118 years of Trust BOOK REVIEWS
Sunday, July 19, 1998
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Punjabi Literature by Jaspal Singh
Billing earns top billing
Avtar Singh Billing has made a name for himself as a short-story writer ...

Politics as it is practised
The Insider by P.V. Narasimha Rao. Viking, India. Pp 767. Rs 695

This King’s stories are a riddle
Wizard and glass by Stephen King. Hodder and Stoughton, London. Pp. 340. Rs 2,000.
Mind your Vedic language
The Vedic Language and Exegesis by Ram Gopal. Spellbound Publications, Rohtak. Pp. 228. Rs 400.

Plurality, tolerance are the soul of Hinduism

Hinduism: The Eternal Tradition (Sanatana Dharma) by David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri). Voice of India, New Delhi. Pp. 261. Rs 100.
50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence 50 years on indian independence
50 years on indian independence

Punjabi literature
Billing earns top billing
by Jaspal Singh
AVTAR SINGH BILLING has made a name for himself as a short-story writer with the publication of two collections, “Maut de sae heth” and “Apna khoon”. Now he has established himself equally well as a novelist with the publication of his very first “Naranjan Mashalchi” (Ravi Sahit Parkashan, Amritsar).
He is probably among a few novelists in Punjabi who have used new narrative techniques and devices. The novelist skilfully experiments with first person narrative to give expression to his ideas and feelings. Woven around a well constructed plot, “Naranjan Mashalchi” begins from the end and Kashmira Singh, one of the main characters, unfolds the story in the flash-back technique. Naranjan, the protagonist and the father of the narrator, kills his wife before killing himself in a fit of neurotic anger sparked by extreme suspicion and paranoia.
As the people wait for the dead bodies to reach the cremation ground from nearby town hospital where postmortem and certain other legal formalities have to be completed, Kashmira, in deep anguish, follows the memory trail and “sees” the events of last 25 years or so like a film in slow motion.
It is a story of a family of marginal Jat farmers in a village near Khanna. Naranjan, the head of the family, tills his small plot of land which he gets as his share from the joint family of three brothers. Both he and his wife Gurmeet work very hard, yet they lead a wretched life.
With the advent of the green revolution and addition of a little more land, they generate a surplus, buy a new house and sink a tubewell in the field. They send their son Sheera (Kashmira Singh) to school and then to college where he gets stuck in the third year. He is then withdrawn from the college and is engaged in farming. However, his younger sister Jeeto now goes to college as a science student.
With Sheera now looking after the farm, the family becomes a little more prosperous. In the days of hardship both the husband and wife jointly waged a grim struggle for survival. But now with economic ease, the husband gradually becomes redundant, more so after his son’s withdrawal from the college.
At this juncture he is possessed by suspicion, verging on mental sickness, about the doings of his wife who has become totally indifferent to his physical needs. He tracks her movements, thinking that she has gone utterly immoral. This obviously is a false suspicion.
In such a situation Gurmeet, after having totally withdrawn from her husband, remains attached to her daughter. Sheera is usually busy in the field. The old man is isolated and pushed to the wall. He stops taking interest in the village affairs as well where earlier he enthusiastically participated against the wishes of his wife. In fact during night-long singing and dancing in the village, he would be in charge of the torch, which earns him the sobriquet “mashalchi”. More, he would join wandering bards for some time, that is why he could recite and sing many verses based on various legends.
Now in his fifties, this extrovert and indulgent farmer keeps severely to himself. The husband and wife cannot stand each other. The clash of egos and the inordinate urge to dominate create unbearable tension in the family. The husband being alone and alienated, becomes morbidly capricious. Neurotic disorder deepens with time. His wife’s ill-temper and negligence aggravate the malady.
The son tries to resolve the tension by stressing the importance of harmonious husband-wife relationship. He even seeks some psychiatric advice for his father. But in vain. Instead the father believes that everybody around is eccentric and abnormal, always out to harm him in one way or the other. So once a virile Naranjan now behaves like a patient of schizophrenia and in this condition he kills his wife and then kills himself in an attempt to seek release from the intolerable worldly bondage.
