BY: ANOOP CHANDOLA
Twelve-year-old, US born, East Indian Adina is searching for a lost family jewel. Her nani, maternal grandmother, claims to have offered the jewel to one of the Hindu gods in return for a grandchild, resulting in Adina’s birth. The family jewels are an Indian girl’s birthright, and should have come to Adina, but her mother secretly sold off the jewels, in defiance of Hindu tradition, after she divorced Adina’s father when Adina was two. So the lost “crown” jewel is the only one left…if Adina can only find it.
Her quest for this piece of jewelry takes her on a virtual trip through Hindu cosmology and mythology and Indian history. She uses her laptop to find images of a given god, goddess, or historical figure then mediates on that image while remembering all she knows about the being, thanks to her paternal grandparents’ tutelage in her Indian heritage. Adina’s meditations are extraordinary, however, in that the figure comes alive, and she can interact with that being—sometimes at her own peril…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Myth and Punishment by Anoop Chandola, Adina is a twelve-year-old East Indian/American girl from a broken home. Her mother gained full custody by lying about Adina’s father, accusing him of child abuse. Even though the judge knew the mother was lying, he still denied custody or unsupervised visitation to the father. On top of this, Adina’s mother secretly sold the family jewels (which were supposed to come to Adina), except for one, a piece of jewelry Adina calls the “crown jewel.” This jewel Adina’s maternal grandmother gave to one of the deities as payment for getting a grandchild, Adina. Adina searches for this jewel by contacting deities through virtual reality on her computer. Sort of. She meditates on a deity until the deity appears on her computer screen, and then she talks to them and asks them about the jewel. Her search takes her through a number of deities, who all deny any knowledge of the jewel. So how is she ever going to find it?
The story line is unique and clever. Chandola has crafted an informative and educational story, wrapped around a young heroine’s quest, providing an excellent media to teach young people about the many gods and goddess and the culture of the East Indian people.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Myth and Punishment by Anoop Chandola is the story of a young girl’s quest for knowledge. When American-born East Indian pre-teen, Adina, was two, her mother divorced her father, against East Indian tradition, and lied about him, thus restricting his access to Adina. Denied the love and support of her father and paternal grandparents, due to the illegal ruling of a judge who knew her mother was lying, Adina grows up bitter and angry. To add insult to injury, Adina’s mother sold off the family jewels, which were Adina’s birthright. All except for one. Adina’s maternal grandmother claimed to have offered a “crown jewel” to one of the gods in exchange for a grandchild, which turned out to be Adina. However, the grandmother, conveniently, cannot remember to which god or goddess she gave the jewel. Adina wants this last jewel back, so she appeals to the gods and goddesses by meditating on each one until they appear on her computer screen and she can talk to them about the jewel. As she conducts her interviews, she reviews the stories she has heard about each one, giving the reader an overview of the different deities. And sometimes, the gods have surprises for her, and even threatening her life when she makes them mad with her questions.
With an unusual storyline, fascinating characters, and a wealth of information on East Indian culture, traditions, and religions, as well as some timely lessons on equality and justice, Myth and Punishment is both an educational and entertaining read.
Agni Ignites: The Fire Within and Without
Agnimiiḷe purohitam “I praise Agni, the Priest.”
(The First Vedic Mantra)
As she sat down at her computer, Adina remembered what Dada had told her about Lord Agni, that the first prayer in the Rig Veda, the first scripture of the world, contained the mantras for Agni, the fire god. The ancient sages used fire, not just for cooking but to burn evil and to achieve enlightenment. Thus, Lord Agni was the greatest heavenly gift to humankind, both as the messenger between the gods and mortals and the provider of burnt offerings to the gods, even if he could be very dangerous. He was not like someone Prometheus stole from heaven.
That priests held Lord Agni in the highest regard and invoked Agni with this mantra, “Rise, O Agni! Wake up!”
Agni then rose up with the flames as, one by one, the food offerings were given to the fire and, through the smoke, all gods received the ritual offerings.
As Adina meditated on this glorious description of Lord Agni rising from the flames, a terrible forest fire appeared on Adina’s computer screen. She gazed steadily upon it and heard thunder as lightning flashed in her peripheral vision.
Suddenly the scene changed to a clear sky filled with bright sunlight, and Adina felt hot. Then the scene changed abruptly again, this time to a night scene with thousands of lamps, candles, and electric bulbs of various colors all dazzlingly bright. Still, Adina didn’t alter her steady gaze, for she remembered Dada’s description of the Vedic fire ceremony, homa or havana.
