By T A Balasubramaniam
Butterflies, Parathas and the Bhagavad Gita by S Hari Haran
Manjul Publishing House
INR 250; 408 pages
The four-fold varnas in man were created by me according to one’s guna and work.” (Bhagavad Gita 4.13) Not as per one’s birth! Yes, birth was one of the factors used to decide (a person’s) caste in the Vedic times. But the Gita clearly says that it is the temperament dominant in you that should decide your work.
The quote above comes up in a situation when Venki, the young protagonist of the story, upsets his parents, who have been trying to arrange his marriage in the traditional South Indian way. Venki forgets to show up at home to meet a relative of the prospective bride. “Dad got up and went inside, teeming with rage,” narrates Venki. “Be sure your son doesn’t bring home a girl from another caste. I’ll shoot them both dead.”
Those angry remarks by his father prod Venki to probe the ugly role of the caste system in modern Indian society. His parents always quoted the Bhagvad Gita to justify themselves. So what did the Gita actually say about caste?
It has been interpreted by many scholars and spiritual teachers in different ways. However, in this ‘quirky and heart-warming’ look at the Gita in today’s context, Hari Haran, the author, finds a fictional way to revisit this trove of ancient wisdom. Venki, like the author, is a medical practitioner. He goes through many life experiences in the small town of Tirunelveli along with his close friend, Santosh, and at each turning point, he looks for answers in the verses of the Gita.
The fictional episodes about the two young men are narrated with drama and humour. The appeal of this book as a personal guide would vary depending on the life situations that you may be immersed in at the time of reading it. However, it is also fun to read as a general introduction to the deeper themes of the Bhagavad Gita with a light-hearted modern look. Ultimately we all make our own unique experiential paths by walking. Perhaps listening to fictional characters like Venki and laughter may help along the way!
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