Cynicism is best countered by humor.
Puranic tales, as a rule, are told for the edification of the worldly. But how do we tackle the cynics? Cynicism is best countered by wit and humor, satire and sarcasm. And that's exactly what Rajasekhar Bose "Parashuram" did from the 1930s to the 1950s, writing in Bengali.
There are 20 tales culled out from the puranas, itihasas like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and kavyas like the Meghdoot of Kalidasa. But the tale as told by Parashuram commences virtually where the original episode ends, or as it is halfway through; then he creates imaginary situations, taking off from the context of the tale, to include incisive criticism of evils found in contemporary society in politics, culture and religion ' almost reminiscent of the great 18th Century Malayalam poet Kunjan Nambiar ' and completes the tale in an inimitable manner, even with a twist at the end! Parashuram does this in a style that is curiously light and sharp at the same time.
The first story, "Jabali", is important in the sense that the character of the sage Jabali is somewhat akin to that of Rajasekhar Bose himself ' that the inveterate social critic and seeming cynic, who delivers words of practical wisdom to Ram, echoes the author's views. He tries to convince Ram very logically about the futility of adhering to the letter of religion. But when Ram refuses to budge and does not value Jabali's advice, he turns around and says that he had said all that not because he didn't have faith in religion and spirituality, but to use everything in his power to dissuade Ram from undertaking the self-destructive forest sojourn.
"Surpanakha's Reminiscences" begins with a t'te-'-t'te in the immediate circle of the author and his acquaintances and slips into a discussion about the memoirs of Surpanakha he is engaged in writing. It presents the importunate sister of Ravan who is after Ram, not as mutilated by Lakshman but as a moody epileptic.
Mahaveer Hanuman's imaginary wife-hunt and the doubts associated with marriage in "Hanuman's Dream" make for uproarious laughter: At one point Hanuman asks Sugreev "How do you keep this gaggle of women under control? Don't they quarrel? Don't they torture you with words like arrows?" This eternal celibate turns into a tool of impeccable humor in the hands of Parashuram.
The translators have done a wonderful job, despite the fact that they were faced with a daunting task ' that of translating humor into English, from a language that is far removed in kinship terms. Indialog Publications deserves all praise for doing their bit for cynical people!