Four modern retellings of Indian Mythology you must read!

We’ve all grown up with grandma’s stories about the Ramayan and Mahabharat. We’ve laughed on little Krishna’s exploits with his friends and been aghast on Draupadi being disrobed by Dusshasan. These stories live within us till we narrate it again to our children and their children as well.

Now, why don’t we stop a beat and think how it would be if the stories we are so used to hearing, had taken a different route? Here are four novels that explore our beloved epics and retell them in a, let’s say, more curious manner.

Palace of Illusions by Chitra Bannerjee Divakuruni

Draupadi, the alpha female of Mahabharat, who through no fault of her own, somehow always ended up with the shorter end of the stick.
What if the great epic was told entirely from Draupadi’s point of view? What if she in actuality, had loved the wronged Karna, and not the mighty Pandavas all along? This major theme along with many others, exploring the intricacy of Draupadi’s personality and her relationships with the other characters forms the basis of this beautifully written novel.

Asura by Anand Neelakantan

Raavan, the big bad wolf of the Ramayan epic. Evil king of the Asuras who has many infamies to his name, including the kidnapping of Sita, the lovely wife of Lord Ram.
What if Raavan was a misunderstood soul, who only wanted to be a good king to his people? What if Sita was actually Raavan’s daughter? A book which turns everything we believed of the Ramayan upside down, Asura is a dizzying but exciting read.

Kamadeva: The God of Desire by Anuja Chandramouli

Kama, the God of Love is mostly known for his flower tipped arrows, capable of creating love between humans and celestials alike. He is also known for being charred to ashes by Lord Shiva’s third eye for daring to attempt the same on him.
What if Kama had a whole backstory of his own? What if after his death, he was reincarnated as Krishna’s grandson Pradyumna? This novel narrates in an entirely original and humorous way, the gentle God of Love’s life, trials, tribulations, duty, ambitions and finally his great romance with Rati, the Goddess of Love.

Yuganta – The end of an Epoch by Irawati Harve

As with all stories which have been passed down over the years, the heroes of the epics are all virtuous yes, but have their flaws in equal amounts. The latter is never dwelled upon as we are continuously fed with only the laurels of these heroes and the misdemeanours of the “bad guys”, so as to speak.
What if we concentrate more on the humanity of Indian mythology? If both the good and bad in everyone was laid bare? In Yuganta, the authoress masterfully touches on the humaneness of Mahabharat characters, brushing away the fancy adornments and feats to their names. A must read for all Indian mythology sceptics!

Happy reading!

Conversation(al?) woes

So there are two kinds of conversationalist’s in the world – the conversation continuers and the conversation blockers. You can immediately find out who is who when you’re meeting someone or texting someone online.

A continuer is someone who meets you and immediately strikes up a conversation, fluidly moving on from one topic to another while leaving you wondering at his or her capability to move the mouth that much. A blocker  is someone who literally sets up a verbal block to an otherwise flowing conversation, leaving you fidgeting and awkward and even heartily welcoming the sound of nails dragging across a blackboard to fill up the excruciating silence.

I think I have subtly indicated that I belong to the former category and so I would like to share my pain and humiliation publicly.

A person can be a blocker for many reasons. One, he or she despises you that much that even talking to you is considered a waste of energy or time. Two, is just shy or not a huge talker. Three, is uninterested and wishes you would finish already and four, just a plain, boring person. I think I might have had conversations with all of the above types unfortunately.

At a first-time student trip –

Me: Hi, are you on this trip too? My name’s Swathi, nice to meet you! (wide smile)

Her: Yeah. I’m much older than you. (silence and expectant stare)

Me: ………

(This one I’m sure she didn’t like me or else she thought it the greatest offence that I didn’t show enough courtesy to my elders. Apparently, exchanging pleasantries with a person two years older than you is a sign of disrespect since two years is considered “much”)

While texting a good friend for help in a desperate situation a.k.a ordering pizza –

Me: Hi! what are you up to? Sorry I’m disturbing but by any chance do you have the number for Domino’s? I feel like pizza🙂

Her: Yeah, I do….. Gotta go. See you soon🙂

( Seriously, if you have the number then GIVE it! I’m asking, not stating for heaven’s sake. Its not like I’m solely interested in finding out if you are in possession of a chain pizza restaurant’s number. What am I, a private detective for that franchise?)

At a first date in a restaurant –

Him: Lets sit here! (points at table)

Me: Okay!

(Once we’re seated) Me: This is a beautiful place. But quite hard to find isn’t it.

Him:  Yeah (smiles)

Me: I see. Well, you were lucky enough to find a place like this huh? (laughs)

Him: That is true (smiles)

Me: Do you come here often?

Him: No (smiles)

Me: …….


