I have been a big fan of Devdutt Pattanaik's writing and so when My Gita was published, I naturally had to read it. However, the book kind of disappointed me.
The book's blurb states, “In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies the Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach – thematic rather than verse-by-verse – makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams. In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization – even selfies!) We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight. So let My Gita inform your Gita.” [The highlight is my emphasis].
The book is divided into 18 chapters with a brief history and introduction of The Gita. I enjoyed reading the introduction more than I did the actual chapters. This talks about the approaches to Hindu history through eight phases – Indus, Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Puranic, Bhakti, Orientalist and Modern. After this, it mentions the various readings and interpretations of The Gita wherein the first wave involved Sanskrit bhasyas by Vedanta scholars. The second wave involved retellings in regional languages – Devdutt mentions the Gyaneshwara here (which was in the 13th century) as also Dasopant Digambara and Tukaram (in the 17th century). The third wave was translations by Europeans, the fourth wave involved retranslations by Indian nationalists. This was followed by the fifth wave which involved reframing following the end of the two World Wars.
I loved the bits about Karna (I have been besotted with him since The Palace Of Illusions). Karna's circumstances made him an outsider though technically he was an insider. While narrating Karna's story about previous lives, Devdutt chooses to remind us that our story is part of a grand jigsaw puzzle, we are part of a larger narrative.
Throughout each of the chapters, there are several verses mentioned in a paraphrased form which are then elaborated upon by the author. Some of them make interesting reading, some, I felt, were too stretched and made no sense to the theme of the book. Each chapter ends with a small gist. There are, of course, several illustrations throughout the book which seek to take the explanation forward.
The book ends with yet another discourse by Krishna after the conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita. Devdutt says that the yearning for perfection stems from the desire to control and organize the world to our taste, to create a cocoon where everything makes sense to us. The Gita does not aspire for perfection.
To sum up, the book does give an insight into Krishna's discourse to Arjuna before the war. But it also digresses a bit into unrelated topics. I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Jaya (a retelling of the Mahabharata). I am rating it 3 out of 5.
I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.