In 2011 I had attended a talk by Devdutt Pattanaik at a Learning Conference in Mumbai. Till then I’d only heard that he had created a unique space by interpreting Hindu mythology for application to contemporary business. During his session, among other things he had spoken about Smriti and Shruti. (Smriti is the knowledge/ information that can be told and transmitted, while Shruti is the internal voice that makes sense of the information and gives it meaning.)
I was impressed with his overall impact and had immediately bought his book Jaya, and loved reading it too.
After several years now, I picked up another of his books- the recent one: Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you. It has a well-defined purpose of highlighting the fluidity of gender, and presenting the feminine and masculine as simply two ways of being, complimentary and necessary. It seeks to build a case for better acceptance of homosexuals, transgenders, and others to who push the envelope of gender roles as defined traditionally. In fact, he challenges that there is nothing traditional about these definitions as the Gods and Goddesses themselves drifted in and out of physical, mental, emotional and sexual roles on either side as needed by situations.
It is clearly a subject that needs such contextualization, and DP could be the one to do it. But for several reasons I didn’t find it to have the impact one would expect. For one, he uses the word ‘queer’ to refer to all LGBT, and their nature as ‘queerness’. I don’t know what’s the politics attached to this word, but it sounds plain wrong to me. I cannot succeed in showing something as normal when I am going to constantly call it queer.
That’s the smaller issue because feeling can overshadow words. But the narrative throughout the book is strangely devoid of all feeling. The information at the author’s hand is so much that the reader feels his pressure to present it all. The publisher’s brief seems to have been not to exceed two pages for any story.
I am all for simplification of mythology so it can be understood by all. I am someone who benefits from it, and want it to be friendly and inspiring. In Devdutt Pattanaik’s own words, the role of Smriti is to provoke Shruti. It didn’t, though I tried. I’m not sure if his writing style changed over these years, or my preferences.
I may still try other of his books to find out, but this one was the Holy Cow in a Hamburger. Not to my taste.