Within the framework of this chronological story-line, the novelist has packed a lot of information about the people’s way of life, their beliefs and superstitions, their caste and community relations in the village, their rites, rituals and ceremonies, their festivals and entertainments and how they underwent a transformation from pre-partition days upto the advent of the green revolution and the linguistic reorganisation of the state of Punjab. The emergence of the naxalite movement in Punjab that shook village society in the sixties and seventies is also woven into the novel.
At the time of partition in 1947, the Muslims in the village were converted to Sikhism. They were given sacred “kakkas” to wear. But as soon as peace returned, an army truck came to the village to help them out. All Muslims except one “Ali” happily boarded it with the words,”Sambhalo kachh, kara, kirpan/asin tan challe Pakistan.” (here take your kachh, kara and kirpan; we are off to Pakistan). While departing, they threw the newly made kachhs, and gatras over the gurdwara fence.
Even in the fifties though Sikhism had been formally adopted by most of the farming families, they still practised many Hindu rituals. For instance, faith in sadhus and sants who belonged to various tantaric cults still persisted among the Sikhs. Many Sikhs carried the mortal remains of their elders to Hardwar, not to Kiratpur. Worship of dead ancestors (saradh) Sitala Mata, Guga and certain other local manifestations was common among the Sikhs.
In fact the Punjabi Suba morcha of the fifties and early sixties broke the Sikhs away from the Hindu cults and brought them around the gurdwaras. The morcha also created a little bitterness between the two communities in Punjab since the Hindus were not ready to accept Punjabi as their mother tongue. The Hindus had their own reasons. The wounds of partition were still fresh in their minds.
The new generation of the farming community in the Punjabi-speaking part of Punjab quickly adopted Sikhism, though the elderly people, leaving aside a few jathedars, still practised Hindu rituals and used tobacco. All the villages in Malwa and Puad did not have gurdwaras, though they had shivalas, guga maaris and sitala thaans.
This change in beliefs and perceptions, a relevant topic for sociological studies, is presented in a natural way in the novel. The worship of rain gods in the days of drought and the cremation of a rag doll by village maidens to propitiate the Megh (cloud gods) to drench the parched land have been arrestingly delineated with accompanying incantations. Worship of Sanjhi with songs and verses has been made part of the text. A marriage ceremony, when the baraat stayed for two days has also been given with folk rituals like bonding of the marriage party with a riddle by the girls at the time of the main meal and its unbonding with a recitation by one of the members of the marriage party.
A sample of marriage folk songs particularly “sithanian” (sarcastic songs) has also been given. Even in the fifties brides could not be found for all the boys in the villages. Exchange marriages and “buying” of a bride from the East or from the hills was not a taboo among the farming communities. The village entertainments at that time mainly consisted of jalsas, akharas, nakals, kavishari, dhadhis and so on. Entertainments were organised after the sundown and they went on into late night. Old legends of Punjab or tales from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were narrated in the form of folk verses and lyrics with the accompaniment of traditional musical instruments.
Politics of Punjabi Suba as it was discussed in the village communities has been realistically presented in an argument mode. The reorganisation of Punjab in the sixties and the advent of the green revolution in the state and the consequent transformation in people’s outlook has been captured vividly but in glimpses. The turbulent sixties in Punjab also gave birth to the naxalite movement which at that time created panic among the landed aristocracy. This movement has been briefly commented upon by introducing a few leftist characters in the novel.
To do justice to all these socio-economic-politico-cultural aspects of life, the novel needs to be of epic proportion. Billing has devised a unique narrative method to present his subject matter in 216 compact pages. His arrangement of events and development of characters in well structured sub-plots make for smooth reading; the book can be finished in a couple of sittings.
Avtar Singh Billing has raised the reader’s expectations and he is a writer to watch in the years to come.

