I need to read this book on priority. Hindus are shifting more and more to the right in India, which prompted Penguin to remove this from circulation...moreI need to read this book on priority. Hindus are shifting more and more to the right in India, which prompted Penguin to remove this from circulation and pulp the remaining copies. It is time that we fight against such intolerance, and save our country from becoming a theocracy!(less)
Mata Amritanandamayi is a household name in Kerala. Her devotees adore her: her detractors hate her: and the general public, even if they hold neutral...moreMata Amritanandamayi is a household name in Kerala. Her devotees adore her: her detractors hate her: and the general public, even if they hold neutral views, cannot help being overwhelmed by the multimillion dollar industry that she has become: hospitals, engineering colleges, software companies – her empire spans a huge area. Devotees cross the seven seas regularly to sit at her feet; she crosses the seven seas to meet them at their homes across the world. And she hugs all and one who come to her – known as the “Hugging Saint”, she is Amma (“Mother”) to all her devotees.
The rationalists, leftists and radical Islamic groups hate her with a fervour matching the love of the devotees – because Amma is a magnet who is often used by Hindu groups to further their ends, as a “Bhakti” movement is always a potential political goldmine. There have been determined efforts to dethrone her from her lofty perch, allegations of financial and other misdeeds at her ashrams, but so far none have been proven. It is hardly surprising, because in a multicultural democracy where religion is always a touchy subject, no government will foolishly go against such an institution without solid evidence.
So one can imagine all the hell which would have broken loose by the publishing of the potentially incendiary memoir, Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness by Gail Tredwell (aka Gayatri), an Australian national and former devotee and inmate of Amma’s Ashram for twenty years, in which she claims that she was physically and mentally abused and sexually exploited by her so-called guru during her tenure. She also makes serious allegations against the saint like financial misappropriations and sex with many male followers. Kerala has gone into verbal overdrive with shrill accusations from both sides flying across the media and the internet. As with all such cases, there is very little rational analysis of the book since the emotional barometer is near the breaking point.
This is why I decided to read the book, to find out for myself what the hell (!) this was all about.
I have started posting reviews again, at the request of my friends. If you like them, please take time to visit my blog also, where I talk about othe...moreI have started posting reviews again, at the request of my friends. If you like them, please take time to visit my blog also, where I talk about other things in addition to book reviews.
I first encountered Lafcadio Hearn in an Anthology of American stories, in a weird little story: The Boy Who Drew Cats. It was a creepy Japanese fairy tale about a boy whose artistic productions (which were solely of a feline persuasion) came to life and did away with a goblin rat. As a short story, it did not possess much of a literary quality (IMO), so it was filed away somewhere in the back of my mind as a curious little oddity and forgotten.
But Mr. Hearn’s name being very unusual, I remembered the story immediately when I saw this book, almost thirty years after I read it. In the meantime, my interest in myths, legends and fairy tales had become something of a passion. Moreover, I still carried my adolescent love of horror stories and had relatively recently been introduced to Japanese horror, more subtle and frightening than the American variety. So this book was something of a godsend.
Lafcadio Hearn was something of an outsider in the West: his only talent, it seems, was writing gory newspaper reports. As with maverick Westerners in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he found refuge in the mystic East; in this case Japan. It is the great fortune of all of us that Hearn decided to translate these creepy gems (which might have remained confined to Japan) for the rest of the world.
“Kwaidan” means “Ghost Stories”, which the first part of this collection contains (the second part contains “insect studies” from a “folkloric” standpoint which is not very interesting). These seventeen stories are the traditional “around-the-campfire” type, part and parcel of a people living in tune with their environment not yet spoilt by the encroaching monster of urbanisation. Being from a country full of wood-spirits and water-sprites myself, I could relate.
There is Hoichi, the blind bard who is enchanted into playing for a company of ghosts and who is protected by the Buddhist sutras written upon his body (“Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi”); people turning into trees and trees, into people (“Ubazakura”, “Aoyagi”, “Jio-Roku-Sakura”); and goblins and ghosts galore (“Jikininki”, “Yuki-Onna”, “Rokuro-Kubi” etc.). There are also a couple based on the Japanese belief (now made famous by The Grudge) that a person who dies in great anger leaves behind an angry ghost. I was struck by the similarity of many of these tales to the stories I heard as a child in Kerala – one (“Mujina”) is an exact copy of an urban legend (well, with a different type of ghost) prevalent during the late eighties.
In the second part, Hearn tries to compile legends, myths and beliefs about butterflies, ants and mosquitoes. These make mildly interesting reading, but lacks depth.
A fast read, and a worthwhile one for readers who are interested in the beings which inhabit the primordial depths of our psyche. (less)
Unreadable. I picked up a copy of this book for a song at the Loch Ness Museum, and considered myself lucky: however, I was sadly mistaken. It seems t...moreUnreadable. I picked up a copy of this book for a song at the Loch Ness Museum, and considered myself lucky: however, I was sadly mistaken. It seems to be a reprint of an old book, written from an evangelical point of view, with all the talk of 'heathens' and Christians. Abandoned. (less)