Book Review: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

Title: Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

Author: Devdutt Pattanaik

Page Count: 196 pages

Publisher: Penguin India

Genre: Mythology

Devdutt Pattanaik is one of India’s best known authors who writes mostly on Indian Mythology. After reading numerous praises of his works, I decided to pick one of his books. I picked this book with great expectations as Shikhandi is one of the lesser known characters from Mahabharta who was instrumental in bringing the fall down of the mighty Bhishma. Also the book promised an insight into a lot of ‘queer’ characters from our scriptures. It’s interesting how these queer characters that challenge the expected notion of sexuality were quite common in ancient times.  But with the passage of time, our society has become so rigid and intolerant of anybody who doesn’t conform to the accepted norms.

The author has collected many such stories from Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharta and folklore of Orissa, Tamilnadu, Bengal etc. The books talk about God and men who are a bit queer according to modern society. The stories include acts of changing gender, same sex love, cross dressing, castration etc. which may seem outrageous in today’s times but were never outlawed or frowned upon in ancient societies. Most of these acts were committed as a result of a curse or a boon.

I was totally disappointed with the book though mainly because there were no in-depth stories. The stories were too short.  The book offers a hurried and brief overview of many ‘queer’ characters with some footnotes at the end. The stories are told in such bland manner- without any feeling or emotion. And the footnotes? Well, let me not get started on those.

The book seemed to me like a school text book where you have to go through chapters and chapters of short stories with glossary and bullet points to remember in the end. Pattanaik has definitely done a lot of research for the book but I wish he would have devoted similar amount of time and effort in writing it too. It’s more of a thesis than a book. Yes, it’s that boring!

Rehashing the stories from our epics seem to be an easy way to success. I find nothing new or creative in this book except the illustrations at the beginning of each tale. My verdict of the book- Avoid at all costs!

© 2018 Shaloo Walia All rights reserved

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