Politics as it is practised
The Insider by P.V. Narasimha Rao. Viking, India. Pp 767. Rs 695.
CONSIDERING the length, the content, the time-frame and the characters, “The Insider” is a book written in epic tradition. The question whether it is an autobiography or part fiction can be endlessly debated by the readers, the critics and the reviewers. The fact, however, remains that this long narrative by Narasimha Rao on the life of Anand is coterminous with his own life. The Machiavellian characters and political mazes encountered by Anand and portrayed in the book are probably the experiences of the author himself which made him one of the most mature players — to the extent of being stoic — in the contemporary political history of India. The moral of the epic is also reasonably well brought out and well woven into the plot: politics is all intrigues hidden under endless onion peels of “morality.”
The question about the autobiographical nature of this book stands reasonably answered on the very first page where the author has recorded his acknowledgements to, “First and foremost, the scores of friends, colleagues and other persons who are fictionalised in this book as characters in the story. They have generously lent their flesh and blood, their tempers and idiosyncrasies, and their remarkable human characteristics.”
Further, in the preface, Rao asserts that “this is not a regular autobiography, nor is it entirely a work of fiction, wherein the writer has the freedom to create characters and improvise the situation at will. It is, however, a tale of Indian politics in two volumes, spanning half a century in which I have tried to mesh historical reality with the lives of several fictional and semi-fictional characters and situations ...” There is also this candid admission that the experiences of the central character are drawn from the experiences of the author.
In American and English literature there is an established tradition of politics-based fiction. Allen Drury’s famous novel “Advice and Consent” and Jeffray Archer’s recent works which liberally draw inspiration from the British political scene are outstanding examples. In India the first literary expose of backroom manoeuvres in the political arena is “The Insider”.
The characters may be fictional but the deeds attributed to them are routine real-life happenings. Take, for example, the birthday celebrations of Mahendra Nath. A committee is appointed under the chairmanship of an octogenarian leader who craves for some public notice after being banished to political backwaters. How well he does his job comes out from the inventory of gifts prepared later by the CBI at the specific instance of the Prime Minister! One reads about these scandals in newspapers, remembers them for a day or two and then dismisses them as inconsequential in the vast terrain of political gun-battles where actions and fighters change very rapidly. Narasimha Rao has woven these situations into a revealing mosaic in his book, which can rightfully be rated as a political epic.
I would not hazard the identification of the characters because many politicians do similar things while in politics. But what is most important is that this book evokes two different and contradictory feelings about politics and politicians. The first is a sense of disgust at the political culture as it has evolved during the past 50 years and the second is sympathy for those who unwittingly enter the whirlpool of politics and then are forced to resort to sleazy actions and dirty antics to keep afloat in the ebb and flow of political tide. And these are the people and these are the games they play for survival and what can the country expect from them in terms of doing real service? This is the question the reader of “The Insider” is bound to ask.
Even though many will disagree, this book projects Narasimha Rao, who was otherwise cautious to the point of being fatalistic when he was the Prime Minister, as a man with courage of conviction. His political opponents will interpret the fictional play in the story in their own critical way, but a student of psychology will surely assess Narasimha Rao as a person whose inner-self was detached from the other self when he played the political games. Probably, no other leader, who had reached the zenith of political power in the country would have liked or dared to expose the moral squalor in which he had to function and climb to the top. It does require tremendous courage to admit and record it all for the benefit of posterity.
Until now Narasimha Rao’s rightful claim to fame lay in setting the country on the path of liberalisation as the Prime Minister. Now with this literary work, he can also claim to have set the pace for cleansing the political system.
The book deals with what happens in state politics and how central leaders influence their state-level counterparts. We should hope that in the second volume Rao would reveal the mysteries of the corridors of power in Delhi.
Detailed comments have to wait on the characterisation of Anand; it is wise to wait for the sequel to properly appreciate the fuller evolution of his character. Overall, the book is definitely a front-runner in this genre of literature, despite long-winding descriptions of political episodes, which may not interest a reader of literature.
