Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Books and temples

I did a lot of reading while in India, most of it books about India or at least by Indian authors.  There are many more to choose from.  Here is my list.  

The Music Room: A Memoir by Namita Devidayal, 2009

This book describes the musical career of Namita Devidayal, a classical Indian singer, from the age of ten when she first began studying music through the rest of her life.  It is rich with stories of the history of Indian classical music, including anecdotes about some legendary singers.  A detailed look at one important aspect of Indian culture.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, 2008

Kannan loaned me this book.  It was recommended to him, and has a chapter on Bhutan, which he is visiting with his family.  It also has a chapter on India.  It is written with humor, some of which works and some of which fell flat for me.  But it is an easy read and I found it very informative and sometimes even thought provoking.  I'll include a picture of the Table of Contents below, which is in itself quite interesting.

The table of contents for The Geography of Bliss.  The 10th chapter is America, Happiness is Home.  Not sure what that means for a nomadic American like myself.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen, 2006

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics.  Another book that gave me a lot of insight into the history and culture if India,  highly recommended.

The Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikachar, 1999

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who lived to be over 100 years old, was one of the greatest yogis of the modern era. Elements of Krishnamacharya's teaching have become well known around the world through the work of B. K. S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, who all studied with Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar lived and studied with his father all his life. Desikachar has based his method on Krishnamacharya's fundamental concept of viniyoga, which maintains that practices must be continually adapted to the individual's changing needs to achieve the maximum therapeutic value.  Desikachar was Ravi's teacher.  A very important book for those of us who want to develop a personal practice.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, 2008

This novel won the 2008 Man Booker Prize.  It is a black comedy, a story told from the lowest ranks of class and caste.  Funny, unsettling, savage, cynical, authentic.

A Search in Secret India by Paul Bruton, 1934

The story of Paul Brunton's journey around India, living among yogis, mystics and gurus, some of whom he found convincing, others not. He finally finds the peace and tranquility which come with self-knowledge when he meets and studies with the great sage Sri Ramana Maharishi, whose ashram I visited in January.

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, 1986

Vikram Seth is a well known, very talented Indian author. This novel is set in the 1980s in the affluence and sunshine of Californias Silicon Valley.  It is an exuberant and witty story of twenty-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the meaning of life.  What makes it truly unique is that it is all written in verse.  And it works!  A great read, although not about India.

Beastly Tales From Here and There by Vikram Seth, 1991
Vikram Seth rewrote a number of folk tales from India, China, Greece and the Ukraine in rhyming couplets and ended off with two fables in the same style of his own creation. It is fun language. The final story, The Elephant and the Tragopan, was my absolute favorite - animals band together and are led by the title characters to lobby humans to save their habitat from a proposed dam.

India: A Wealth of Diversity, Nimrod Volume 34, Number 2, 1988
A collection of poems and short stories from well respected Indian authors, translated from a variety of languages in to English.

Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie, 1980
Saleem Sinai was born at midnight, the midnight of India's independence, and found himself handcuffed to history by the coincidence. He is one of 1,001 children born at the midnight hour, each of them endowed with an extraordinary talent. This is a family saga set against the background of the India of the 20th century.  Very well written, worth reading, good insight into India.

On Women by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother
A collection of essays on women, providing some insight into the thinking of these two founders of Auroville.  Some great quotes.  "After I knew that God was a woman, I learned something from far-off about love; but it was only when I became a woman and served my Master and Paramour that I knew love utterly." Sri Aurobindo.  "For God's sake can't you forget that you are a girl or a boy and try to become a human being?"  The Mother.
Zen Heart, Zen Mind by AMA Samy, 2002
AMA Samy is the founder of Bodhi Zendo where I spent a week in April.  This book is a compilation of his talks about Zen, with an emphasis on Zen in our daily lives, described as "a way of being present to ourselves and others and the world; being aware, accepting to live life to the full, responding to the call of love and life."   A good book for both beginners and experienced practioners.

The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik, 2008
Among the many hundreds of characters who inhabit the Mahabharata, the classical Indian epic, is Yuvanashva, a childless king, who accidentally drinks a magic potion meant to make his queens pregnant.  As a result, he gives birth to a son. This novel is his story.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata - Condensed into English Verse.  Translated by Romesh C. Dutt, 1910 
These are the two great epics of India.  Well educated children know about them from a young age.  They are an integral part of the culture.  The Ramayana has been compared to the Odyssey, the Mahabharata to the Illiad.  They were written in verse and are extremely long.  The Mahabharata alone is seven times the size of the Odyssey and the Iliad put together.  Dutt has chosen to translate key sections, filling in the rest with narrative.  This approach enables him to stay faithful to the original verse and yet keep it short enough that it is readable.  It wasn't my favorite read, but these two epics are such fundamental parts of the culture that I strongly recommend at least being familiar with them.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, 2006
This novel won the Man Booker award, among others.  It follows the journey of Biju, an illegal immigrant in the US who is trying to make a new life; and Sai, an Anglicised Indian girl living with her grandfather in India. The novel shows the internal conflicts in India between groups and the conflict between past and present.  A good read.

Whispers from the Wild by E.R.C. Davidar, 2012
E.R.C. Davidar was a well-known wildlife conservationist from southern India.  He established maybe the first ever private elephant corridor in India, near his jungle-cottage, which was close to Forest Hills where I stayed.  His essays on the wildlife in the Nilgiris show his deep love and concern for this beautiful region.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, 2012
Katherine Boo, a Pultizer prize winner, spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.  She reports on the lives of the people there with compassion and honesty.  A very well written book about an unlovely aspect of India.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, 2008
The gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children—and that separates the children from India—is the theme of the eight short stories here.  A delight to read, and a great way to gain insight into Indian culture.

BBC documentary series:  The Story of India by Michael Wood, 2007
A six part series, written and presented by historian Michael Wood, about the history of India
He explains historical events by travelling to the places where they took place.  Lots of detail and hard to follow sometimes, but good big picture view of the amazing history of India.

The following pictures are from the Srirangam temple near Trichey, and the Rockfort temple in Trichey.  One of the numerous blogs that didn't get written.

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