Monday, 12 January 2015

Book Review of "Pashu" written by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Copyright (c) Shubhrata V Prakash

Mythology is in. Has been "In" since Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" recorded phenomenal success and sales. In fact, Brown's own "Angels and Demons", which preceeded "The Da Vinci Code", gained recognition only after the latter's success. Mythology in India was a theme just waiting to be exploited. Except for the Amar Chitra Katha series, there were few takers for mythological books, especially in English. Truth be told, there were very few Indian writers in English in the decades prior to the 2000s. 

What opened the floodgates for mythology post 2000s were two unrelated and serendipitous happenings -  The Da Vinci Code and Chetan Bhagat. And both happened around the same time. So we have many successful Indian authors who have written on books around mythology. Ashwin Sanghi, Shatrujeet Nath, Amish Tripathy are some very successful writers in the genre. Even Ajay Pandey has used mythology in his debut book, "Resonance". However, the works of these authors is in the genre of thrillers based on Indian Mythology.

One Indian author, who has been writing books on mythology only as a form of story-telling of mythological tales, is Dr Devdutt Pattanaik. Yes, he is an actual physician, who later, turned leadership consultant and mythologist. And he is the one credited with writing on Shiva, which inspired the much-watched and much-appreciated TV series "Devon ke Dev: Mahadev". One of his latest offerings comes in the form of "Pashu - Animal Tales from Hindu Mythology". I first laid my eyes on this book with its lime-green jacket, covered with beautiful indigenous-style (mostly tribal) illustrations, when I was "haunting" my favourite haunt - Crossword. I picked it up and realized what a treasure it was for making my children acquainted with animals in mythology.

My children are still at the beginners' level when it comes to reading. In this day and age, I find Amar Chitra Katha losing out to the Chhota Bheems and Doraemons. And I find it difficult to "read out" from an illustrated comic. So "Pashu" was an ideal solution to the problem of making my children familiar with some mythology. The book hasn't failed me. The children are deeply into it. We read a few pages every night. The font type and style are ideal for reading, even by 7-8 year olds. The language is simple enough to be understood by the same age group. The illustrations are simply breath-taking. All animals - snakes, birds, fish, cows- have tribal motifs on their bodies. Females are adorned with bindis, jewellery and even plaited hair. Even the occasional human form one encounters in the book, is similarly motif-ed. And the illustrations have been credited to the author himself.

There are tales about Timi,Vinata, Kadru, Surabhi, Sarama and Surasa, and their respective children - fish, birds, snakes, cows, tigers and demon-forms. There is Nandi, Naga-loka, Deva-loka and so much happening all over. Long and winding tales have been simplified. Since much of mythology has references to sex, and the conception of various species of animals, it is interesting to see how such concepts have been de-sensationalized, and simplified, for children to read and understand. The same treatment has been administered to violence and blood-shed as well.

Overall, a very interesting read for both children and adults. There are so many mythological stories and characters in it, which I had never heard of, and I have been an Amar-Chitra-Katha-guzzling kid, if there was any! Highly recommended to all parents of children between 5-15 years of age.

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