Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Hinduism has always been an all-encompassing religion, willing to adopt and adapt the best from other fellow religions. In his latest book titled ‘Faith 40 Insights into Hinduism’, Devdutt Pattanaik creates a master list of relevant questions and answers them all in a simple and fascinating manner. Every chapter begins with a query that has often been asked by the lay person, and the author unravels each mystery in his own engaging fashion, enhancing the experience with his own little illustrations. The yellow hard bound cover with silver lettering strikes the eye like a ray of sunshine, or like the silver lining that indicates the presence of the sun.

The book is divided into four sections: Belief, Customs, Scriptures and History. The author puts forward his reasons for writing this book. He wants people to view Hinduism with a more forward–looking gaze, not allowing it to remain confined to a time, a geography or a scripture. Thus, he strives to make it relevant to ‘contemporary space and time’, keeping in mind that ‘nature is diverse, culture is dynamic.”

The first section on Belief elaborates on concepts intrinsic to Hinduism like the beginning of the world, the religion as mythology, the significance of gurus, views on death, suicide, karma, patriarchy, the caste system and yoga, as the author connects the past with the present. The author stresses on the fact that Hinduism is rooted in the idea of rebirth (karma) and the material world, though self-sustaining and self-created dependent on a spiritual principle (atma).

The chapters have intriguing titles: ‘Can rakshasas or asuras be called the Hindu devil?’ and ‘Is Hinduism’s Narasimha like Hollywood’s Wolverine?’ thus creating a curiosity in the mind of the reader. The debate about Hinduism being feminist or patriarchal is cleverly argued, as is that about Hindu views in death and suicide.

In section two, titled ‘Customs’, the author starts with what rituals are. “Rituals are full of colour and fragrance, gestures and songs, stories and performances, food and music and clothes. They make Hinduism visible. Without them there is no Hinduism to see or hear or smell or touch or taste.” How evocative is this, as every word conveys the emotion that is Hinduism.

Other interesting questions are thrown up in this section. Why do Hindus worship idols and light lamps? The latter question finds a fascinating answer, one not commonly known by many. Another rare explanation is on the sacred thread and how it embodies Vedic wisdom. The author also raises a pertinent point about how the world craves vengeance in the name of ‘justice’ by keeping alive the ills of the past, and using them as fodder for the present. He also talks about vegetarianism and how turning ‘blood’ into contamination forms the basis of ‘untouchability’, which is a dangerous idea. In my opinion, this idea, seen in the light of Sabarimala, is what makes the issue a highly sensitive one.

The last two sections revolve around Scriptures and History. The author gives us an overview of the Vedas, as also that of the Tamil Veda that consisted of three books, which marked the rise of the bhakti movement of India. The Manusmriti speaks of the code of conduct for human society, pertaining mainly to Brahmins and Kshatriyas, and remains a significant book on dharma-shastra as it documents the prevalent social practices of its time. A time did come, however, when it was seen as the source of India’s inequalities as people felt that it institutionalized the caste system.

Further questions are asked and explained. Did the Aryans come into India or spread out of India? Why do we give race so much of importance? Were the Hindus casteist? And interestingly, is the samosa Indian or Vedic?

Forty questions are asked and answered in simple terms by an author who is well-versed in Hindu philosophy and culture. The final truth that he puts forth puts things in perspective. “Hinduism does not believe in changing people’s minds or replacing old ideas. It believes in expanding their minds and adding new ideas. Hence, there is no need to convert, just enlighten, empathize and accommodate.”


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Remember When by Preethi Venugopala

“Remember when I was young and so were you…”

Remembering is what Tara does best, wallowing in the past, a past which has left deep scars on her. Her relationship with Ranjini, her obnoxious sister, is confrontational, as the latter perceives her as a threat, surprising since she is the rich, pampered one who seems to have the better life.

As Tara goes to pick up her five-year-old, Aryan, she runs into her best friend from college, Rupa, who is now an entrepreneur dealing in Kerala art murals. The two friends bond over tea, as secrets from the past tumble out, along with the name of Manu that has never been mentioned in the home of Tara and her husband, Karthik. There is a hint of a mystery that tantalizes the reader.

“Tara’s impulsiveness had left in its wake broken hearts and lives, including her own.”

Tara’s first novel is all set to be published in Chennai, on the 1st of December, a long-cherished dream. Much of her childhood has been spent in Kannur. She has memories, good and bad, about that period in her life, when Manu is the luminescent star around which her life revolves. Though they are from different communities, life couldn't have been more perfect, with Mary, Manu’s rich and widowed mother, also accepting her whole-heartedly.

However, their worlds come crashing down, when one misunderstanding pushes them apart, and Mary and Manu leave for Chennai, leaving their past behind.

However, years later, fate intervenes to bring them together once again, as Tara gets stranded in the floods in Chennai, and is forced to accept Manu’s hospitality to tide over the period. Her son, Aryan, soon wins over Mary and Manu with his winsome personality.

As the floods continue, a few more guests who are stranded in the floods make their way to Manu’s home. This includes Rupa, Tara's old friend, and her fiancĂ©, Pratheesh. As the water rises, people from the ground floor are evacuated to Manu’s house as well.

Preethi Venugopala narrates a tale that transcends the normal love story, weaving in the Chennai floods as a backdrop. She describes the survival techniques used in the actual floods as a part of Manu’s website. Varun Chinnappa, a popular You Tuber and travel blogger, turns into his enthusiastic assistant as he creates a video on rain catchers and sterilising drinking water that soon goes viral. The stories of the various characters that have been brought together by the floods reveal facets of their lives which sound familiar.

Once the floods recede, it is time for them all to bid adieu to one another. However, there is still a secret that hovers in the air, one that needs to be spoken of, even if it could wreak havoc in Tara’s life. Meanwhile there are other questions as well. Why has Karthik, Tara’s husband, not called her even once despite the fact that she and Aryan are stranded due to the floods? What is the decision that Tara has to make about her future, and how will it affect her relationships?

Preethi Venugopala keeps the reader guessing till the very end. While this is a story imbued with romance, there are elements of suspense in it that keep the reader hooked on. 


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