This book is an adult version of the Amar Chitra Katha and Jataka tales all Indian children are brought up on. Myths and Legends of India is a delight to read, with many an interesting, and sometimes shocking, revelation. Joyfully irreverent of the current norms of decency, Radice sets out to portray an uncensored image of the country’s past.
The author has tried to remain true to the Indian tradition of oral story-telling. From a wide variety of sources, including the epics and the Puranas, from Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s writings to Rabindranath Tagore’s, he masterfully combines extracts from other books and connects them with his own retelling in order to entertain the reader.
Colourful interpretation of the exploits of Hindu gods and goddesses, the legends of heroes like Harishchandra and Ram and direct translations of the verses of the Mahabharata constitute the mainstay of the book. Radice draws on the staple diet of Indian culture — religion — even when narrating folktales.
It is doubtful if India’s mythological past will ever fade from its collective memory. The author has glorified this aspect of our history. But this glorified past is also responsible for the status of women in Indian society. Thus the female characters in the book are unfailingly portrayed as the dutiful wife, mother and daughter, giving up everything without question, just to make the men in their lives happy. For that is the only way they can atone for the sin of being women. Even when the women are empowered, it is to gratify the male. In Radice’s stories, the women get their just reward in the end. But in real life, this is hardly so.
Our ancestors do not seem to have been environmentally conscious for the handsome kings always seem to be going out on epic hunts to show their prowess. At the end of the journey a beautiful maiden awaits them. Beauty is exalted, and ugliness shown as a terrible burden.
Neither socially, nor politically very correct, Indian mythology gives a fair indication of how far Indian society has travelled. The pleasure of reading this book lies in the fact that one can forget the present, and rejoice in the fantasies of the past.