The Serpent’s Revenge (Sudha Murty) – Mesmerizing Mahabharata Gems

I think this book was intentionally thrust into my hands..to get me to take a break from the world of Greek mythology (which has almost completely taken over my life… I live in the world of Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus). Though it’s true that I haven’t read any Indian Mythology since I was six and had exhausted all the Amar Chitra Kathas and Tarangini Series

This book turned out to be a marvelous refresher from the twisted tales of Greek mythology. Sudha Murty’s book The Serpent’s Revenge – Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata is a must-have, enjoyable and thought provoking read for parents and children alike.

This book has well-known stories like Shakuntala to stories that I hadn’t heard of, like the story of the half-golden mongoose who taught Yudhishthira what is a true sacrifice or Vikarna, Duryodhana’s good brother.

One thing I enjoyed reading in the book, is that at the end of the chapters, she tells us about the location of the places in the story or what the names of certain objects and actions are…just a little insight that adds a special something.

Another interesting thing about this book is that it is in chronological order. It starts with the story of Shakuntala, events that lead up to the Mahabharata war, then goes to the stories of people in the war and ends with the stories of the descendants of the Pandavas. 

My favourite story is the story of Barbarika, Bhima’s grandchild, and his three great arrows which could strike down its target, be it even five miles from the shooter. This is because it talks about how vows made out of haste can cause mass destruction, and how life and death is predestined.

Sudha Murty’s  story telling style is simple yet extremely engrossing. (Reminded me of my old favourite Grandmother’s Bag of Stories.. here again I could just not stop at one.)  Do read the Introduction as well.. she has explained many little questionable bits like some figurative exaggerations, boons and curses and punishment by God in her inimitable straight and gentle way.

Speaking of style, the awesome illustrations by Priyankar Gupta set a perfect mood for a book of Indian mythology. He has a perfect blend of sketch, shadow and originality that I don’t see in many illustrated books. The art of Duryodhana at the bottom of the Brahmosarovara lake, using the Jal Mantra to save his life, is my favourite.

In my opinion, this book is directed towards younger and middle-school aged readers of this generation, who -like me- generally re-read the same kind of contemporary books (many like me again and again too!)

Most adults already know most or all of the stories written here, but will still find it a great reading experience with their kids, reading these at bedtime. Both my brother and me loved these stories read out to us on our long car drives on the vacation and at bedtime by Amma. She says it reminds her of her grandfather narrating these to her.

The best thing about this book? It got me and my family reading and discussing the stories and questioning and exploring the behaviour of the people. Questions that  we argued about  included..

  • Is it really okay to burn down a forest and not care about its inhabitants? Effects of  mistakes that follow you for generations..
  • Would you give up a place in heaven for a dog?
  • Why would greatest warriors like Drona and Karna not hesitate to plot and brutally murder Abhimanyu, knowing he was barely a boy?
  • Why didn’t Duryodhana seize up the opportunity and pick Nakul or Sahdev to fight and win the war when Yudhishthira said he could choose anyone to fight? ( Another version of the story in the book)
  • Parikshita ‘s impulsive stupidity in a fit of rage or just destiny?

I can say with confidence that just about everyone will enjoy reading this book, whether they know all the stories or not. Do take time out to enjoy these unusual tales from the Mahabharata.

And yes, the Good news.. Sudha Murthy has promised this is the first of a Mythology Series!

 

Apoorva’s Fat Diary (Nandini Nayar) – Enormously Funny!

Is Apoorva’s Fat Diary an Indian retort to the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series? A fat girl struggling to survive in a malicious, non-forgiving school world? These were my initial thoughts as I picked this book.

Written by Nandini Nayar and published by Mango Books, this book is indeed a delightful diary of a plump Indian school girl. Apoorva (the main character in this book), like all growing tweens, loves food and hates to write! The diary begins as a negotiated agreement between Apoorva and her persuasive mother to improve her writing skills. Apoorva agrees to this on one condition-she will only write about the 12 best meals she has eaten- and nothing more! But the story has been crafted so beautifully that it is a insightful peep into of every chubby school kid’s diary. Her mother relying on fat parenting books to get her fit into the shape of the world, a super fit dad, an adorable Aaji, her pretty sister Avantika and of course, an annoying, irritating little brother Ashu are very relatable!

The bus bully Bharat and the quirky ‘elephant’ jokes are hilarious! Rakesh uncle, his mindless attitude and the family’s varied reactions to his mean comments, once again underline the importance of remaining unperturbed and following you heart like Apoorva. I really like Apoorva’s cool attitude because it inspires me not to get shaken by jokes and let nothing bother me.

The book was very entertaining, stuffed with breaths of everyday school life thrills and chills- from eating someone else’s lunch, getting glasses to the ‘Grand Sports Day’ and Apoorva’s discomfiture. What truly elevated the experience was the superlatively funny illustrations by Lavanya Karthik.

A few of my favourite are the monster in Rakesh uncle’s shadow, Ashu with a tape across his mouth, Apoorva getting squashed by a ‘fat’ book, her trial for sports day events and the question and answers. With my habit of doodling in my own diary, these cartoons made it a perfect kid’s dairy to me!

Every fat girl will find herself nodding to this book. But Apoorva’s sensible head, the take everything in your stride attitude and her value for true friendship in school life were the takeaways for me.

I chose this  for the contest because every Apoorva and her friends need to read this book to get a taste of what it is like to be a fat girl in the school and why that’s cool too!

