The idea behind the Bring Your Own Book(BYOB) party is to get people from various walks of life to talk about their favorite books. While last time round, we had a variety of books on various topics as diverse as shipping containers and historical fiction, this time we had a few binding threads. One was myth.
We’ve been talking about myth a great deal lately. The problem with myth is that it is prone to reinterpretation and is thereby misunderstood. Aditi Kulothungan, a children’s book specialist and a book marketing expert from Book Sense, believes that what is most important is that myths are taken in context, “There was magic in the lives of those people that is absent to day. This is the Kali Yuga! We have our god men, but I’m afraid the magic stops there.”
The word myth is a magic spell though- the discussion veered to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Business Sutras and Irawati Karwe’s Yuganta. Aditya Senguta, a biologist, who spoke about science the last time round was armed with his favorite epic interpretation. “The Mahabharata is one of those epics that you can’t really call heroic. Unlike the Ramayana, the characters are grey; no character is truly impeccable. In Yuganta, Irawati Karve treats the epic in a very non-religious way. She was a sociologist in Pune and the first edition of the book came out in the 1950s. Her daughter translated it in the 1960s but I must tell you that some of her observations would be unthinkable today. Most of the retellings that you hear about are from her observations- it is surprising how much of a bedrock she is to Indian mythological retelling and how little acknowledgement she is given.”
There are many retellings indeed- Karna’s Wife and Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane were mentioned by software engineer Kanica Jindal. These were similar to a book that Jaya talked about called Mahabharati- which is a Hindi retelling of Draupadi’s point of view. Now Draupadi is a representative of polyandry in a society. Though she was wedded to the five Panadava brothers because they had to share whatever they received as per their mother’s dictum, her heart was only with one man, Arjuna. “Incidentally Karwe talks about how Arjuna was more in love with himself, and the man who truly loved Draupadi was Bhima,” said Sengupta. This is in a nutshell the story of the acclaimed Malayalam classic Randammoozham by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.
Fairy tales did not fall far behind during the discussion. While once fairy tales summoned names like Grimm’s and Hans Christian Anderson, today the word fairy tale translates into Neil Gaiman. Aditi was spellbound by the twisted fairytale of Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty in the The Sleeper and the Spindle, and the characteristic metal ink illustrations by Chris Riddell. If you really want to start with Gaiman and you don’t know where to begin, Aditi advises to start with Coraline, of course the entire Sandman Series.
Fractured fairytales make interesting conversation. In a way the fairy tales started out as dark, I’m guessing they were scary tactics to get unruly kids to behave. Now fairy tales have been sanitized and you don’t want your children to be exposed to the horrid wolf or child molester in Little Red Riding Hood or the terrifying Baba Yaga of Russian folklore. But reversing the story entirely by making the three little pigs evil and the wolf good or throwing the truth at the kids the way Lan Smith does in The Stinky Cheese Man is outright hilarious. Some fractured tales reviewed here.
Shruti Garodia, a content writer, had an interesting take on how to tell your children stories if you didn’t want to frighten them. “You could contextualize the stories and customize it depending on how old they are. So as they grow older, you keep twisting the tale. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are books that have dark echoes to them and they seemed so much more different when I read them when I was older.”
“I remember how upsetting the real version of the Little Match Girl was,” said Aditi,” but that’s the story I would want to share with my children. Children should know the truth as they are exposed to so much.”
And that’s the kind of story kids want to listen today. “Imagine a book like The Fault in our Stars. We have two dying protagonists,” said Aditi. There are many more where that came from- Dorothy must Die, Love Letters to the Dead, The Perks of being a Wallflower (which did you like-the movie or the book?)
Sick lit is the in-thing now, especially for the younger generation, while myth has floored older folk. Have you been reading anything on these lines this week? Tell us about it.