Jivtesh Singh Maini

  Mind your Vedic language
The Vedic Language and Exegesis by Ram Gopal. Spellbound Publications, Rohtak. Pp. 228. Rs 400.
THE author, Ram Gopal, is a former Vice-Chancellor of Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU) and an eminent scholar of Sanskrit. He had been Kalidasa Professor of Sanskrit and head of the department of Sanskrit, Panjab University.
He has devoted most of his life to study and do research on Vedic literature. The Vedas are unquestionably the earliest extant books of the human race. They represent the unfolding of the human mind in the earliest stages of thought. The orthodox Hindus regard the Vedas as revealed scriptures, the gospel given by God, perfect knowledge in arts and sciences. The Sanskrit language is called “geer vani” or the language of the gods. Vedic Sanskrit is quite distinct from classical Sanskrit as we know it, of which Valmiki, author of the Ramayana, is the first poet.
The Vedas have four divisions — namely, the mantras (verses or poetry); Brahmana scriptures which are voluminous commentaries or elucidations of Vedic rituals; aranyakas or the forest lore (ancient sages meditated on God all their life in the calm of the jungle); and the Upanishads or Vedanta representing the highest philosophy. Swami Dayananda recognised only the mantra portion as the Vedas; our author regards all the four as part of the Vedas.
One uniqueness (among many) of the Vedas (mantra portion) is that despite their hoary past. They are totally free from any addition or literary corruption. In comparison, the Mahabharata which, according to its author Veda Vyasa, had 24,000 verses has more than one lakh verses today.
Vedic rishis use even common vocables in a metaphorical, enigmatic style (gods love equivocation and abhor direct statement), on which each scholar puts his own interpretation with the result that there is never unanimity or finality. For unlocking the meaning of the Vedas, grammar is most indispensable. Our writer authored Vedic grammar in two volumes for which he was deservedly honoured.
The most authentic commentator of the Vedas (among the old guard) is Sayana. He was Prime Minister of the Vijayanagaram empire. He collected eminent scholars and prepared his celebrated commentary. Swami Dayanand, who wrote his own commentary and debunked Sayana’s interpretation, was also a great grammarian; his guru ran a grammar school at Mathura. Ravana was also a commentator of the Vedas.
Cramming some important mantras (for yajna, etc) is believed to confer great spiritual merit and help in the fulfilment of wishes. In fact the western approach is that the gods (Indira, Agni, Vayu, Sun and all the 33 gods of the Rig Veda represent different phenomena) of nature, whom the earliest Aryans worshipped for personal good, victory over the enemy and their own happy life. According to some western researchers, Agni Vaishvanara was the leader of the Aryan immigrants to India.
Those panegyrics of the gods got associated with certain yajnas (sacrifices), though in some cases there was little connection between the two but the process was sanctified by tradition and convention.
Modern Indian researchers employ the method of scientific analysis and critical study. In the early 19th century, when Vedic studies began in the West, the British empire (like the sun) shone over the five continents and the imperialists could not reconcile themselves to the thought that a slave people had achieved spiritualism and philosophical heights undreamed of by them.
Rudolf Roth, the first and foremost of European scholars, says: “A qualified European is better able to arrive at the true meaning of the Rig Veda than a Brahmana’s interpretation.” Another western Indologist characterises the “Vedic seers as barbarian priests, invoking barbarian gods”.
Swami Dayanand put the age of the Vedas at 197 crore years, the start of the universe. The westerners did the opposite, Max Muller dated them at 1200-1000 BC while Jacobi spoke of 300 BC.
A dozen chapters of the book under review discuss the meaning of Vedic words such as daas, varna, jaar, jani, duhitar, etc. To take a few examples: the heading of one chapter is “manusha”. In common view, the word means a man, a human being or a member of humanity. But that is not research or erudition. Our author quotes six commentators — Griffith, Geldner, Grassimar, Sayana, Vainkata, Madhaveshwara, and Shakalya — and dozens of texts. The lay reader is confused, though the scholar revels in it.
