BLF2020 | Food and Faith – Shoba Narayan with Mani Rao

Mani Rao started off the session by giving an introduction about Shoba Narayan and her writing techniques. Upon discussing her versatile writing style, her various interests, and her works, she prompted the discussion further. Shoba Narayan, aided by Mani Rao’s questions and thoughts, explored the connection between food and faith, just as she has in her book with the same name. In today’s session, Narayan talked about Prasadam (sacred food) that is served all over the country in different temples. She made it clear that she covered many places of worship, not just Hindu temples, but also other sacred places like Churches.

Narayan narrated her experience in deciding on these particular places that she would visit and write about. She looked for places wherever there was a deep connection between religion/faith and food. Through an intense discussion, she conveyed her thoughts on how the connection between faith and food, regardless of which religion, is intimate and powerful.

Narayan took us on a journey across various regions all over India, each and every direction. Engaging with her, we traveled from Bangalore to all these different places like Madurai, Udupi, Kashi, Ajmer, Goa, Puri, Amritsar and so many more.

Later, the discussion steered towards the method and technique she had adopted to make this book a reality. She gave insight into the style of the book which is similar to a travel memoir, along with intense research work. As a writer and a columnist about everyday topics like food, travel, fashion, etc., she revealed that she adopted a similar method by drawing many ideas and research from her articles.

She talked about how in the book, she draws from her experiences with a lot of countries that she has visited which carry the remains of old civilizations, like Greece, Egypt, and China. She compared and contrasted these different cultures with India. She talked about how India has sustained older civilizations and religious practices, which acted as a catalyst when she was trying to decide on the content of this book.

Rao commented on Narayan’s belief that she is a “skeptical seeker on a pilgrimage.” This fueled an intense discussion about her religious beliefs and how this journey shaped that belief system. Narayan also shared many anecdotes about her numerous experiences as a part of this journey. These tales gave us an insight into the working of these temples and how they produce Prasadam, how they perceive it, and their beliefs. These experiences, we could clearly see, changed her entire thought process about faith. She also talked about how she learned to respect the different places and their working, but also critique problematic approaches without being offensive.

Later, she revealed to us that she was driven to go on this journey and explore this connection because she was interested in finding the inner truth far more than focusing on different doctrines prevalent in India. Towards the end, she also briefly covered the working of these different places of worship through a feminist lens. The session concluded with a very interactive question-answer session.

About the Author: Immersed in the process of unlearning and relearning different values and ideas, Nanditha Murali chooses writing as her medium to approach the world. She is currently pursuing her English (Honours) degree at Christ University, Bangalore. She currently writes for TheSeer.

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BLF2020 | Mythology via Women – Madhavi S Mahadevan, Rashmi Terdal and Samhita Arni with Mani Rao

Mythology is long-lived, and its retelling is spread across in various formats, from poems to fictional novels. It’s the second day of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020, and we had a panel of women writers who have written around mythical characters and stories.

Mani Rao, an author who featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, was the moderator. In the panel, we had Madhavi; she’s a book critic and writer of children’s stories and short stories. She has written two books based on the characters of the Mahabharata. Next, we had Samhita Arni, known for her books ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Prince.’  Then we had Rashmi Terdal, journalist and writer, well known for her translation of ‘Uttara Kaanda’ by S. L. Bhyrappa.

Mani began the conversation by asking the ladies what led them towards writing around mythology and mythical characters.

Madhavi responded that she had heard the stories since her childhood, but it’s only now she realizes how bleak they are. She feels these tales not only need a retelling but a reinvention from a women’s perspective because the role of the women is undermined in the epics. She gives an instance from one of her books, the central character named Madhavi is a surrogate mother. And this story dates back to the Mahabharata times. It was an incident of commercial surrogacy, which is a huge business now.

Samhita shared her view that she had always heard mythical stories that glorify only men’s achievements. If we want to challenge our system for a change, both men and women should join hands and not just either of us. Thus, it is essential to bring forth victories and stories of women from the legacy to influence the future and current generations.

Rashmi said that the versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that she had read were abbreviated and subdued from a women’s perspective. The female voice is kept submissive and mellow, whereas the men’s heroics are glorified. These things drew her towards writing on the mythical stories from the perspective of the women characters.

Mani asked the panel if their being women influenced their writing and if it would be different for a male writer?

Madhavi said that her being a woman has definitely helped her get to know her book’s character, ‘Madhavi’ more precisely. Samhita said that she was subconsciously driven since she is a woman even though she never wanted her gender to be influential. Rashmi adds to her previous point that Ramayan has always been obsessed with the duties bestowed upon women. She gives an instance where king Dasharatha reminds Kaushalya of her priorities (husband, children, and kinsmen). Then she jumps to another example where Sita leaves the Dharma-Sabha where her exile’s decision took place. Ram was disturbed after Sita left and expressed his concern to his minister, which is highlighted in the book ‘Uttara Kaanda’. She appreciates the writer for giving Sita the voice she deserved and that we need more such writing.

“A woman rejected by a man can cross oceans, but a man rejected by a woman cannot do anything.” – Ram’s words to his minister from the book ‘Uttara Kaanda.’

They concluded the session with a note that Sita was liberated when she left the Dharma-Sabha, and this is just one character from the mythology. There are great stories of women who rose above everything that needed to be told and written about.

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.