(The likes of the above continued the whole time we were seated there. And HE was the one who asked ME out. I appreciate all the sweet smiles, I really do, and I tried to be quiet to let him speak but all that resulted in was an impasse of all-pervading silence)

Chatting on Facebook with an acquaintance who, I might add, initiated the conversation –

Him: Hi, how are you? You ‘re an avid reader of books right?

Me: Hey, I’m good. Its been so long since we talked! and yeah, I do love reading.

Him: You should read The Orphan Masters Son. We can discuss it.

Me: Oh I already did. It’s a beautiful book and very well researched on. Don’t you just get so horrified but also overwhelmed at the descriptions of all that war propaganda to the North Korean public?

Him: Yes. Totally. (Long pause)

Me: You did read it right?

Him: Yes, I did🙂

Me: So what did you think?

Him: Was pretty sad.

Me: I for one loved it though.

Him: Yeah, me too.

(Was I the one who wanted to discuss the book? Or does discussion mean only one person talking? This kind of conversation is a very good example of a conversation starter who turns a blocker in the end. Maybe I should add this category to my kinds of conversationalist’s in the world)

Anyway, being a conversation continuer is not cool if you end up being annoying and over-talkative. I am well aware and I try to hone it down and listen. But, honestly sometimes patience does get pushed when conversation does not ensue for an incredibly long time. Which ultimately is awkward for both parties involved. I need to try harder at being patient I guess. Maybe carry around a sound recording of nails dragging on a blackboard would be a good idea.

Lets see.





Subtle Stereotyping

Being stereotyped is something every person experiences at sometime, especially when you are in a foreign country. I have experienced it often enough, being an Indian who is living and studying in Japan. And unfortunately most of the time, it feels like the most awkward thing in the world when you have to rack your brains to find something suitable to say when a person you are talking to unconsciously stereotypes you.

How can you fend off the stereotype image and at the same time not offend the person?

The image of various countries and cultures in peoples minds are often quite different. For example, what do Japanese people think of first when the mention of India comes along? The answer is, curry.

Seriously, the first question I get when I say I’m from India is,” Oh, isn’t the curry there really spicy? But I love Indian curry!” and so forth. Of course, in countries like the USA and UK, there are huge populations of Indian immigrants. As a result, many Indian stores, cinemas and eateries has spread their wings there. The poeple in these western countries are aware that India, more correctly Indian food, is not only about curry.

However, in a place like Japan where the Indian population is considerably less, where would you find something related to India? On a restaurant billboard of course. I am not blaming them though. Happens everywhere doesn’t it? In India, people probably think the Japanese only eat sushi. Interesting, how food is a major contributor of stereotypical assumptions.

The other day I was chatting to a Japanese teacher about taking on a teaching assistantship. We exchanged introductions and I told her I was from India. The whole ten seconds of curry conversation ensued like always. I had just come from another campus of my university on a bicycle and was pretty much out of breath. She noticed this and on my telling her, she looked at me with startled eyes and asked me, “Do you know how to ride a bicycle?”.

I replied in the affirmative and was a little affronted as to why she looked so surprised. Did she not think I looked capable enough of riding a bicycle? She then, in all seriousness, started talking about how her husband was from Congo in Africa and how he told her apparently girls don’t know how to ride bicycles there.

Now this I understand and I do think it is quite an interesting fact but I was totally nonplussed at the timing and the context of this in our conversation. I’m pretty sure she  knew where India was since we were talking about it in detail like fifteen seconds ago. She was looking at me expectantly for an answer, but what on earth do I reply to that?

She was a sweet thing so I didn’t want to repeat that I was from India. That would have only embarrassed her. So in the end, I nodded with a  “that is so interesting” look on my face. On hindsight, I think maybe she thought India was similar to Africa in that way and thought it was perfectly normal to assume what she did.

These kind of moments do leave me frustrated because on one hand, I know that I can explain to a handful of people and correct some of their assumptions,  but on the other hand, not to a huge population.

Incidents like this happen to me on a daily basis here in Tokyo and I have started to think them more hilarious than offending. Especially because its always done in a harmless and mostly curious manner.

I just hope I keep a straight face next time.

The combination of caffeine and cacao

How many of you just love the combination of coffee and chocolate?

This might be so totally random coming from me but if you were in a laboratory for almost 12 hours each day either working with weird bacteria or having deep conversations with yourself about what is the purpose of life and whether it was to rot away in a  lab or also from time to time have this twitch above your eyelid, leading to premonitions of your death involving scenario’s like a giant bacterium jumping out of a petri dish, clamping down on your neck while you scream in agonized pain, then I’m pretty sure you’re entitled to babble away about all sorts of nonsense. Coming back to the topic in hand (which is certainly not nonsense), lets talk about my two favorite stimulator’s…coffee and chocolate.

Well, first of all, of late I have been completely addicted to coffee.

