Sunday, 22 May 2011

IT WAS 'GREAT FUN' AS HE LEARNT



IT WAS 'GREAT FUN' AS HE LEARNT

Devdutt Pattanaik believes, “gods are everywhere”. Much unlike the “modern, urban, 50-year-old phenomenon which make the gods exalted, and belonging to a realm that is ethereal and distant”, Pattanaik banks on the “rural” concept of gods being omnipresent — “from the kitchen stove, the wheel of bullock cart, gossiping with women, making fun of men, and playing with the children”. So, he decided to “make gods as our friends” through his writings and drawings. “I just did something that should have been done a long time ago,” he says. His efforts led to serious books on mythology and folklore for mature readers. Now Pattanaik has come up with three books, under the Fun in Devlok series, for children where the mythological characters mingle up with modernity, and simple stories are told to the younger readers.

What made him think of writing for the children? “People keep asking me to write for children. I was not sure. I thought I was not very child-friendly. But my friends were convinced I could do it. So finally I gave it a try,” he says. “It worked! It was great fun. A new learning experience for me. And hopefully a fun learning experience for them too,” Pattanaik adds with a smile.

One might think it wasn’t easy for the author to write for children, after having written for the adults. But Pattanaik says “it was easier” than he had expected. “The only difference is that I take only one concept at a time and spend more time in descriptions,” he explains. “Pace can be an issue... how fast do you go to keep the fun without losing the wisdom. I am still learning. Not got there yet,” he reveals.

While telling a story, Pattanaik prefers mythology over history. “I prefer mythology as it is far more profound. History is limiting, restricted to a place and a period. Mythology is timeless,” he says, adding, “History is usually a historian’s imagination. Between facts and narrative, a whole bunch of imagination takes place. Historically, no one is sure if Birbal was a wit, or if Chanakya was an avenging angel.”

Besides writing, Pattanaik has also illustrated his books, like Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata. For him, these drawings are like “science diagrams that complement the text.” So, he cannot think that one can exist without the other. “Together they express what I wish to communicate,” he says.

Referring to children’s literature in India today, he says, “I don’t have much exposure. In one of my experiences, an editor and publisher were more interested in pushing their politics into a story in the name of education. In another, the whole attempt assumed children are dumb and stupid.” He then sounds a caution: “Writing mythology for children is very tricky, as the stories are complex, and can deal with rather awkward sexual and violent issues. So writers, however well-intentioned, struggle.” But, that doesn’t seem to be the case with Pattanaik who has nicely penned the stories.

THE STORIES

A talking cow named Sweety tells stories about Krishna, Kamdhenu, Goloka and the kings, to a girl named Gauri.

God Indra, who is unhappy, gets back to his happy mode as he tells stories to a boy named Harsha who travels on a cloud to meet Indra.

Lord Krishna tries to get an identity card for himself to fly in an aeroplane from Mumbai to Guwahati via Kolkata. He fails to get it, but reaches his destination on Garuda, and meets his devotee Lata-kumari. Still, Krishna hopes that he will get an identity card one day.