ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Devdutt Pattanaik is a well-known Indian mythologist, author, illustrator, and speaker.
Born in Mumbai on December 11, 1970, Pattanaik did his MBBS from Grant Medical College in Mumbai.
After working in the healthcare industry for fourteen years, he became a full-time author. Over the years, Pattanaik has written several books about mythology, religion, and management. Some of his popular works include Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, Myth=Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology, Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, and Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata.
Pattanaik also works as a columnist in many major newspapers and websites. He also hosts a radio show/podcast for Radio Mirchi.
Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You is a collection of tales with queer characters or themes that discuss queerness. These tales are from epics such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas, and several other Hindu folk tales.
The first part of the book is all about the author’s commentary wherein he discusses the concept of queerness from a mythological and cultural standpoint across the globe, with a special focus on the Indian subcontinent. He also goes on to define the meaning of “queerness” through a poem.
Part two of the book includes several queer tales of mythological characters. These tales pertain to characters who were either born queer or had to change gender owing to their circumstances. Few of these were even playful transformations borne out of desire, while some others were the result of a curse or a boon.
These tales have strong undercurrents suggestive of feminism and queerness.
WHAT WE LIKED ABOUT SHIKHANDI
Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You is a powerful book with rare mythological stories that are often deemed too confusing to understand. However, Pattanaik has done a commendable job at decoding these stories and presenting them to a larger audience.
On the one hand, Shikhandi normalizes discussions on queerness, a topic that is seldom addressed in mainstream literature. On the other hand, the book also stands out for its retelling of stories that had hitherto remained unheard of because of their bold premises. The stories are well-researched and region-specific. The book clearly demonstrates how ancient Indian society was extremely inclusive, non-judgmental and progressive.
As always, Pattanaik’s quirky narrative style works as the frosting on the cake.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER ABOUT SHIKHANDI
The narrative is bland for the most part. While the stories themselves are interesting, the way they have been retold leaves much to be desired. The book could have done with some dramatization.
So Shiva took the form of the old mother and went to the daughter’s house. He comforted her with songs and held her hands and wiped her sweat until the baby slipped out.
In Puranas, there is a constant rivalry between the sky-god, Indra, who brings rain, and the sun-god, Surya. This rivalry extends to their sons, Vali and Sugriva in the Ramayana and to Arjun and Karna in Mahabharata.
Ameya would wholeheartedly recommend Shikhandi to readers for its fresh perspective on Hindu folklore. Anyone interested in queer literature must definitely give this one a go. That said, readers who aren’t big fans of retelling of mythological tales from a modern standpoint will probably find this work a tad offensive and misleading.
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