Its like Mother Natures best gift to mankind (no offense to people who think that sounds shallow, but being sleep deprived and having no social life sans the lab for the past few months is a good enough excuse I think).

Plus, I’m sure a lot of people out there know how I feel. In the mornings, I get through breakfast quickly with the anticipation of a child waiting to open presents during Christmas because I know that I’ll have my drink of heaven in the end. The moment my senses encounter that whiff of percolating coffee and that sharp acrid taste as it touches my tongue, then my entire body relaxes. Its like “who cares that the world is apparently going to end in December, 2012? Or that I didn’t turn in my presentation yet? Or that I didn’t turn off the hot water bath in the lab after working late last night which could have actually burnt up the entire building, the carnage awaiting to meet me an hour later with the prospect of me getting sent to jail?”

(I’m just thinking this mind you, not that I’m actually that stupid enough to do that, let alone talk so lightly about it Just clarifying)

This is the only thing that matters, this caffeine rush going through my body, making me feel drugged and happy. Then sadly I have to get up, leave my cup behind and go out into the big, bad world. 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm….4PM. Coffee break!

Basically, when I’m having a cup of coffee, I like to combine it with something chocolatey. Like for example, the famous Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Do you KNOW how divine it tastes if you take a sip of coffee first and a bite of that hazelnut, crumbly confection afterwards? You have to keep doing it in succession though.The sweet and sharp tastes blend together and give you this dazed feeling of drinking a whole batch of eggnog in one shot. It melts and fills your mouth with a sweetness and a bittery taste at the same time. Oh and the coffee has to be strong, with a little milk too.

It won’t taste the same if you eat it with black coffee. If you do then sadly it’ll just seem like you wasted your time reading a blog post written by a girl who is clueless about the concept of “divine”. It might seem like I’m over exaggerating  but trust me, this taste is amazing (well, I think it is). So I hope at least some of you  try it and maybe experience just a tiny bit of the bliss I feel when I randomly combine food and drink and obsessively rant on about how wonderful it is on this blog. Happy coffee-chocolate lovin’!


Shoot all the Bluejays you want….

….but its a sin to kill a mockingbird. What an awe-inspiring, beautiful novel this line is from. I wanted to talk about some of my all-time favorite books and thought this was the perfect one to kick off with, even though hundreds of people would have already reviewed, praised and discussed this book countless times. Harper Lee is truly a great author, one of the greatest in my books.

There are some things that happen in life which you can never forget. The first time you get an A in a test, the first time you learn to ride a bicycle, the first time you go on a school trip, the first time you get to taste alcohol,your first crush and so on. It differs for everyone I guess but for many people, there are particular moments in their lives when they can remember every little detail of an incident with utmost clarity….the sights and sounds at that time, even the exact thoughts  running through their heads at that second. I think that is how it was when I first came into contact with this book ( though it might be embarrassing when I describe it). I remember it was given to me by an Australian lady, the wife of one of my dads colleagues at work, when I was around 14 years old. We had gone out for dinner with their family at the hotel they were staying in. It was a very beautiful and luxurious hotel, the type of hotel which can excite and dazzle any kid my age. I suspect my reaction was too obvious as the lady started laughing at me ( in a kind way, mind you) and invited me to see her room. I jumped alongside her, chattering away a mile a minute (most of which I think she didn’t understand) and ran ahead of her into the room inspecting everything with a fascination of a kid seeing a plane for the first time. I now think it was a wonder she didn’t find me irritating with my behavior but even if she was, she admirably put up with me and treated me with utmost fondness. Basking in her attention, I started talking to her about all my favorite books (which at that time ranged mainly from Harry Potter to Enid Blyton). She listened patiently and pulled out a copy of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from her bag.

The cover of my precious book. During the trial of Tom Robinson.

I still remember the color of her bag. Red with sequins, the kind of bag a foreigner visiting India would love to buy as a souvenir. She gave me the book and said ” I bought this book with me from Australia. It’s the type of book every person in the world should read. I’m giving it to you because I know you will appreciate it as much as I did”. That time I had vaguely heard the name as it was pretty famous but I expected the book to be one of those tedious, historical books about old times, filled with phrases and words I probably wouldn’t understand. I accepted it from her nevertheless and it lay in my closet for two weeks after that. One day, utterly bored and with nothing to do (as it is with people who suddenly start to read a book they’ve ignored till then), I took it up. I still remember, it was around 2 pm in the afternoon, a Sunday. I started reading on my verandah but moved to the bed once it started to get dark and didn’t move from that spot for 5 whole hours. The words on the each page completely absorbed my mind and body and I don’t think I have ever felt happier than when I did at that time. It was a beautiful, nostalgic feeling. From wondering first about the slow town life of Maycomb, laughing over the games Scout, Jem and Dill used to play, Atticus firmly yet humorously raising the kids and the background of racial inequality in the Deep South, the loss of the children’s innocence little by little in the book as they carry on experiencing emotions ranging from mild confusion regarding the line drawn between whites and blacks to outrageous indignation when injustice is served, really helps us to see how they mature throughout the book. The children also experience happiness, excitement and fear when they come across a mysterious character Boo Radley and different people like their aunt who has very preconceived notions toward social class distinctions and their neighbor Mrs. Dubose, who they think is evil till it is finally revealed why. There’s one quote here which really made me think. It’s a very insightful, brilliant quote uttered by Atticus Finch to a horrified, angry Jem.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do”

