Ganesha Goes to Lunch (Classics from Mystic India) by Kamla K. Kapur

Deep, delightful myths retold in simple, contemporary language!

Ganesha Goes to Lunch by Kamla K. Kapur is a collection of twenty four stories drawn from the oral tradition of mythical tales in India. The stories are retold in contemporary language, and maintain the essential structure and characteristics of the folklores. Kamla’s choice of stories ranges from tales about why Ganesha has elephant’s trunk, to the marriage of Shiv-Parvati to the creation of Brahma and universe. The story of the friendship of Sudama and Krishna is retold as is the tale of Vishwamitra-Vashisht rivalry.

The Bharatiya (Indian) tradition thrives on stories passed on from generation to generation. Each generation adds its own experience to knowledge and reinterprets the understanding passed to them. The Hindu myths by their very nature don’t have absolutes. They represent Gods or men trapped in their vices, roused or limited by their virtues, acting in response to the demands that existence as humans on earth demands from us. The attempt is to create examples as prototypes to deal with contradictions and complexities that daily strife, be it in war, peace, family matters, need, greed, valor, and amorous desires lead us to. This had lead to several epics about avataars or incarnations, and as humans Gods lead exemplary lives, faulting at times, and suffering for them. In Kamla’s collection, the gems from the boundless sea of folklore are picked, polished and repackaged to lure Western audiences as well as those Indian readers who have learned most from English education and English Literature.

The book has a number of pictures and illustrations, which allow a non-Indian reader to visualize the God or character in question. We Indians grow up with these tales, and somehow we imbibe their lessons into our being without realizing when or how. The modern age has brought a slew of stories and media into our household, and in these times, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the shallow characterizations and sensationalist serials. The demands of materialistic modern life, makes it even more important for us to connect to the spiritual wisdom of centuries, the philosophy both rich and humbling is present in highly entertaining form in these stories. Kamla Kapur’s effort is commendable in both the spirit and the style of execution.

While most of these stories can be read out to children, a few characterizations are little more sensual than I would have hoped for. The discussion about Shiva and Shakti, the male and female powers, is done quite boldly, whereas my encounters with these stories as a child were in an understatement, and in euphemisms. Perhaps the retelling must respond to the contemporary world, where the Victorian writing, the euphemisms are considered trite and cliched. The tale from Ramayana, incorrectly mentions that Hanuman brought Sanjivini (or the hill with that herb on it) for reviving Ram (I am certain that it was needed for Laxman). Aside from these quips, most of the stories are brief and well written, and will form a good reading for people of all ages.

Myths by their very nature appeal to the heroic, and the virtuous elements of our being. Kamla’s rendition ensures that the heroic and mystic elements are distilled into a reader’s consciousness. The simplicity of language, the delightful imagery, the translation as if of whole oral tradition of myths into this eclectic collection speaks volumes about Kamla’s craftsmanship and reverence for these tales. While the tales are derived from Hindu myths, the structure, the impact, the ideals, the virtues they inspire transcend time, space and religion. I enjoyed these, and so I hope you will too.


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