I had taken up Butterflies, Parathas and the Bhagavad Gita written by S. Hari Haran with the hope of enjoying some good fiction, while learning something about the Gita. Before I could pick it up, my son leafed through the pages and told me that it was full of some yoga and philosophy. I was then quite apprehensive about whether I could actually complete the book. I am glad I did though. Of course, I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed it, or, that it was a simple read. But one thing I can certainly say for it is that it made me look into my inner self and, maybe, helped me grow a bit spiritually.
Two boys, Venky and Sandy, each with a history of his own type of trauma, grow up together. Venky, the narrator, talks about how the two of them, along with another friend Kumar, are the most mischievous students of their class. While being naughty, Sandy is often shown as having a soft, helping, responsible nature in his childhood.
The arrival of a new physics teacher, Bharat Sir brings about a dramatic change, at least in the lives of Venky and Sandy. Bharat Sir trains them to read their lessons, not out of fear of exams, canings or scoldings, but out of curiosity to know what the lessons said. Bharat Sir, or Big B, as Venky and Sandy call him, is passionate about spirituality and often quotes from portions of the Bhagavad Gita in class, even if none of the students are interested. Big B transforms them – from students with cigarette covers, porn magazines, self-signed progress cards and low attendance notices – to students who get admission to the Tirunelveli Medical School.
When the duo visit their favourite teacher to tell him of their admission to medical college, he gives them an assignment – to write a short summary of the Gita for the school magazine. The two boys do not take it seriously at that juncture and cannot even imagine themselves reading the Bhagavad Gita.
Venky goes through medical school armed with the values Big B has instilled in him, but Sandy’s life takes a downturn. He fails in the first semester exam and has to stay behind for six months. Added to that is a failed love affair with his high school sweetheart, Gayatri. Venky feels responsible for this – he feels he should have involved Sandy in their combined study. His guilty mind gives him nightmares about Sandy falling down a cliff, which Venky had helped him climb.
Sandy later studies well, but keeps deteriorating morally. He is no more the same person he was. By then they get the news of the demise of their beloved Big B. This, combined with the guilt Venky had about Sandy, makes him take a firm decision – to read the Gita and complete the assignment their teacher had given them. Eventually both of them specialize in different fields and set up their own practice in their town. By now Sandy has turned into a cynical, pessimistic alcoholic, indulging in all sorts of pleasure as though to escape from the reality of the world.
Venky’s main aim on studying the Gita is to bring Sandy to his senses. He somehow gets Sandy to agree to go through his notes as a critic. Sandy poses some complicated questions in a mocking way on reading each write-up, which irritates Venky. Yet it urges him to delve deeper into the holy book seeking answers to these queries. At one point, when reading a session on doing one’s Karma without bothering about the result and the self being temporary, Sandy questions the relevance of this to common human beings in the modern world. Venky himself begins to have doubts and even thinks of giving up on his quest. A trip to Kumbavuruti with Sandy and Kumar shows Venky that though they knew their pleasure was going to last only a hour or so, they had thoroughly enjoyed the picnic. He realizes that the secret to living happily in a non-permanent world is to remain unattached and abandon oneself to the moment, not indulge in sinful pleasures and live each moment meaningfully, enjoying it. Venky continues on his journey with the Gita, sharing it with Sandy from time to time for his opinions.
Venky is introduced to Muthu, a devout young boy. He is attracted by the boy’s spirituality and calmness, and in his heart accepts him as his guru. While he is going over the Gita in depth, he is thrilled on seeing someone who is a living example of one living by the Gita. Venky reaches the part about Dhyana or meditation and finds that he is unable to meditate. Whenever he tries to do so, all sorts of thoughts enter his mind. Even this is resolved after a visit to Muthu, which makes him realize that he should not make a conscious effort to meditate, instead let it be as natural as breathing.
Towards the end, our narrator comes to the conclusion that following the Gita means taking up all four yogas – Karma, Dhyaana, Bakthi and Jnaana.
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- The author uses contrasting characters to depict opposing view points of the Gita. Venky, who has grown up in a religious atmosphere of poojas with his mom and grandpa is a believer, whereas Sandy who grew up with his father, an atheist, is a sceptic.
- I liked the way the narrator has been changed in the end, saying how the title of the book has been changed to a fancy one without Venky’s knowledge.
- The author has given several references from the Bible, Quran, teachings of the Buddha, quotes from Lincoln, Avvaiyar, etc. which are in line with the teachings of the Gita. Eg. “The first noble truth taught formally to a Buddhist is, ‘Life is suffering.’ It is the ‘Noble truth’ according to Buddhism. This is also the first teaching of the Gita.”
- The author has portrayed well the character of Sandy as one who has gone down morally, yet retains something of his inherent goodwill deep within his heart.
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- Sometimes the narration gets too elaborate and monotonous, but maybe this happens when trying to summarize such a serious philosophy.
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- The author says that the Gita calls a jivan muktha as twice born. I was intrigued by this, as it is similar to the ‘born again’ philosophy of the Bible. There are lots of similarities in the Gita with teachings of the Bible. This reaffirms how all holy books have one message – that of love and realization of God in one’s self.
A commendable effort to make the Gita relevant to modern life.
A copy of this book was given me by the publishers, Amaryllis in return for an honest review. Thanks Amaryllis.
|Title||Butterflies, Parathas and the Bhagavad Gita
|Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s)||S. Hariharan MD|