Thursday, November 26, 2015

Book review- Shikhandi and other tales they don't tell you.

Sexuality has become a much debated topic these days. Homosexuality is a taboo, and the so-called upholders of morality of the society would not hesitate to pick up cudgels against anyone who dares raise a voice in favour of it. Was our society always like this? Was it always a crime to come out openly and admit one’s sexual orientation?

Apparently, not. Our ancient civilisations have rarely been moralistic about sex. Neither has discussing about sex ever been a taboo. In fact our epics are replete with stories about homosexual relationships, transgender encounters and queer behaviours.

Devdutt Patnaik’s ‘Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you’, is based on this premise. It explores ancient stories from literature in India and also from around the world, which shows that queer behaviour has been accepted as normal in societies since time immemorial. His collection of 30 stories capture the essence of ancient Indian society’s approach to sexual behaviour.

The collection begins with the story of Shikhandi, who was born as a girl but raised as a man; struggling with a dual identity of a man trapped in a woman’s body and who beacme a man to satisfy her wife. There are stories of men who become women, and women who become men, of men who create children without women, and women who create children without men, and of creatures who are neither this, nor that, but a little bit of both. Stories such as Vishnu, who became a woman to enchant the Gods, demons and hermit, Mahadev who became a woman to deliver a devotee's child, Chudala, who became a man to enlighten her husband, Narada, who forgot he was a man, Samavan, who became the wife of his male friend, Krishna who wore woman's clothes, and many more stories that give us an alarming insight into the unique Indian way of making sense of queerness.

With patriarchal systems gaining prominence, codes of conduct, behavioural attitudes, morality and puritanism began to take root, laying the foundation for a judgmental society. What was normal became against the norm!

What is refreshing about the stories is that the author does not impose his own judgement or prejudice about the relationships neither does he thumb his nose at the order of things. But he does manage to take us back to the times when queerness was not frowned upon, and the society was comfortable with the idea of it, making us contemplate on the ignorance and rigidity of our thoughts right now.

My rating- 3/5

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