Then the scene changed yet again. A pot with flames rising in it was now on the screen before her, and a human voice came from the pot. “Dear little girl, I am Agni. You have seen my various forms, and indeed I have countless other forms of which you are not aware, but you have invoked my simplest and sacred form. I bless you.”
Adina folded her hands to show her respect to the fire god. “Namaste, Lord Agni.”
“I am very much pleased with you. What is your name?”
“My name is Adina…uh…and I am also called Adi.”
“A very good Vedic name. You will never be poor. You will live up to your name. Who are your parents?”
“My father is Danin–Dan for short.”
“He must donate to good causes. What is his family name?”
“Badoni. It’s his Himalayan Brahmin family name. Dada and Dadi are his father and mother. My mother’s name is Madhu, and her family name is Hota. Nana and Nani are her father and mother.”
“Your mother’s names are Vedic too. Madhu is mead for sweet. The Hotas are the priests who invoke deities at a homa ceremony. I am the first to be invoked as I am the purohita because I sit in the front. Now tell me very briefly why you have invoked me.”
“Briefly, I am looking for a lost crown jewel.”
“That jewel is on the crown of Queen Elizabeth. It’s not lost.”
“No, that is not the crown jewel I want. I am not a queen. Queen Elizabeth–I mean Her Majesty of Great Britain deserves that great crown jewel. My crown jewel is very small…uh…uh…and inexpensive, but means a lot to me for it will reveal the answer to a mystery.”
“I have no details, but I can tell you, I know surely, I can tell you now why I am so keen to get my crown jewel back. That is, back with me as soon as possible–with me. Oh, Lord.”
“Tell me whatever you have in mind for you appear to be burdened with pain. You and I need to talk to each other, to both open up as much as possible. Are you ready to open up to me? I can enlighten you and bestow on you the fire of eloquence.” The flames rose higher and Adina understood clearly that a heated discourse was in the offing.
“Yes, I now feel the ability to fire up my story with unexpected flares and flashes. I am grateful to you as much to Dada and Dadi.” She paused for a few seconds. “Do you see my laptop?”
“Yes. It runs with my power.”
“Using this computer, I found out the records of my parents’ divorce case. I was barely two years old in 2002, the year of their divorce, and now I am almost thirteen years old and know how to get information from the Internet. I found that my mother claimed that I said something against my father, and her parents supported her accusations. As a result, my father was kicked out of our home three days after my mother filed for divorce–”
“What about the accusations?” Lord Agni interrupted.
“The court found the accusations of child abuse false. But my father was allowed only minimum visitation rights and could only be with me under the strict watch of court-approved supervisors. My mother had complete custody, and when my father requested more time, equal time, the judge refused. As if this was not enough punishment of an innocent party, the judge further limited my father’s parents’ visitation to one day a week while my mother’s parents had no such constraint. The judge supported his ruling using a psychologist’s report–”
“Was the psychologist a court-appointed official?” Lord Agni inquired.
“Yes. But she should not have been the court’s psychologist, however, because of a conflict of interest. My mother had written a good review for this psychologist’s book, but the judge refused to declare this a conflict of interest–”
The god interrupted Adina again. “I understand the psychologist knowingly ignored her professional duty to never marginalize an innocent parent. Unfortunately, she is still working for the system!” Agni’s tone was somewhat angry, and Adina heard crackling coming from the firepot. “Yes, and she is still making good money, which is her priority, not doing what is right.”
Adina nodded. “I was told that Nani offered a small crown jewel to a god or goddess, one of the temple deities where she lived, requesting to have a grandchild. And the next year I was born. I am the only grandchild on both sides, and Nani claims I was born because of her offering and prayer.”
“Did your dada and dadi consider her claim seriously?”
“Dada and Dadi laughed at her claim, and Nani accused them of ridiculing her religion. But they all come from one and the same spiritual background, and you are the first god to be worshipped in their common religion. In fact, Dada started the naming ceremony on Nani’s request. Through a clay lamp you were invoked first in the ceremony and then the worship of Ganapati started. Dada told me that you are the first of all heavenly deities, and since it is you who carry our offerings to the other gods, which deity did Nani’s priest select for the offering of the crown jewel?”
“That is the only jewelry you can have?”
“By Hindu tradition, my parents’ jewelry would have been my inheritance but the rest of it was secretly sold by my mom just before she filed for divorce. Dad didn’t know what else was happening behind his back.”
“All right,” Lord Agni said. “I understand your problem, but the priest who made the offering for your nani did not come to me through havana. He must have performed the non-Vedic ceremony, the Puja. And so I do not know to which deity that offering was made.”
“Dada has told me the history of homa and Puja, and the two differ in their origin and practice. For your homa, a few spoonfuls of clarified butter dropped with Vedic mantras over a sacred fireplace are enough to make you happy. The more grease the more fire!”
