for first time readers of the Gita like myself. And I am more than sure that even people who have read and studied the Gita more than I have will surely find this book a worthy read and will enjoy the entirely different style in which Dr Pattanaik has presented this immortal song sung by Krishna to Arjuna.

While I could go on and on about how wonderfully well presented this book is, especially the various small little diagrams which are present on almost every page to explain and elucidate the various concepts, the fact remains that this is one book which needs to be read in its entirety to be enjoyed, rather than trying to understand the same through this small review of the same. As is the norm with all his books, Dr Pattanaik’s illustrations also enhance the overall book reading experience more than quite a bit.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Shakti: The Divine Feminine – Anuja Chandramouli – Book Review


ShaktiGoodreads blurb: Lose yourself in Maya, the divine game of the Goddess!

She is the Mother Goddess, Mahamaya the enchantress, the supreme consciousness, the pure source from which all creation emerges and to whom all must eventually return. As Usas, the enchanting goddess of the dawn, she is loved passionately and hated fiercely, leading to a horrific tragedy. As Durga, the invincible warrior, she defeats the savage Mahishasura, whom none of the male gods could vanquish. As Kali, the fearsome dark goddess, she delights in chaos. Yet she is also Shakti, beloved of all, who, when united with Shiva, restores balance to the universe.

In this captivating narrative, explore the contrasting facets of the sacred feminine; experience her awesome power, forged on the flames of love and hate; and watch her teach the male-dominated pantheon a lesson in compassion. Witty, engaging and thought-provoking, Shakti: The Feminine Divine will force readers to re-evaluate everything they know about the gods and goddesses and inspire all to embrace the Shakti within.

One of the few explorations of the story of the Mother Goddess, Shakti, retold in modern language, this book humanizes the gods

Witty and laced with sarcasm, it is a refreshing change from the heavy language of mythological texts

Draws analogies with the modern-day situation of women and contains a powerful message of woman empowerment.

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As was the case with her earlier novel Kamadeva: The God of Desire [Link to my review], author Anuja Chandramouli takes the story (or actually various stories) of Shakti, the mother goddess, adds her own uniquely interesting perspective to the same and retells them in quite a riveting manner in her book, Shakti: The Divine Feminine and man, does she deliver quite the mean punch with this book or what!!!

Starting off with the story of Usas, the goddess of dawn and how she is wronged due to the jealousies and insecurities of Sachi, Indra’s wife the book goes on to narrate the stories of the origins of Durga, the slaying of Mahishasura and Vritrasura, Karthikeya’s birth, a unique take on Ganesha’s origins, and more. One overarching theme throughout the book remains Shakti’s uniquely wonderful relationship with The Holy Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. While one of these relationships ends up driving most of the action in the first half of the book (am not revealing which one as that would amount to a spoiler), the other two relationships end up delivering sanity to the otherwise volatile nature of Shakti. In a nutshell, these three relationships pretty much drive the book.

And of course, one simply cannot overlook the contributions of the main ‘antagonist’ to most of these stories, Indra, the king of gods. His contributions coupled with his wife Sachi’s interventions in the various stories make up for extremely interesting reading and it is quite clear that the author has used Indra more as a figurehead for all that is wrong with men and their attitudes to women nowadays rather than being honest to how he is portrayed in most traditional mythological retellings. While it did irk me quite a bit that Indra was painted with such dark hues almost throughout the book, how his character ends up by the time the book is finished somewhat redeems him.

Powerfully written, hard-hitting, the almost irreverent tone with which the book is written works really well in communicating the author’s well-articulated point of view about the plight of women in Indian society today which woefully remains largely patriarchal showing no substantial signs of improving anytime soon. Here’s hoping more men read and understand this book for what it truly is – a commentary of the times we live in today in India rather than just another mythological retelling of tales we probably already know.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was offered to me by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

The Curse of Brahma – Jagmohan Bhanver – Book Review


TheCurseOfBrahma

Goodreads blurb: The man who became a Brahmarishi…

The curse that banished him to the hell of hells…

And the revenge that threatens to destroy the three worlds…

When Lord Brahma, the God of Creation, banishes his star pupil from Swarglok in a fit of rage, he does not foresee that his decision will alter the fate of the three worlds. Mortally wounded, and anguished at Brahma’s unfair punishment, his pupil struggles to survive in Tamastamah Prabha, the hell of hells. In time, he becomes the Dark Lord, the most feared figure in Pataal Lok, who swears to destroy Brahma.

The power of the Dark Lord soon begins to make its presence felt in the mortal world. Vasudev, the brave prince of Bateshwar, becomes the hunter of Asura assassins; his closest friend, Kansa, almost dies while trying to save his sister from a group of deadly monsters; and the most valiant kings in Mrityulok turn over to the dark side, driven by forces beyond their control.

Only one person threatens the Dark Lord’s well-laid plans – Devki, the beautiful princess of Madhuvan, who is destined to give birth to the warrior Krishna.

Will the Dark Lord allow Krishna – the person who has been prophesied to destroy him – to be born?

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I know that this is the nth time I am repeating this, but most readers of my blog will know the interest I have in Indian mythology and various retelling of some well-known stories from the same such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas. And therefore, when The Curse of Brahma by Jagmohan Bhanver was published, I immediately jumped out of my seat and requested for a review copy of the same, and man, was it the right decision or what?

Right from the ‘get-go’, the author takes us on a joyride of SwargLok, MrityuLok (quite a funny name for earth I must admit) and PataalLok, the celestials, the gods, and most importantly The Dark Lord (inspired by Lord Voldemort or Voldemor’, in my humble opinion).

