Note: Again a re-post from Dec 2012. Wonder why this is happening?
Anyway, this is a good reminder on the existence of this blog and the idea behind it. So very opportune for crossing the 50th post mark as well as the 150,000 page view mark on the blog !! Thank you all for your continued readership and comments. This blog and these interactions have made my own life more enriching in the last few years.
Quite recently, I picked up an interesting read. It was called 'The Monkey King & Other Stories' when it was first published in 1995. It is now called 'Scarless Face & Other Stories' and is reprinted in 2006 by HarperCollins in India.
What is interesting about the book is that it is a collection of stories by Canadian writers, mostly of Sri Lankan origin. Some stories are originated in Sri Lanka, while some have travelled to Sri Lanka from other parts of the world - mostly India. There are some stories from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, while some are from Panchatantra. Some are Buddhist Jataka tales, while some are Sri Lankan folklore.
The editor of the book Griffin Ondaatje managed to get his literary parents Michael Ondaatje and Linda Spalding, along with some other famous Canadian writers of our times - like Shyam Selvadurai, M. G. Vasaanji, Judith Thompson, etc. as well as one or two writers outside Canada to take the base tales, and contextualize them in terms of their own.
This retelling has freed the writers from the boundaries of time, and that shows in the retelling. Some of the stories are radically rewritten, interpreting the anxities of the people, animals and objects into modern day contexts. Reading the tales give you a feeling that you are really looking back in time, and what you see is your own reflections. Some of the stories are so finely rewritten ('Resting Hill', 'The Unicorn and the Grapevine', 'The Chola King') that I found an exceptional sense of calmness after reading them.
Especially the 'Resting Hill'. The story is simple. It is about an elephant-tamer who has retired, but is tasked with the last duty to tame a wild elephant. He sees the elephant in action and for the first time in his life fear grips him. He is unable to get himself to face the elephant and takes to bed.
His wife understands his plight, and decides to tame the elephant herself without telling him. When the elephant comes charging at her, she stands her ground. The elephant, now tired of running and plundering, submits to her. She puts a rope on him, ties him to a tree on the hill, and returns home.
But during the night that she was away, her husband passes away. Unconsolable with grief, she dies too. The elephant waits and waits - even when he can snatch the knot open - he waits, but no one comes to take him. So the elephant keeps waiting on the resting hill.
That's it. That's the story. But it is written in such a manner that the story, with the three characters - including the elephant - come alive to you. It is amazing. There are so very few things in the world that deserve this adjective anymore, that I have almost forgotten to use this word. I am glad I was able to use it, thanks to the book.
What is this post doing in the blog about myths? Agreed that Ondaatje's collection has a story about Hanuman and Sita (which narrates Ravana's splendor in Lanka in great detail), and another about the death of the Pandavas and Draupadi, but Hindu Myths is only one of the sources for these tales.
There is even one story about how Gods and Demons learned to play together - which is certainly not from the Hindu texts - and I believe gives us a completely different perspective on the relationship between Aryan and Darvidian races.
That's what this is - this blog is about a bit of perspective. And the reading gives us a new perspective on some of the well-known tales of the world, and also some unknown ones.
In a way, this blog is ALL about perspective. As you know, there is nothing that has not been said, including this sentence. They say about Vyasa - Vyasocchishtam Jagat Sarvam - Mahakavi Vyasa has touched every part of the world (including an abbreivated version of Ramayana - how about that?). So there is nothing new in the world. The same stories, same people, same anxities, same problems.
But does that mean we should discard everything that the modern man creates / recreates? No, on the contrary. Modern times need modern perspective. And that is why all that is new is as important as all that is old. And that in itself is a perspective about the world.
So what I am trying to achieve here for the last few years has always been to take the myths and tales and legends as I know them, polish them a little, and put them in a place where you - my reader - can get a fresh perspective. Hopefully I would also like to take these tales out of the clutches of religion and dogma and other mumbo jumbo, and not add my own colored perspective like most of the European writers have done over the centuries (J. M. Macfie, W. J. Wilkins, Max Mueller, Albert Schweitzer - just to name a few).
The tales have their own substance and glitter, and there is nothing that I can do to enhance it. All we have here is a fresh 'look'.
Kuala Lumpur, 02 December 2012
"Indian Thought and Its Development" (1936), Albert Schweitzer, Beacon Press, New York
"Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic" (1900), W. J. Wilkins