Manusha (man) occurs in connection with three rivers of Haryana (the Drishad Vati, the Saraswati and the Aparya). So it should be a geographical term. At this spot Indra won a wrestling match with man. (What a great victory for Indra!) The Mahabharata speaks of the Manusha Lake, a black deer bathing in this lake became a man. The epic also calls it Madush (don’t pollute its holy waters).
Take another chapter heading “Tarkshya”, a Rig Vedic deity invoked with Indra. Yasha (the magic name which sends a thrill among scholars), the author of Nirukta, who explains each word through etymology, gives three alternate meanings. Uvat and Mahidhara, also great Vedic commentators, explain it as a bird. Another scholar identifies it with Vishnu; another with the sun or the horses of the sun. It could mean vayu (wind), the velocity of which can’t be checked. You are free to accept any meaning.
To a critic such hair-splitting sounds pointless; to a scholar, it is the be all and the end all of research.
Another chapter is “Jarah Kaninam” (jaar or yaar means a paramour), lover of maidens. Agni is a jaar, where maidens lose their maidenhood after sitting near the nuptial fire. Sun is the jaar of usha (dawn). Usha is a young lovely girl.
Another chapter deals with the Vedic words daasa-varna. Varna could mean the four castes. Varna is colour; the white-skinned Aryan immigrants as against Krishna (black) aborigines.
It is not generally remembered that both Vedic Sanskrit and classical Sanskrit were once the spoken language of the people. And a living organism grows and evolves. Our author expounds three stages in the evolution of Vedic Sanskrit — the earliest stage of the Rig Veda; the middle stage of some Vedas, aranyakas and the early Upanishads and the final phase of the rest, including the later Upanishads.
This is a unique contribution, though it may leave a modern man unexcited. The author has put in monumental labour in this work of fundamental scholarship. The common reader will only get confused and lose the little certainty that he has. To the scholar and the researcher, it is the book. It is a work of a scholar, by the scholar and for the scholar.
— P.D. Shastri
  Plurality, tolerance are the soul of Hinduism
Hinduism: The Eternal Tradition (Sanatana Dharma) by David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri). Voice of India, New Delhi. Pp. 261. Rs 100.
“After a study of some forty years and more of the great religions of the world, I find none so perfect, none so scientific, none so philosophical, and none so spiritual as the great religion known by the name of Hinduism. The more you know it, the more you will love it; the more you try to understand it, the more deeply you will value it. Make no mistake; without Hinduism India has no future.... If India’s own children do not cling to her faith, who shall guard it?’’ So wrote Annie Besant, the Irish woman who founded the Home Rule League and Theosophical Society in Madras and presided over the annual session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta in 1917.
The early western perceptions of Hinduism were, however, different — ranging from a description of it as “pure paganism’’ (like in Abbe Dubois’ writings) to its denunciation as barbarous and horrendous in nature (in William Bruton and Pierre Martin’s works). When Ziegenbalg expatiated on Hindu ideas, customs and ceremonies, he was told by his Protestant patrons not to while away “his time with studying pagan nonsense’’. The Evangelists spread the word that the Hindus were a “fiendish race’’ who committed heinous acts in the name of religion.
Some Jesuits argued that the religious ideas of the Hindus were derived from the books of Moses and other apostles such as St Pantaenus. But this view could not hold ground for long. Holwell, an 18th century British indologist, for example, contended that the mythology as well as the cosmogony of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had been derived from the doctrines of the Hindus, and that the religious beliefs of ancient Europeans were based on the later perversions of Hinduism.
Although the researches of Sir William Jones, Charles Wilkins and others proved that Hinduism was neither derivative nor a bundle of fables and superstitions, the tirade of Evangelicals and Utilitarians against the ancient religion of India continued unabated. Yet the inquisitive scholars found in Hinduism a comprehensive and ennobling tradition.