As the blurb reads, trouble, big trouble, is brewing in the mortal world as The Dark Lord is well poised to unleash revenge against the injustice meted out to him by Brahma all of two hundred years ago. By planning to use the mortal world to launch an all-out attack on SwargLok, he seems well set to extract his revenge on his master. However, what he doesn’t quite account for is the fact that the celestial trilogy, or at least two of them, Shiva and Vishnu have surreptitiously been following his activities over the years and have plans of their own to prevent any unnecessary bloodshed in the mortal realm. Do The Dark Lord’s plans bear fruition or do Shiva and Vishnu manage to thwart them will be answered only in the next two books of this trilogy, but suffice to say that this book is a brilliant first book in what promises to be a lovely trilogy.

Where this book scores really high is in how the plot is formed and the shape the narrative takes. Rather than resort to the now popular method of shifting the action from one setting to another resulting in creating an unnecessary tension in the proceedings, the author takes his time in patiently setting up the surrounding, the characters, their back-stories, their motivations and gradually keeps the narrative moving forward. He is not in a hurry to move at a breakneck pace and is content letting the story gradually build on the readers. After all, given that he is retelling the story of the birth of Krishna (at least in this book), he uses all of the tact and adroitness that Krishna himself will go on to display later on in his life.

While the author has taken considerable liberties with the retelling, the fact that the narrative remains coherent and believable despite the significant deviations from what is usually told speaks volumes for the research that he has done on Krishna and his life, and also for the confidence in his story-telling abilities as well. Not once was I bored during the entire book and the pages kept turning themselves. This is because of the fact that the narrative itself is so well structured and juicy enough that the book pretty much reads itself.

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and buy the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review.

MSD: The Man, The Leader – Biswadeep Ghosh – Book Review


MSDGoodreads blurb: The most inspirational story in Indian cricket is that of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Generations will remember Dhoni for hitting the spectacular winning six for India in the finals of the 50-over World Cup in 2011 against Sri Lanka, but it is the hope he has given to many aspiring cricketers across this nation that is his true legacy. Born in the lap of poverty and having battled against unimaginable adversities, Dhoni’s rise from being just another small-town boy to captain of Team India is a case study in B-schools. With grit, guts and matchless self-belief, Dhoni led India to an ICC World Twenty20, an ICC 50-over Cricket World Cup and an ICC Champions Trophy triumph, as well as the number one ranking in Tests. Although he’s had his fair share of disappointments, for MSD, failure has been yet another motivation to work hard and succeed.

MSD: The Man, the Leader unveils Dhoni’s struggles during his growing-up years, analyses his career as a cricketer and captain par excellence, and reveals his innate leadership abilities by speaking to luminaries from different walks of life including Harsh Goenka, Vineet Nayar and Dhanraj Pillay in a jargon-free, easy-to-read style. Replete with examples of Dhoni’s strong personality and inspiring leadership, and marking one decade of his entry into the Indian cricket team, MSD: The Man, the Leader will reinforce the belief: Yes, I CAN.

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At the outset let me confess that I have grown up to become what I would term a ‘reluctant Indian cricket fan’ in terms of the fact that whenever I support the Indian cricket team I do so with a lot of reluctance as the team has this innate ability to disappoint me to no end with their entirely unpredictable pattern of performances on field. And as if this weren’t enough, the match-fixing scandal which rocked world cricket in the second half of the 90s meant that I slowly lost my interest in cricket as a sport in those days.

That being said, my love for cricket never diminished and this was in no small measure due to the role played by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and therefore, when this book MSD, The Man, The Leader by Biswadeep Ghosh was published by Rupa, I lost no time in requesting for a review copy of the same and it did not disappoint.

Neatly chronicling Dhoni’s life from his earliest days as a cricketer in the high school circuit in Ranchi, the book goes on to narrate how he made a switch from football goalkeeping at the behest of his high school cricket coach, moved on to play club cricket and cricket for his first employers and then gradually made his way into the Bihar and later Jharkhand Ranji teams and finally ended up playing for Team India. Dhoni’s story is quite remarkable in terms of the fact that his journey to the national team was filled with struggles which most others before him probably didn’t have to face.

Not being from either the Mumbai Ranji circuit or the Bengal / Delhi one meant that his on-field performances had to shine that much more to be noticed by the selectors. And the fact that he played for weaker teams such as Bihar and later Jharkhand also meant that he almost always ended up being in the losing side and that would not have helped matters either. For such a cricketer to make it to the national team and then go on to lead it to triumphs in all three official ICC tournaments; the ODI World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the T20 World Cup speaks volumes for the talent and more importantly the determination that Dhoni brings to the table.

Anybody who follows cricket the world over knows that being the captain of the Indian cricket team is probably the second toughest job in the world; the first being the captain of the Pakistani cricket team. Fans from the sub-continent while known to deify their winning captains also have the habit of resorting to violent backlashes against them and their families and friends when their team loses on the field. And Dhoni having led the team through the various ups and downs has managed to retain an aura of calm around him and never betrays the intense pressure that he goes through as a captain and an individual. And it is probably this attribute of his that endears him to me the most, the ability to retain his equanimity, or at least the ability to portray a calm demeanor irrespective of the results on the field.

This book devotes more than quite a few pages in trying to understand this particular aspect of his personality, and in my opinion does a decent job of the same. While not a must-read book, it sure makes for some interesting reading in terms of the fact that it helps readers understand the personality of Dhoni, one of India’s most successful captains till date.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in return for an unbiased review.