Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book review : Jaya

Jaya : An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabaharata
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik

One of the great things about oral mythological books is that there are several stories about the same development. As if somebody had started a round of Chinese whisper in ancient times and it is still continuing.  Sometimes it is mind-numbing on how many variations exist and often I find myself marveling on the creativity to come up with such a variation.

Devdutt Pattanaik's Jaya is a very interesting book as it cherry picks stories for each plot development. This reading of Mahabharata is not for the first-timers, it is for those who are familiar with the story to quite an extent and are looking for some entertainment out of it. The author has done a fine job in covering the entire book and his plot selections to cover are perfect to match the intended pace of the book.

What makes Jaya interesting is how Devdutt employs the selection algorithm. For every development, Devdutt picks a story that has some sexual connotation, or something that is inconceivable either in today's society or how we view our traditional past, or has a comic element to it. Relying a lot on various folk tales, Devdutt also gives comparative stories on how the same development happens in other tribes. The other unique aspect is how Devdutt sometimes ties stories in Mahabharata with issues such as role of  women in society, justice, meaning of marriage and ofcourse no discourse on Mahabharata is possible without talking about Dharma.

All characters in Jaya have a very colorful ancestry and their own lives make the picture more livid. Devdutt's voice in the book has a playful tone, he is as much enjoying sharing this story as much as we are in reading them. He also, along the way, dispels a lot of misconceptions that people have, for example Kauravas went to heaven after the battle not hell. A notes section accompany with every story and it is fascinating to read as he shares other tidbits about the account we just read.

The illustrations, although done only in black and white, are neatly executed and complement the book very well. Their placement, interspersed with text, makes the story more alive. A lot of effort has gone in to make the illustrations gel well which is not evident as we go through the book but once you have read, as you just flip the pages, one realizes that they are very neat illustrations.

Overall, a very entertaining read, especially for those of us who love mythology.

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