OCTOBER 2015
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida

Books


Book Reviews By NITISH S. RELE,
Editor@khaasbaat.com

The Bhagavad Gita: A BiographThe Bhagavad Gita: A Biography” (244 pages; $24.95) by Richard H. Davis; published by Princeton University Press (http://press.princeton.edu/)

If you are looking for elucidations and deep analysis of The Gita, this book isn’t for you. Instead, Richard Davis’ Gita dwells on the history of the text, its different interpretations (Shankara and Jnanadeva), and how it influenced so many people not just in India but also in Europe and America. To name just a few of the fans: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Mahatma Gandhi, even Nathuram Godse for that matter, Aurobindo Ghose, Swami Vivekananda, and, of course, Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or the Hare Krishna Movement.

The book begins on the battlefield with an aghast warrior Arjuna refusing to fight his family members. His charioteer Krishna then begins counseling him. “Your duty as a member of the warrior class, to fight in a righteous battle, trumps any obligations you may feel toward other members of your family.” What we as a reader found fascinating were the medieval devotional traditions that surrounded the divine character of Krishna, mainly as a child. The author, professor of religion at Bard College, notes, “The story of Krishna’s deeds as a demon-killing youth, protecting his tribe and restoring proper rule in Mathura, fits well with Krishna’s explanation of the purpose for his incarnation in the ‘Bhagavad Gita.’ ”

Translated more than 300 times into English and in over 75 languages, Davis even devotes an entire chapter to oral performances of the epic poem at private household readings, family/neighborhood recitation sessions or holy men reciting in temples. He reminds readers that when Tulsi Gabbard was sworn in as first Hindu members of the U.S. Congress, she chose to place her hand on the Gita. While not characterizing the Gita as the “Hindu Bible,” Gabbard revealed that the poem’s teachings had inspired her “to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.”

Lunch with a Bigot: The Writer in the WorldLunch with a Bigot: The Writer in the World” (224 pages, $23.95) by Amitava Kumar; published by Duke University Press (www.dukeupress.edu)

The mishmash of previously published essays by Amitava Kumar is clearly divided into four chapters: reading, writing, places, people. This ensures that the writer, or the observer as Kumar likes to call himself, isn’t all over the place. Highlights are conversations with Arundhati Roy and the actor Manoj Bajpai, coming across Salman Rushdie and an “encounter” of sorts with a member of an ultra-right religious organization, which inspired the title. In one of the essays, Kumar notes, “Writers are caught in the contradictory tasks of building imaginary worlds that are removed from everyday life and, at the same time, establishing how the imagination is not detached from the quotidian world and very much a vital part of it. To realize the truth of this condition is to know that books not only offer refuge from the world, they also return you to it. When I had understood this truth, I had stopped worshipping paper and become a reader.” A Helen D. Lockwood Chair of English at Vassar College in New York, the author has 10 tips for his students to foster the practice of writing. “Write every day.” “Have a modest goal.” “Try to write at the same time each day.” “Turn off the Internet.” “Walk for 10 minutes.” “A bookshelf of your own.” “Get rid of it if it sounds like grant talk.” “Learn to say no.” “Finish one thing before taking up another.” “The above rule needs to be repeated.” Kumar also is the author of “A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna,” “A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arm a Tiny Bomb,” “Bombay London New York,” “Passport Photos,” all a must read.

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