While delivering a course of seven lectures to the ICS candidates at the Cambridge University in 1882, Professor Max Mueller observed that the Aryans of India were “the framers of the most wonderful language, the Sanskrit... the fathers of the most natural of natural religions, the makers of the most transparent of mythologies, the inventors of the most subtle philosophy and the givers of the most elaborate laws.’’
After the conclusion of the World’s first Parliament of Religions in which Hinduism was ably represented by Prof Chakravarti, Narasimhachari, Lakshmi Narain and Swami Vivekananda, among others, Merwin Marie Snell (President of the scientific section of the Assembly) unequivocally stated that there was very little of profound thought and aspiration in Christendom which could not be traced to one or another of the successive influxes of Hindu ideas — either to the Hinduised hellenism of Pythagoras and Plato, to the Hinduised Mazdaism of the Gnostics, to the Hinduised Judaism of the Kabbakists, to the Hinduised “Mahomedanism of Moorish philosophers’’, the Hinduised occultism of the Theosophists, the Hinduised socialism of the New England Transcendentalists and “the many other new streams of orientalising influence which are fertilising the soil of contemporary Christendom.’’
Such being the antiquity and the richness of Hindu tradition, it is strange that it is still being distorted and misinterpreted. David Frawley, Director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, intends to set the record straight in this book by distinguishing between the quintessence of Hinduism and how it is understood in the modern world.
The book delineates the perennial wisdom of Sanatana Dharma (in common parlance, Hinduism), taking up in its gamut such aspects as the worldview of Hinduism, its development through the ages, its peculiarities vis-a-vis other religions, its philosophy and ethics, its perceptions on reincarnation, medicine, astrology and the occult, the raison d’etre of idolatry and rituals and the future of Hinduism. Besides, it attempts to answer common questions about Hinduism.
David Frawley regrets that a Hindu is painted in the West as “a particular ethnic type born in India’’ who believes in caste and untouchability and who is socially, economically and culturally backward. The truth, however, is that he belongs to an eternal tradition which upholds truth and righteousness, which is rooted in rita and dharma, which does not confine itself to one prophet or messiah, one holy book or one Church, which is evergrowing and evergreen.
This holy tradition is not limited to a particular spiritual path, name, form, person or group as in the case of other religions. Rather it accepts all spiritual paths as leading to the same goal. It believes that each human soul is free to choose its course and move in accordance with its natural proclivities. The eternal tradition of Sanatana Dharma holds that Truth is beyond limitation; it cannot be monopolised by anyone as it is a matter of direct experience.
Hinduism has been regarded as “the richest cluster on the variegated tree of human religion’’. The Jesuit scholars who made an appraisal of Hinduism in the 1960s observed that “the whole of mankind can be proud that in India the human quest for truth has been so diversified and unrelenting.... plurality and tolerance appear rather as the true ornament of Hinduism.’’ Corroborating the assessment, Frawley asserts that Hinduism contains the greatest diversity and freedom in the spiritual life that can be found in any of the religions on the planet. The Divine can be adored in any name or form or beyond form. God can be seen as father, mother, brother, sister, friend or master; in everything that exists, and in one’s own self.
Frawley rejects the colonialist and the missionary view of Hinduism as primitive, barbaric, polytheist, immoral or oppressive. It is not “an ethnic belief system’’ which started in a particular age but goes back to beginningless time. It is not only the oldest of all the religions but also the newest; the reason being that it has been recast by living sages during the course of history. The western mind has tried “to reduce religion to a particular name and form... It has tried to compartmentalise Hinduism as a religion the way Christianity and Islam appear to be seeking to find in all religions a particularized belief system.’’
Frawley regards the word “Hinduism’’ as a “misnomer’’ and “a foreign invention’’ since it is not mentioned in any of the classical texts. It is rather a geographical expression as it identifies “the region from which western cultures have contacted it.’’ As Sanatana Dharma or the universal tradition, Hinduism does not need to represent itself as “one religious identity as opposed to others.’’
