World Book Day 2020: From Mahabharata to Ponniyin Selvan, 5 books that inspire, stand taller than the rest

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By Sai Swaroopa Iyer

World Book Day 2020: While we celebrate the fact that the books are our best friends and resolve to keep up and promote the habit of reading, there are some books that change our lives. Some books show us the direction, some grow with us (rather, we grow with them), offering something new every time we turn through the pages, some books provide the much needed break from our monotonous lives and some books teach us to value what we have.

Mahabharata is one such book reading which is a journey that lasts a whole life (or even beyond this life!) I was introduced to the epic by my mother, Amar Chitra Katha, being the first version I read. Abridged versions like those of Rajagopalachari, Kamala Subramanian, Krishnamachari and finally unabridged translations like KM Ganguli and Dr. Bibek Debroy found an inseparable part of my life. With a myriad of unforgettable aspects, be it the friendship between Krishna and Draupadi, the valour of Arjuna, the intellect of Vidura or the resilience of Kunti, This epic by Bhagavan Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa finds a way to stir up the latent intellect within and put us on a stimulating path of transformation, only to give an experience of a different level the next time we read it, and the tryst goes on.

Chinna Katha was another collection of short stories and anecdotes from Puranic corpus quoted by Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba in his speeches. I can comfortably say it set the foundation for my spiritual education; like a gateway to a world of rich intellectual legacy that every Indian inherits and often is unaware of.

Krishnavatara by KM Munshi is a series of books which I term as a game changer in my life! I was introduced to the series as a young professional, fresh into my first job. The depth of commentaries on Dharma and society that Munshi ji enunciated through the story of Lord Krishnna makes it a classic which you want to go back again and again. To me, Krishnavatara was the book that turned me into an author, showing in action, how to responsibly wield the artistic weapon called creative liberty while retaining the peerless core of Bhagavan Vyasa

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is often termed as a bible for creatives is a book I read every year, like a mental pilgrimage. Pressfield terms the obstacle faced by creatives as resistance, which takes on different forms, like fear, lack of confidence, righteous dilemma, etc to name some and attack any point of weakness that a creative is vulnerable to. Drawing pearls of wisdom from his own experience as well as from those of his peers, Pressfield explains how sheer will and discipline of a creative makes him/her invulnerable to the effects of the not so reliable 'muse'. Turning Pro by the same author is a great add on read which details out the characteristics that differentiate a professional from an amateur.

Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthi is a five volume fictional rendering about the rise of Emperor Raja Raja Chola. Apart from bringing alive the southern India that existed in the 11th Century, the story is a treasure trove of debates and discussions centred on statecraft, philosophy, ethical dilemmas of a king and so on. Lively characters like Poonkuzhalai, Vandiyadevan, Azhwar Kadiyan, Nandini, Kundavai and a score of others are sure to stay etched in the reader's mind for a long time. Strong female protagonists, unapologetic in their demeanour with an enviable clarity of thought can challenge some long held stereotypes about women in Ancient India.

There are many books that leave a mark on my heart. But the above stand apart, taller than the rest.

(Sai Swaroopa Iyer is the author of several books including ‘Draupadi – Tale of an Empress’, ‘Avishi’, ‘Abhaya’ and ‘Mauri’. An IITian and former analyst with a venture capital firm, the author is working on her next book. Views expressed are the author’s own.)