Can a book help you gain Jaya over yourself?

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Book Review: Jaya by

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publisher: Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780143104254



It is somehow tempting to categorize a book like 'Jaya' on a shelf for self-improvement books even as Devdutt Pattanaik cleverly narrates the tale of the Mahabharata in a dispassionate voice, expertly compiled from the Sanskrit classic and other folk and regional variants from around the world.



‘Jaya’, which was what the epic story of Mahabharata was originally called, is an ‘enthralling retelling’ of this longest poem ever written, peppered in with Devdutt’s distinguishing artwork.



A condition that has plagued many Indian writers, especially in this genre, is to believe that wordiness indicates worldliness.
In Jaya, Devdutt Pattanaik uses a unique narrating style that presents this legendary saga with obscure stories involving tertiary characters and gives them due importance in shaping the canonical ‘itihaasa’ of the Mahabharata. 

A condition that has plagued many Indian writers, especially in this genre, is to believe that wordiness indicates worldliness. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case at all. In stark contrast, by his masterful use of concise words, Devdutt Pattanaik has managed to tell this very long (yet historically abridged) version of an epic in just about 340 pages, stories of which have assisted countless words of wisdom and fueled the machinations in decisions from warfare to household rituals.



True to his name, Devdutt has signaled the arrival of a new age of writing where one distances from the word ‘interpretation’, and carefully connects it to recorded historical events in a bid to understand the way society has changed over the ages.
Devdutt Pattanaik does not foist his opinions onto his readers and yet through his brilliant use of injecting insightful one-liners within his unprejudiced, almost factual tone of writing, leaves the reader open to make up their own stance. He cleverly shares his personal opinion but never commits to it head-on; branding it with his ownership on the content rather than fulfilling the role of a mere documentarian. The careful way each account is revealed as the book progresses, is often at the mercy of Devdutt’s narrative style rather than being true to the order of events. Which, I believe, is an artform that he has perfected in lieu of a dramatic tone which is often shared by other authors writing in a similar genre.

Each chapter brings with it tangential side notes that serve as appendices, reminders, and sometimes house Devdutt’s questions to incite the curious reader. Another proof of his use of storytelling to hint at opinions debated during current events in the country and the sometimes cultural crutch that parts of this epic tale are used as.

Devdutt Pattanaik’s illustrations neither attract nor distract from the story and serve as comfortable rest stops for the eyes of the reader who would have otherwise looked away in thoughtful contemplation.

I appreciate the pan-cultural, pan-gender, pan-sexuality approach to Devdutt's viewpoints, though he is careful not to mark them so. The rare times that he claims a stake in the book, he does point out that most of these texts are agnostic at best. One of my favorite parts in the book come in the first few pages in the form of a disclaimer that Devdutt Pattanaik makes:



Shaped by my own prejudices, as well as the demands of the modern reader, restructured for the sake of coherence and brevity, this retelling remains firmly rooted in my belief that:
Within infinite myths lies the Eternal Truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousand eyes
Indra, a hundred
And I, only two
Though reading the retelling of the longest poem in the history of the world might seem daunting, Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik was an easy read and took me a little less than eight hours to complete from the first page to the last where it was interesting to find Devdutt Pattanaik acknowledging writers, by name, who have written books on Mahabharata before, as well as B.R.Chopra, the producer of the classic TV show, Mahabharata.

A minor disappointment, probably my own alone, is that the reader is expected to know a lot about the history of ancient India and should have consumed the tales of the Mahabharata in some form earlier. Though, yes, it has been labeled as a retelling, it would have been refreshing to read the 'itihaasa' of the Mahabharata from the perspective of the exclusive characters that Devdutt focuses on in this book, and follow their chronology of events. Perhaps, that’s another book to look forward to.

True to his name, Devdutt has signaled the arrival of a new age of writing where one distances from the word ‘interpretation’, and carefully connects it to recorded historical events in a bid to understand the way society has changed over the ages.

As much as I applaud his writing style and the beautiful way Devdutt Pattanaik continues to captivate his audience, I often wonder if he would ever consider applying his talent to a different genre and perhaps, unknowingly write an epic that these modern times crave for?

~

Image credit: Devdutt.com


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