In India, dealing with Hindu mythology as literature or fiction is a tricky task. How much is open to reinterpretation or retelling, really, with an openly right-wing ruling government hellbent on worshiping cows? For me, however, these retellings (both good and bad) have been the entry point to a genre which I might never have picked up in its original forms; treating it as literature allows me to analyze, interpret, and thereafter accept or reject Hindu myths.
Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik.
A collections of tales from various Hindu myths that deal with gender fluidity, Pattanaik uses these to illustrate the fact that queerness is not a modern construct. The sources, whether oral or written traditions, are cited to provide context, and these tabboo stories themselves are not only extremely important, but are told brilliantly.
Verdict: Buy, along with the author’s beautifully illustrated retelling of the Mahābhārata.
The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor.
This satirical novel is a masterpiece that takes the story of the Mahābhārata, and superimposes it onto the story of the Indian freedom movement. The way Tharoor intertwines the characters and plotlines is excellence of the highest order, and the parallelisms between the two stories are both delightful and extremely telling.
Verdict: Buy; you might need to keep going back to it.
The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
A version of the Mahābhārata told from the perspective of Princess Panchāli, this did more for me that an entire semester of studying the original text for college did. Panchāli’s character is fascinating in that she is married to five brothers in the Hindu epic, and the novel talks about this with due credit to the patriarchal context.
Asura: Tale of the Vanquished: The Story of Ravana and His People by Anand Neelkantan.
This retells the Hindu epic Rāmāyana from the point of view of the ‘monster’ Rāvana, the vanquished (the original epic valorizes the god Rāma and his victory over the former). Although I enjoyed the concept, and the author’s vision of the grey areas in between the good/evil dichotomy, I found the plot a bit tough to get into.
The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi. This is part one of Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy, which attempts to highlight the origin story of the Hindu god Shiva. Although the trilogy was a huge commercial success, I felt it lacked depth, and never offered a perspective that questioned mythology or helped understand it in a way beyond hero-worship.