“You are too smart for your age. I understand you have suffered a lot because of false accusations, but you should be happy that your father was deemed innocent by the court. Your personal doctor’s report does not show any of the abuse that your mother and her lawyer claimed happened. The judge should have understood your mother’s reason for such extreme charges–complete control of your life. Indeed, the judge was most incompetent not to recognize an obvious fraud. Your mother claimed you had accused him of being an abusive father, but a twenty-two-month old baby has no such understanding of human evil, let alone the speaking ability to convey it. All child specialists know this. I know this. Even illiterate mothers know this. One has to be either an idiot or a crook to believe such impossible things.”
“Dad’s lawyers call what she did malicious intent,” Adina added.
“This world would have been much better if there were no malicious liars, but they are among us. However, those who support such liars are more guilty because they have harmed innocent people even more. The judge was in power to correct this fraud. He cannot say, ‘Oh, the wife was unhappy with her marriage, and the fact that she made such terrible allegations to get out of this marriage is not a big deal.’ Just as he cannot say, ‘Oh, it is not a big deal that the husband slapped his wife once a week to show his unhappiness with his marriage.’ Just as he cannot say, ‘Oh, Osama bin Laden wanted to vent his anger against America and claimed it was God’s will, so no big deal.’ There is something wrong with this judge. He doesn’t realize how much destruction her lies have done to her daughter and husband. She is using an innocent child to get out of this marriage. Some day that child, you, will become an adult and realize what a stigma she got for her inheritance. Instead, your mother sold the family jewelry in a cowardly fashion–”
“Lord, I don’t care for that jewelry, but the crown jewel is very important.”
Although Adina again highlighted her desire to find the crown jewel, the fire god was still angry about the poor decision of the judge. “The judge ignored Nani’s poor understanding of religion. His biggest fault is that he grossly ignored the American ideals of justice and equality. He has sent a message that, in the land where there are more literate people than in any other, one can lie and be rewarded no matter how the lie destroys others. This is not right. This is a national disgrace. Anything else the judge or others missed on purpose?” Lord Agni now seemed to be interested in hearing more. The flames flared up and thick smoke poured forth. “Claiming to be just without the fire of accountability is not justice,” the fire god said, fuming. “Your story sounds hot. A burning tale is true hot stuff, not a smoking gun event shown for sensation. I hope you are not making it up. Are you?”
“Not at all, my lord! My story is not just mine. I will say it again and again. My story represents thousands of innocent victims, not just from the USA but from many other countries. Humans have failed to stop these stories. Some, men and women, vigorously support the villains of these stories. They don’t care about the huge number of suicides committed every year by the accused innocent victims. Human efforts have failed to stop the defenders of the villains. So I am seeking divine intervention.”
“Then continue your story, dear Adi.”
Emboldened by the fiery god’s affectionate command, Adi continued to disclose a dark secret which had been hushed. “Lord, my father mentioned that my mother was upset one evening and said that she had a gun. Nani and Dad got scared. Nani slapped Mom, but Mom denied in her testimony that such an incident ever happened. Dad told the court that this proves that she has a serious problem with lying, but in truth so does Nani, for Nani supported Mom’s version that the incident never occurred. Those false things, including saying that I made such a terrible allegation against my father when I was less than two-years old, Mom and Nani consider plain truth even today.”
“Did you say that she had a gun and the court did not take this allegation seriously?”
“That’s what Dad says.”
“Your state’s corrupt legal system desperately needs immediate corrections. His testimony about the gun should not have been ignored. Husbands have been shot dead by disgruntled wives. Such murders were feared even at the time of the Rig Veda, about three thousand years ago. This is why, in a Vedic wedding, the bridegroom requires a vow from the bride in my presence that she will ‘never be a malicious seer and murderer’ of her husband, except in self-defense. Did your nana and nani really arrange for a Vedic wedding?”
“Yes, we have evidence of that.” Adina was a little baffled. The Vedic fire god had just explained the meaning of Hota. Maybe he was asking because many Brahmins now considered themselves liberated from the old ways, she reasoned.
“The Vedic wedding of your parents included the seven-step ceremony wherein the bride accepts the last step as the bridegroom says, ‘Take the seventh step for our friendship.’ If she takes the seventh step, then this is acceptance of her permanent journey with this husband. All these vows are taken in front of me. That is why a Vedic marriage ceremony results in what is called a ‘fire-tested’ marriage.”
“Dada and Dadi, as well as Nana and Nani, were married the way you are describing, Lord. They took the vows as they moved around you seven times.”
