“Shikhandi: And other tales they don’t tell you” by Devdutt Pattanaik is a book with its theme around the various aspects of gender. Mr. Pattanaik defines it in detail as “I am a man, I dress like a man and I like men” and the various other combinations with man and woman. The stories are simple and bring to fore the various combinations of masculinity and femininity that we celebrate in India.
The worshipping of Iravana whose consort was Krishna, Arjuna who became Brihhannala, Krishna playing with the Gopis – who were men and women, Krishna sporting the long braid and nose ring and being comfortable with the feminine, Shiva and Vishnu (in the form of Mohini) creating Ayyappan – this book is a treasure of numerous such stories. It brings across the message that masculinity and femininity can be in either the outward appearances or internal thoughts & preferences or both.
This is a book that I would definitely recommend for people who are grappling with the concepts of gender diversity. Gender is not just explored in terms of sexuality but also in terms of the parental relationships – Does the mother love differently than the father? Are emotions related to gender? Does the soul have a gender? Or is gender only physical?
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- The book made me feel proud of the fact that I am an Indian. We had such an open culture in the past and the inclusivity of the past is amazing.
- The style of organizing the book with the story and the related concepts following it, makes it easy to remember the content.
- The stories are from across India – the lesser known stories of the Tayumanaswami from Trichy finds its place here. I have read this story on the walls of the Tayumanaswami temple, but have never read it in a book.
- Language is simple and care is taken to bring up controversial concepts in a gentle and factual manner.
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- Are there more such stories from the other parts of India to be explored?
Loved knowing what they don’t tell us. And what they don’t tell us also includes how many of these stories are a part of us but we don’t really dissect them with gender as the tool. When we do, it opens up a whole new world.
Loved the book!!!