Religious exclusivism and the infallibility syndrome in matter of beliefs about the sacred have generated acerbity and led to conflicts. In this context, Frawley raises a number of questions which have clear answers. Why should God have only one son? Why should there be only one messiah for all times to come? Why should there be only one religious book when any number of such books are possible? Why should God be addressed in the masculine sense when he is beyond gender? Can conversion bring about an overnight change in a person’s psyche? And so on.
Frawley presents Hinduism as “a multidimensional tradition that no form of linear thinking, whether scientific or theological, can grasp.’’ It is “a vibrant ocean of spiritual, religious and occult insights and practices woven into a vast culture. It has the complexity of life itself which cannot be reduced to a formula, understood in a single book or controlled by any church or organisation.’’
The charge of idolatry has been a convenient stick to beat Hinduism with all through history. Christianity, Judaism and Islam dub idolatry as evil and hence sinful. It is said to be indicative of a lower degree of intelligence or civilisation. Swami Vivekananda was the first Indian to argue at the Chicago Parliament of Religions that image worship was not to be derided as it helped one to meditate on the Supreme. He also referred to the deeper psychological implications of iconolatria by observing: “We can no more think about anything without a material image than we can live without breathing. And by the law of association the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa.’’
Frawley’s justification of idolatry rests primarily on two factors — the universality of this practice in almost all religious traditions, including the Buddhist, the Taoist, the Catholic, Shinto, Greek Orthodox, Native American, African and Asian, and the utility of image worship in helping a devotee to approach the invisible and transcendental reality by way of supreme devotion.
Frawley contends that Protestant Christians and Muslims who are opposed to idolatry, practise it nevertheless. Many Protestants have a picture of Christ or at least wear a cross which is obviously “a usage of images and symbols’’. Muslims pray only in the direction of Mecca which limits the Divine to a particular place. Many Muslims pray at the tombs of their saints, have pictures of their religious or political leaders (like worship of Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran), circumambulate the Kaaba seven times, (anti-clockwise) and kiss the black stone each time they pass it. Frawley regards this as a worship of objects. “The idolatry of the word, idea, name, or book is perhaps the worst form of all idolatries. It confuses reality with the most empty of things, a mere verbal representation’’.
Frawley ruefully maintains that the charge of idolatry against Hinduism is often levelled “as part of a campaign of conversion, invasion and conquest’’. It has been used as an alibi “for smashing statues, robbing and demolishing temples, for plunder and genocide, all conveniently done in the name of God.’’ The irony of the matter is that different parameters are employed when religious images are judged. They are called icons and classified as works of art when they are a part of the Christian tradition. But they are dubbed as idol born of primitive beliefs when they are part of non-Christian traditions. “An image of Krishna as the good cowherd is on a par with that of Christ as the good shepherd... To make one into a superstitious idol and the other into a sacred image is hypocritical and intolerant.’’
Frawley regards the use of images as an artistic approach to the divine. Images are “the great archetypes of life, the embodiment in form of the great truths of the Eternal’’! Those who condemn their use betray their ignorance of symbolic language. Hinduism regards all forms of art — music, dance, poetry, sculpture, painting, architecture, etc. as different languages which can be fruitfully employed in the worship of the divine.
Frawley’s answers to questions about Hinduism are noteworthy for their profundity and succinctness. They cover a wide range of themes from God, non-duality, atheism, the Divine Mother, the origin of Sanatana Dharma and the importance of scriptures to evolution, karma, prarabdha, evil, heaven and hell; from yoga, Vedanta, meditation, self-inquiry, self-surrender and service to tantra and mantra, ayurveda, astrology and the esoteric importance of temples.
It also brings into focus the Hindu view of theology, ecology, economics, proselytisation and religious fundamentalism. Such questions as should Hindus be more aggressive or become missionaries; how can Hindus function as minorities in Islamic countries or why did the Pope condemn yogic practices, have also been brilliantly answered.