“Yes, but your nana and nani don’t realize how much they have insulted me. They are unable to read the sacred Veda. Their family name, Hota, is phony. They have made a mockery of their religion. It is clear that your maternal grandparents didn’t teach their daughter the value of speaking truth straightforwardly. They participated in destroying their own daughter’s family.”
“The judge made no such comments, though.” Adina wanted to bring this fact to Agni’s attention.
“The judge made a terrible blunder by rewarding a liar. He would be wise to study cases wherein family members were murdered by a wife in his own jurisdiction. He will find out that a deranged wife isn’t so stupid as to tell her husband what she is plotting behind his back. Did you ever hear a terrorist disclosing his plot before the attack? All kinds of terrorists, the domestic variety included, those who destroy families, are cowards. They put all responsibility for their destructive acts on God’s will. According to the Nine/Eleven terrorists, God granted their wish to destroy the World Trade Center in New York, and your mother, no doubt, imagines such impossible commands of God to justify her terror too.”
Adina heard big crackling sounds from the firepot as much smoke and flares rose upward.
She broke the brief pause. “If I had been big enough, like I am now, I would have told the judge that I always loved my dad and he has always loved me. He has been the most gentle and kind man to me. His witnesses said this. Some witnesses of my mother supported her, common friends of my parents, but they were moved because my mother cried before them. She cried before the judge too, several times. The judge didn’t say a word about her conflicting statements. In one place she would say how I loved my father, and then later she would say how I was afraid of him. Her lawyers had the same problem of giving conflicting statements.”
“Clearly, the judge is incompetent. Your father may not be as good at the art of crying, which liars use to gain mercy.”
“Yes, my mother’s witnesses believed her planned tears. How can decent people sit with their children around the dinner table with no thought of my true tears!”
“Your mother must have coached her witnesses, but now they and any other friends she shares in common with your father know that the court found her claims to be baseless. They won’t trust her anymore, though they may only say such things behind her back. Your mother’s name may be Madhu, but she turned out to be utterly bitter for her own husband and daughter. She couldn’t live up to her name. She couldn’t extend even common civility and courtesy to her loved ones, and so how can this court-proven liar love her friends? They will speak this way about her, and indeed, such backbiting will be common. Losing the trust of friends will cause my heat to rise within her in the form of unusually high anxiety. She may try to extinguish my fire with her false tears, but the heat will remain with her. You will also feel my heat, but in a positive way for I have burned your guilt. You are pure. This is my promise to you. Now you promise me that you will bring the facts to light.”
“I will. You are my light. Dada told me that your name is Pavaka, the purifier. You have made me feel much better about myself. Thank you, my lord!”
Suddenly, the flames disappeared and so did the pot. Adina waited to hear the faceless voice for a few moments, for she thought Agni would continue. Instead, she heard the sudden thunder of an approaching storm marching toward her with blinding dust. The lightning looked as if it might ignite a great fire to make the Earth a big homa, but she was not frightened. Agni’s unexpected harsh criticism of malicious liars and their supporters was like a tranquilizer for her, and she felt absolutely no fright at all. Only Agni could be so fiery within and without.
Adi quietly shut the computer down and left her desk. Outside, she saw beautiful sunshine, but there was a great storm brewing on the horizon.
© 2017 by Anoop Chandola
Midwest Book Review:
Myth and Punishment charts a mission undertaken by a preteen East Indian girl, Adina, who has long been told the family legend of how a family jewel was offered to the Hindu gods in exchange for her birth. The other family jewels were sold off; so even though she had an inheritance, she needs to find the single largest, missing jewel if she’s to have anything for her future. Resentful of the circumstances which have led to her broken family ties and the squandering of her birthright, Adina embarks on a quest supported, in an unusual manner, by her laptop computer and her connections to the gods. An unusual blend of mythology, high technology, and quest results.
It’s difficult to immediately peg the reader of Myth and Punishment: Adina’s meditations, search for a missing family heirloom, and interactions with various gods contacted via her laptop all seem to be higher-level thinking and action than a story directed to pre-teens. Indeed, more advanced young adult readers will be the likely audiences of a narrative which delves into the realms and mythology of Shiva, Ganesha, Kali, and the creation and avatar stories of India.
It’s unusual to find such a thought-provoking juxtaposition of meditative reflection, history and culture, and social insights in a young adult read, but Myth and Punishment does a fine job of exploring the evolution of a cause that affects not only one girl’s family, but her world. Young adult readers seeking stories well infused with Indian myths and their connections to modern life will find Myth and Punishment compelling and thought-provoking, offering a degree of social, political and psychological insights not usually seen in young adult fiction. ~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, MIdwest Book Review READ FULL REVIEW