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Arshia Sattar

By Roopa Pai
Hachette, India, 2015, pp. 263, Rs. 299.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 11 November 2015

Roopa Pai parses the Bhagavad Gita for younger readers in this new volume from Hachette whose back cover exhorts interest by declaring ‘It’s one of the oldest books in the world and India’s biggest blockbuster bestseller!’ Keeping with the hyperbolic tone of the cover that insists that the young person is missing out on something mementous, Pai opens the book by addressing the eager reader with this observation. ‘And you’ve often wondered why so many people get all solemn and dewy-eyed and worshipful about a book that, last time you checked, looked like the most difficult thing that anyone could ever read.’ following it with a multiple choice quiz testing the reader’s knowledge of what the Gita really is. The opening interactive pages that pose a challenge give you some indication of how determined Pai is to engage her audience. The book is bursting with information and energy—there is context from the Mahabharata itself, allusions to similar ideas in world literature and movies, illustrations, simplified explanations of the big ideas, passages from the Sanskrit text of the Gita, questions and answers, facts about battle formations and the characteristics of mythical beasts, epithets for Krishna, the Indian seasons and a host of other hooks that might catch the attention of the notoriously flighty, device-driven teenage imagination. And yes, within the lists and descriptions and information that Pai’s tumultuous enthusiasm generates, you can find the Gita. Although for some of us, it might be a little hard to recognize. Pai has done her homework and read translations, interpretations and commentaries on the Gita. Her short but potent bibliography nods to ISKCON’s Swami Prabhupada as well as to the British novelist Christopher Isherwood. From these and others, she culls and recreates an accessible version of the sacred text, presenting it within her own volume in many shapes and forms. Apart from a simplified (if pointed) retelling of the text itself, there are pages which reproduce a few Sanskrit verses and each chapter of the Gita ends with a helpful ‘Lessons from the Gita’ note. The Gita’s chapters themselves have provocative titles such as ‘In Which Krishna Shares with Arjuna A Killer App For Contentment’ and ‘In Which Krishna Explains The Importance of Me—Time.’ Despite the multiple layers of epic (and Sanskritic) context, what Pai does (for the most part) is demythologize the text. As ...

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