Too Good to Miss #2
In my first posting, Too Good to Miss #3, I mentioned having circulated privately or selectively two "reviews" or "recommendations," and that I would attempt to reconstruct them for this Blog. Well, as luck would have it, I found I had archived one of them in a forgotten folder from 2002...
I have just finished reading a novel I think might interest many, if not most of us. It is by U. R. Anantha Murthy [a compound last name beginning with Anantha], an Indian author born in 1932.
The novel is entitled Samskara: a rite for a dead man (Oxford University Press, 1979, 1998). The book was a bestseller when it appeared in India in the mid 1960s and was made into a smash motion picture in 1970.
Samskara is a word of many meanings and layers of meaning, including the act of sanctifying, or the proper performance of anything, any rite or ritual, or a funeral rite.
The setting is southern India about 45-50 years ago. The protagonist is a high-caste Brahmin scholar who lives in a small agrarian community of Brahmins who live a hand-to-mouth existence, depending upon their being hired by nearby villagers to perform rites for the free meal afterwards. The life of the entire community is governed by die-hard ossified "tradition."
A member of the community died, a man who was a renegade, who not only denied but also mocked the Dharma and its obligations in public. (Dharma - Think "Toyreh" in the Yiddish sense.) Should he be cremated? Who should officiate, etc.
The protagonist traverses this brief novel (138 pages with a wonderful afterword) from religious orthodoxy to doubt and loss of faith to possible redemption, as he tries to solve the knotty problem of the renegade's funeral.
Frankly I am surprised this novel has not been translated into Hebrew, for the parallels between the Hindu Dharma and Jewish "Toyreh" are so clear.
But this is not book one will find at any of the College's Libraries.(The library of the University of Cincinnati lists it in its holding.) Yet it is definitely worth seeking out and reading.