I can’t help admiring the character of Atticus Finch here. At the beginning of the book, even his own daughter Scout describes his treatment of the children as ‘with courteous detachment’ . You would think that he didn’t really bother how his children were brought up, given his total acceptance of them addressing him with his name. He also doesn’t instruct or reprimand them as much as a normal parent would.If you look closely, this way of bringing them up seems to be the most beneficial as it allows them to observe and think for themselves. Leaving a lot of things unsaid is Atticus Finch’s way so that the kids can find out for themselves and decide whether something is right or wrong. For example, the above quote is right after Jem learns of Mrs. Dubose’s death. He receives a ‘present’ of sorts from her, if you could call it that, and immediately gets almost hysteric. He asks his father what was the point of sending him everyday to read to her, bearing all her insults, if she was going to pass on anyway. Here, we see pride in its raw form from Mrs. Dubose who though mean and insulting, managed to die a ‘free woman’ by battling her drug addiction and finally winning against it right before her death. And we also see  how much Atticus values and respects that attitude, so much that he actually sends Jem to read to her, first telling him to do it as an apology but all along what he really wished for was to offer at least some form of relief  to the challenge which Mrs. Dubose undertook. Along with that, for Jem to see her courage with his own eyes so that he can keep that in mind for all the hurdles he has yet to face in the future. It is an ingenious and acute way of teaching his children some important lessons in life. Despite the focus of the book on racism, it still preserves its innocence. For example, one night the children follow Atticus to his office in town, fearing that someone may harm him. They come right in time to see a mob of people getting ready to do exactly that when Scout  runs up to them and starts chattering about something. Her total obliviousness to the situation before her somehow makes the tension defuse and surprisingly they back off.

So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human.  Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children.

Atticus is right. Faced with an innocent child, the men who were originally looking for a fight lost their spirit and  remembered their own children. In the same way, people may discriminate all they want between blacks and whites, but in the end everyone is still human.

I would like to discuss another brilliant quote which impressed me to no bounds with the character of Atticus Finch.

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.  As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.

What a powerful statement by a lawyer with a strong prevailing sense of justice. How can anybody not respect this man? When he utters this, he is described to be having a fierce look on his face, unlike anything he has worn before. The force behind these words is evident as to how strongly he feels against such discrimination. Atticus knew what he was up against in the Tom Robinson trial and he knew that there was a strong possibility the jury would be biased in their decision. Yet in spite of that, he fought to the core to convince them to be impartial and believe in Tom. He never lost faith in the system and that is what I most respect him for. Being a lawyer who knows what is the correct course of action and when justice should be delivered. In a society which would do anything  just to push black people down the social ladder, Atticus Finch stands out as an indomitable voice, not afraid to show that there is absolutely nothing wrong in treating blacks as equals who deserve the same respect and freedom that white people are privy too. The ending of the book, dealing with the attack on Jem and Scout and the subsequent heroism of the ghost in the shadow Boo Radley made me marvel at how this book connects all the stories with an elegant simplicity. The reason why Boo Radley stays inside is implied as because he wants to stay inside, away from all the town’s prejudices and drama. The children finally begin to understand this later on when Boo transforms in their minds, from being a malevolent town spirit to a guardian angel, sharing in all their joys and sorrows and watching over them from the shadows of the Radley House.

To the left of the brown door was a long shuttered window. I walked to it, stood in front of it, and turned around. In daylight, I thought, you could see to the postoffice corner.
Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive.
Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house.
Summer, and he watched his children’s heart-break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

Scout’s imagination is really beautiful. All it needed to understand Boo was just that, a little bit of imagination. I think that this whole arc involving their discovery of the actual Boo Radley, quirks and all, goes along perfectly with them growing up in the real world. They learn kindness and compassion as well as the courage to stand up for what one thinks is right. They also learn how ugly the situation can be sometimes and that people are not always as moral as they seem.In conclusion, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, written from a child’s perspective and which talks about sensitive issues like prejudice and rape along with the simple delights of growing up and new experiences, is truly a masterpiece and reading it is a pleasure. This is one book that fills me with joy each and every time I read it and if you haven’t read it then for gods sakes, do so immediately.