BOOK REVIEW: ‘SHIKHANDI … And Other Tales they don’t tell you’ by Devdutt Pattanaik



‘SHIKHANDI … and other tales they don’t tell you,’ by Devdutt Pattanaik.

The subject title was published in the year 2014 by Zubaan in collaboration with Penguin Books. The price of the book is Rs 299. Although, I had heard about this book some time ago I had not read it. I took the book to hand only recently. It comprises of some 176 pages.

    The book deals with the discovery or Invention of Queerness. There are different types of people in the world with different types of physiology. There are races, religions, communities who define queerness in their own peculiar manner. Before planning to write this book I’m sure the author must have done a great deal of homework. He must have studied various communities, races and religions to spin out the content of this particular book. I find a growing trend in some publishers these days where they place the name of the author more prominently on the cover page, and in bigger fonts, than the title of the book which only goes to show that the publisher has more confidence on the brand of the author on account of his or her accumulated titles than the subject book’s content. But this obviously comes after the author has made a mark for himself. Is this one such case I wonder?

    The subject title was published in the year 2014 by Zubaan in collaboration with Penguin Books. The price of the book is Rs 299. Although, I had heard about this book some time ago I had not read it. I took the book to hand only recently. It comprises of some 176 pages.

    The author has made a few daring attempts in the book to put Hindu Gods and Godesses in utter starkness that makes them look frivolous which the author could have avoided. And that also gives one a feeling that the intention behind that act of God is not comprehensively understood or narrowly missed by the author well enough, even when, he has gone through Hindu texts, and some fifty-four select bibliographies that he mentions in the book. The author runs all over. From queerness to hijras, cross-dressers, Gods, mythology and the short stories therein, and then finally it appears as if the author has lost direction. Where, one starts missing the central theme of the book, but was it even there one wonders. In some pages, one wonders, if it is just a collection and free-fall of short stories which is not what the book was intended to be.  Even the emotions of characters are not elaborately emoted. The author goes on to say that India is an agricultural community and so it was common to see women as mere fields with men as the farmers who sow seeds.

    The author has captured the content of this book in thirty chapters mostly out of Hindu mythology—Mahabharat, Ramayan including South Indian and other religious texts such as Purans, Bible and Greek mythology. The author builds the content of queerness on the premise that—Patriarchy asserts men are superior to women. Feminism clarifies women and men are equal. Queerness questions what constitutes male and female.    Queerness isn’t just modern, Western or sexual, says mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. Take a close look at the vast written and oral traditions in Hinduism, some over two thousand years old, and you will find many overlooked tales, such as those of Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife being put under a cover. Playful and touching—and sometimes even disturbing—these stories, when compared with their Mesopotamian, Greek, Chinese and Biblical counterparts, reveal the unique Indian way of making sense of queerness. Net-net the book is about the queer retelling of, Indian myths, by the author. But I also have a different take on this book.

    The book would have been more powerful had ‘Queerness’ not been the title or the central theme of the book. For it is dominated more by short stories where queerness spins out as a by-product. And the stories needed to be presented with more of a foreground and background. Author ne dil khol ke nahin likha hai yeh kitab. He has tried to stuff in a lot of content in very few pages and therefore the book doesn’t impact you.

  I would give the book six out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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