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Oven–fresh offering by mythologist Devdutt (which means God-gift; and  ironically, is a namesake for Arjun’s conch in Mahabharata)

Devdutt takes up the unexplored theme of ‘queerness’ or alternative gender in Mythology. In Part I, he tracks the universal existence of ‘queerness’ across Indian, Persian, Aztec, Viking, Japanese, Mesopotamian and Greek mythology.

Part II is a carefully chosen plethora of ‘queer’ tales. I could discern an interwoven pattern  within the chosen tales:

a] Gods with alternate gender Krishn (click here for enigma of Krishn) as Mohini seduces Shiva to produce Ayyappa, thus making a blood-bond between 2 warring devotee sectors.

b] Father –son duos with alternate gender – 

Indra (emasculated for not showing restraint towards Ahalya) vs Arjun (emasculated for showing restraint towards Urvashi);

Krishn (playing purposeful Mohini) vs Samba (whose purposeless prank eventually led to Yadava annihilation);

Bheem (playacting for Keechak’s death) vs Ghatotkach (playacting for Abhimanyu’s marriage);

Devdutt with Shikhandi

c] The emotional aspect of ‘queerness’- Devdutt highlights it rather than merely focus on the physical aspect –

i] Chudala, whose feminine wisdom is unacceptable to her King unless she transforms into an acceptable intellectual male.

ii] Narada , who leans on either side of the gender curve, thus learning to see events from other points of view.

d] ‘Modern’ techniques vs mythology: 

i] Caesarian delivery-Ashwini cutting open the pregnant King’s abdomen.

ii] Gender change/organ donation – Shikhandi’s male organ transplant.

iii] Wombless births- Dhristhadyumna and Draupadi.

e] Krishn’s Mohini partakes in 3 separate episodes for procreation (Ayyappa), destruction (Bhasma-asura) and sacrifice (Iravan).

f] Arjun constellation: Delighted to find my personal hero Arjun (click here for my fascination with Arjun), the peerless Mahabharata warrior at the core of 6 diverse tales (albeit 4 folk tales)

The male to female transformation as a Krishn admirer;  the resolute non-seduced monk (w.r.t Urvashi), the eunuch-dancer Brihannada who routs the entire Kaurav army; the amorous seducer (w.r.t Alli), the reluctant warrior-lover-husband who ‘tamed’ Amazonian queens into ‘domesticated’ wives (Chitrangada , Pramila).

Grudge: 1. Shikhandi is described as a pawn brought into Kurukshetra only on day 10 for Bhisma’s death. Truth is that Shikhandi was an integral official part of Kurukshetra from day 1 to day 18.

2. Detailed sub-text would have been more lively.  On the other hand, perhaps

it more fun to discover sub-texts on our own.

Verdict: This book is a celebration for those who ‘do not fit in’. As Devdutt  puts it succinctly, ‘Vi-vaad is based on doubt & argument, thus narrowing truth to a single, stubborn perception. Sam-vaad is based on discussion, so that ‘my truth and your truth amalgamate towards an expanded infinity.’

Recommended for fans of mythology, of unexplored avenues,  of broad perspectives; and of good writing skills.

Publisher: Zubaan & PenguinBooksIndia.

Pages: 178

Price: Indian Rupees 261/-

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