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Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Dirty desks and clean toilet seats

The pregnant king (Penguin, Rs 295) by Devdutt Pattanaik is based on the story of King Yuvanasha of Vallabhi that appears twice in the Mahabharat. In a bizarre twist of fate, Yuvanasha drinks a potion intended for his barren wife and conceives a child himself. The legend of the pregnant king, fraught with the peculiarities of gender and sexuality, is worthy of a fictional retelling. Pattanaik, who is “a medical doctor by training, a marketing consultant by profession, and a mythologist by passion”, has reworked this obscure myth into a full-fledged novel. The tale seems to have fascinated both the medic and the mythologist in Pattanaik, but has sadly failed to arouse his literary instincts. The result is a tedious narrative, burgeoning with historical information but singularly lacking in style. The tone alternates between the pompous and the pedestrian, while the plot is a mishmash of fact, fiction and philosophical waffle.

Great myth conceptions (HarperCollins, Rs 250) by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is dedicated to Lord Ganesh, and reads partly like a private joke and partly like a spoof of everything under the sun. However seriously the good doctor may try to debunk our notions about the world surrounding us, the reader would be tempted to take him with a pinch of salt (refer to the photo-gallery at the end for proof). This is a chronicle of many curiosities — from the history of Einstein’s brain to that of the anaesthetic bomb, from the “chemistry of zombification” to the domestication of the goldfish. In these pages you would be variously instructed (should you flush the toilet with lid up or down?) as well as informed: for instance, “on average, a desk has 50 times more bacteria per square centimetre than a toilet seat!”

Dance (Katha, Rs175) by M. Mukundan has been translated from the Malayalam by D. Krishna Ayyar and K.G. Ramakrishnan. Although the novella is set across several continents — India, Europe and America — much of it unfolds in cyberspace. T.P. Sreedharan has just ventured into the virtual world, and is pathologically enamoured of his hotmail inbox. Sreedharan starts getting emails from a stranger called Agni. Agni is an exponent of Kalaripayattu, the martial art form from Kerala. Spotted by Rudolf, who is trained in modern European dance, Agni travels all over the world, before he is drawn into a vicious circle of homosexual intrigue, racial tension and professional betrayal. Finally, he is diagnosed with AIDS. The storyline is flimsy, and the prose sometimes a little too smart for its own good.

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