 

(P.S. My review was one of the winning reviews for the Leading Reading Schools of India 2016 challenge and was officially published here.)

The Boy from the Book (Nico Di Angelo)

Chapter 1 – Arrival
I sprinted towards the woods as a drakon pursued us. My heart running a marathon, messy black curls flapping behind me wildly and silver chain cuffs clinging.

Man, the things you can do when you need to save your life.

Coach Hedge yelled through his megaphone – “Cupcake! You’ve gotta run! I can keep it down until you get to camp! LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER!”

Say what, now? Isn’t that from Star Wars?

We’d been through a lot together, and I did not travel halfway across the globe for my satyr to become drakon-meal.

So, I did a crazy thing.

I formulated a plan that had a 90% chance of failure.

But I still retorted – “Coach, I am not leaving without you! Besides, I have a plan.”

Then came the reply – “And we all know how well those work out, don’t we?”

Can no one trust me? Okay, I nearly got us killed…thrice. But still.

Despite the motivational statement, I went – “Well, for once I’ve got a plan that will work. At least, I hope it will.”

Coach Hedge rolled his eyes and grunted.

Okay, let’s put this plan into action.

I spotted all three of the things I needed right away.

I ran in front of the drakon and started taunting it, with insults like – “Hey, butt-face! Where’d you get the skin from? Looks like someone’s lizard shrivelled up and died!”

Well, that worked pretty well. I had all the attention I needed now.

I sprinted towards the tree and quickly scaled it. Using one of the branches as a spring, I managed a perfect backflip onto a rooftop and caught hold of one of the bronze boards there.

Who bronze-plates their roofs? Weirdos.

I screamed out a final insult for all it was worth – “Hey, your face can scare away the whole hill! Let me take care of that for you.”

And I did the stupidest thing in the world.

I jumped, rolled and came up standing.

Right on the creatures’ head.

It started jerking and tossing around, trying to shake me off its back, till I got a hold of myself and used the bronze board to chop it clean off.

The monster exploded into yellow powdery dust.

I started coughing and fanning dust out of my eyes till I tripped. I nearly fell flat on my face.

When I went near the thing which I seemed to have tripped on, I realised with horror that it was the drakons’ head.

I said, reeling with disgust – “Why the hell is that still here?”

Coach Hedge replied, starstruck – “It’s a spoil of war, kid. You defeated that drakon on your own, so it belongs to you. Never seen anyone do that before.”

As I trudged up the hill, I looked over my shoulder and said – “Well, I guess I’m special then. How much further to camp?”

I didn’t know, until that moment, that some people were watching me.

A group of kids in battle armour sprang out of the bushes, combat-ready.

A tall girl at the head of the group, with blond hair approached me with the question – “Well? Where’s that drakon?”

I answered this in a very smart and intellectual way – “I made it explode.”

Wonder (R. J. Palacio) – Simply Wonderful!

Just yesterday, I read Wonder by Raquel J Palacio (which, by the way had to be wrested away from my mothers hands. Often happens in our home). And, boy, am I glad I did.

Yes,  I read it in one shot, although I had to put the book down for a few minutes in the middle, because it was so overwhelming.

Wonder is a heart-wrenching, emotional and -best of all-  very realistic story

It is the story of the fifth-grader August Pullman, who suffers from mandibulofacial dysostosis -which is a rare genetic malfunction which causes facial deformity.

As a middle schooler, I can make out the standard stereotypes of middle school..  the stares, the smirking, the mean glances and whispers,  the popular groups and the wannabees, the unnecessary hostility, misunderstandings with friends and those few true friends that make the journey easier. So with a face like August, it can be only a million times worse.

No, I’m not giving out any spoilers. At least, not without a warning.

My favorite part of the book is how R. J. Palacio gives us a peek into each pivotal character’s mind, letting us know how they think or feel about a particular situation. It’s riveting to know how other people think about the events going on which are all related to the main character, and not just hear what the main character thinks about them himself. It brings in a wonderful rounded perspective to the book and its characters!

My favorite character is definitely Via, August’s older sister. Via, or Olivia, treasures her younger brother as it is prominent in many incidents where she gets mad when other people whisper or stare at August. Yet there are moments when she just wants to NOT be his sister.Her chapter in this book deals with her growing self-consciousness and worries about her identity. I think I find Via among my favorites because I identify with her struggles and worries that I will only be known for my brother and his trouble-causing nature.

Minor issue? I haven’t watched Star WarsDarth Sideous and Bobba Fett jokes don’t register with me. Even though it was explained, I still had to go to my brother for a second-time explanation. It’s not all bad though, because it’s time for a movie marathon!

The big problem? August can have a happy ending but seemed too nice to me.Since when has middle school ever been nice? Do bullies even change? Do the other who choose being “safe and neutral” rather than stand up for the  kid that is singled out actually have the courage to take a stand. There are some answers I will only know when I’m more mature…may be

But being inspired by August’s positively inspiring upbeat attitude, it makes me want to believe “The universe takes care of all its birds.”

More Quotes I liked..

I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”
…wish  I could orchestrate that.
“Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”
…by far the most important thing that lingers after you read this book
“If you can get through middle school without hurting anyone’s feelings, that’s really cool beans.
… same thing ..cool beans!
“I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.”
….made me think how much we make assumptions based on looks.
So yes, please do do read this book!!
Most Important: I heard Wonder is being made into a movie this year! All those who haven’t read it, your time is running out. Every voracious reader knows this, but I’ll say it again – Never judge a book by it’s movie!