Author: U.R. Anantha Murthy
Translator: A.K. Ramanujan
So good, too. Samskara packs a lot of punch into what is really a simple story. A man, Naranappa, dies and his neighbors are at a loss as to how to properly dispose of the body. According to Hindu law, he must be cremated. But who should do the job? Naranappa is a Brahmin so only another Brahmin can perform the necessary rites. But Naranappa was not a good Brahmin. He openly lived with his low caste concubine, Chandri, out of wedlock. But he was never excommunicated for fear he would convert to Islam, poisoning the entire community beyond repair. But Chandri offers a heap of gold jewelry to anyone who will claim responsibility and do the deed. Such a dilemma...
While perspective switches between characters, most of the tale is told through Praneshacharya, the community's religious scholar. His neighbors come to him for guidance but he is at a loss. To his credit, though, while the others are motivated by self-interest, Praneshacharya (Acharya for short) genuinely wants to do the right thing. For this man of pious virtue, life gets complicated when he is unexpectedly confronted with his own humanity. Everything he has ever understood about himself and his world is thrown into confusion.
Samskara paints a richly detailed picture of India and the important role religion still plays in people's daily lives there. Interestingly, it is only because of the mention of things like buses, flashlights and the Great Communicator (Nehru) that the story can reliably be placed in the 20th century. One can easily imagine the same moral dilemmas playing out a thousand years before.
So yes, I finally read it and genuinely enjoyed it. Prof got the last laugh.
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post July's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is July 29th.