David Frawley deserves appreciation for so eloquently putting forth the quintessentials of Hinduism and for lambasting the detractors of the eternal Indian tradition (sanatana dharma). Written in a simple, lucid style, it should be compulsory reading for students and scholars of religion.
— Satish K. Kapoor
  This King’s stories are a riddle
Wizard and glass by Stephen King. Hodder and Stoughton, London. Pp. 340. Rs 2,000.
Stephen King fans would love this book which brings all his schlock together. Everything that they had loved in his earlier writings is present here. The heroes, grossness, the simplistically phantasmagoric worlds, the simplicity of plot and the ability to tell a story so simple that a school kid with little verbal felicity would be able to understand it. Those new to the Kingian style of story telling will find it intriguing and beguiling. Their wonderment as to how any one could read such a story may even carry them to the end of the book simply by the curiosity to see how King is able to weave a long story out of such thin threads of action and thought.
The story begins with Roland of Gilead, son of Steven, and his newly found friends riding a coach travelling at the speed of sound. The coach is under the control of a computer lispingly called Blaine. Blaine apparently has been able to destroy most of the world by bringing it under control. Now Blaine is bored. The only way it can drive away boredom is by solving riddles. Anyone who rides Blaine’s coach has to give it riddles to play with. Blaine kills anyone whose riddles are solveable. Correspondingly any unsolvable riddle would kill Blaine.
Blaine may be brainy, but is made up of whirls and clicks and lights in the manner of the ENIAC of old. King then tries to entertain his readers for a long time with riddles. After a while you begin to wonder whether one of his aims also is to fill up more pages of his novel. “What has four wheels and flies?”. The garbage van, “What has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon and three at night?” A man.
The riddling game goes on for many pages with the characters calling each other “Sai”, apparently a gender neutral variation of “Sir”. Having answered all the normal riddles, the computer finds it difficult to answer riddles like “Why do police lieutenants wear belts?” To hold up their pants. The killer was the answer to “Why did the dead baby cross the road?” It crossed the road because it was stapled to the chicken.
Having defeated the computer, through such American high school humour, the characters continue in search of their unholy grail, the dark tower. The dark tower is the root of all evil. Meanwhile, like the reader of this book, they too get bored. At that point the main hero, Roland, begins to narrate the curious story of one of his earlier life.
This story occupies most of the book. It concerns Roland when he is 14 years old and espies his mother with her lover. His father gets so upset that instead of doing anything to the transgressor, he sends the son into exile. In exile the son reaches a place where most things are post-modern. They live a horrid life of mental, financial and technological poverty and weirdness. This is a world beyond the times of electricity and petrol and is governed by a Mayor and advised by witches, all of whom are under the control of Magician and a Dark Tower.
In this world, the Mayor does not sleep with his wife but is constantly in search of a nubile virgin; the wife cohabits with one of the Mayor’s servants. The witch finds the Mayor the nubile one. Who in turn is put off at the prospect of hearing the creak of the Mayor’s bones on marriage night. The Mayor is over 60 years old.
The willful virgin, all of 17, bumps into the exiled hero and ceases, many times over, to be a virgin. That brings a catastrophe over the Mayor’s land and the girl is burnt at the stake while Roland escapes to continue with his adventures.
In the interim, we have an aunt keeping a hawkish eye on the girl to keep her pure for the Mayor, a witch who peers into a pink coloured crystal ball to see all that is bad in the world and sucks her cat’s fur when she is pleased, the Mayor’s rightful wife who drinks umpteen bottles of liquor, and some boring description of the mutant animals which populate this world.
A recall of this tedious love story seems to refresh Roland and his companions who now enter into a Wizard of Oz kind of world and have a few more adventures. In the end, however, they are not able to find the Dark Tower.
As I said in the beginning, the usual admirers of Kings’s story-telling would love this one too.
—Kavita Soni Sharma
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