January 26, 2016

V.S. Khandekar's "Yayati- A Classic Tale of Lust" Expounds A Puranic King from Hindu Mythology.

I had seen this novel on my mother's bookshelf, decades ago, in another language, so when I came across a translation of Khandekar's "Yayati-A Classic Tale of Lust" on Amazon, I had to read it.

Yayati is a 'Puranic' King from Hindu Mythology who lived for a thousand years in eternal youth after exchanging his old age with his son's youth. Married to the beautiful Devyani, daughter of the powerful sage Shukracharya, after a chance meeting, Yayati had to now follow both the Kshtriya and the Brahmin creed. This was no menial responsibility as Yayati soon realized, especially since he had a tragic flaw; he could not resist beauty and fell prey to it throughout the duration of his long life, more so in the time of his borrowed youth.  Even marriage to the divinely beautiful Devyani did not stop Yayati from having relationships with other women.  One such relationship was with Sharmishtha, a Kshatriya princess who, due to a curse, was serving as a maid to Devyani. It was Puru, the son born out of this union between Yayati and Sharmishtha, who when he was in his late teens, agreed to trade his youth with his father's old age and thereby gave Yayati several lifetimes of eternal youth. This selfless sacrifice of a son for his father has captivated the Indian psyche for centuries, and even today in India, a son has some unquestioned obligation to follow his father's command.

The classic episode of Yayati & Puru has been the focus of attention for centuries, and V.S Khandekar, in 1959 chose to weave this tale into a Marathi novel written from the point-of-view of three of its main characters: Yayati, Devyani, and Sharmishtha.  Khandekar used this three pronged approach to intricately explore the impact of Yayati's lust for and obsession with pleasure that made him unabashedly declare, even at the end of his thousand years of youth, "My lust for pleasure is unsatisfied..." Khandekar's novel provides multidimensional insight into Yayati's choices, and how they affected his life and the lives of those he loved and those who loved him.

Khandekar's character Yayati, though controversial, is also very likable and definitely intriguing; he reminds me of two other mythical figures who've had plays and poems written about them such as Oedipus and Tithonus. All three tried to challenge their prescribed lot and suffered as a consequence, but for whatever reason, all three have captured the human imagination for thousands of years. Yayati, though a lesser known mythical character who features in The Mahabharata, made himself popular with Indian playwrights and novelist because of his Epicurean nature, his lust for the carnal in life.  Down the ages, the character of Yayati has made people wonder, and artists, like Khandekar, have tried to interpret him in their own unique ways. In 1961, Girish Karnad, a renowned Indian playwright and actor, wrote an award winning play based on the character of Yayati which has since then been translated into several languages and has been staged in different corners of the world. In fact, a new phrase- the 'Yayati Complex', similar to 'the Oedipus Complex', was coined as a result of Karnad's play based on Yayati.

Given that this is an English translation of the Marathi original, the writing does palpably distance the reader; I could never lose myself in the tale, and my disbelief was almost never suspended, yet, I never wanted to let go of the story! Yayati's tale has that quality, and anyone familiar with Indian Mythology will want to read this English translation of Khandekar's 'Yayati' that won the novelist a Jnanpeeth Award.

Clearly, myths and folklore fascinate the human mind, and artists can borrow tremendously from that inexhaustible source that came  down to us through the oral tradition of the past. There may be so many more Yayatis and Oedipuses waiting to be found, recognized, and expounded in the mythologies of the world.

January 25, 2016

Ode to The Quaking Aspen

Populus tremuloides -
a role model of maturity.
It feeds and shades
both prey and predator.
It reproduces in abundance.
Yields when needed,
all for the larger good.
Shows up to deliver
in the direst of straits.
It quakes, it bends,
but won't let go.
Avalanches and glaciers-
It'll brave both
and reemerge
to beckon others to grow.
It's shiny leaves
do its story tell.
They shimmy and shiver
quake and vibrate
in shock sheer excitement
of braving a bolder breeze.
They shade, but just enough
to let the sunlight stream
warmth and light
to fledglings waiting under.
Saplings of evergreen
Firs and Pines
that will soon outgrow and edge out
the Populus tremuloides.
But the gentle Aspen that it is,
the Populus tremuloides
bears no grudge or hatred
of those pushy evergreens.
For the Populus tremuloides
knows, what they do not;
that every tree must grow
in shadow, sun, or rain.
Be it you or me or they,
each of us has but a role
in nature's dramatic play.
Mine was to make way for you.
Now it's your turn
to do your part
so Adieu.